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Battery Against a Police Officer

Hitting or touching someone in an unwanted, offensive manner — even threatening or attempting to do so — is referred to as assault and/or battery and can lead to criminal charges. The legal terms are so often used together that it can be difficult to separate their meanings.

Some state laws define these terms differently, but assault usually refers to threats of physical force that cause fear in the victim. Battery refers to the offensive physical contact itself. Battery as an offense is generally defined under the larger umbrella of assault.

Those convicted of this crime may face fines or even jail time, depending on the severity of the offense. Someone who commits assault or battery against a police officer is much more likely to serve time behind bars.

Many states define battery (or assault) against a police officer as its own standalone offense. Others regard it as an enhancement or aggravating factor in an assault charge. But even if your state lacks such a statute, you are at risk of a lengthier sentence than otherwise. The following article explains the offense of assault against a police officer, which is considered a crime against justice since it interferes with law enforcement.

Assault Against a Police Officer: Elements of the Crime

As with other crimes, the prosecution must prove certain elements in order to convict a defendant of assault against an officer. These elements include the following (state laws may organize and word these elements differently):

  1. The accused willfully and unlawfully touched a peace officer in a way that was harmful or offensive.
  2. The victim was a peace officer performing their official duties when the accused acted; and
  3. The accused knew or reasonably should have known the victim was an on-duty peace officer. (This can vary depending on the state.)

Some jurisdictions require that the officer suffer actual injuries to support an enhanced charge of assault against a police officer. But other statutes only require proof of a threat or attempt of battery, or classify varying degrees of the offense.

In certain situations, a case involving an altercation with a police officer doesn't lead to an assault or battery charge. It might be more appropriate to charge a suspect with resisting arrest, for example.

California law imposes more serious charges — with a possible incarceration of up to three years — when "an injury is inflicted" upon the victim. Generally, an injury as minor as a scrape or bruise is sufficient. But the infliction of "serious bodily injury" — defined by California law to include things like broken bones, loss of consciousness, and serious disfigurement — will almost certainly result in a longer sentence upon conviction.

Peace Officers and "Official Duties"

Statutes that prohibit acts of battery committed against police officers typically refer to "peace officers" in general. Most states define peace officers to include search and rescue personnel, park rangers, prison guards, university campus police, and others whose job it is to maintain the public peace.

State laws also may include service processors, ER doctors and nurses, firefighters, and even lifeguards in that category. Further, federal law even protects police dogs and horses in some cases.

Peace officers perform their "official duties" by carrying out a job duty, regardless of whether they are on the clock. There are multiple instances when an assault on an off-duty officer could still be classified as involving an officer.

For instance, an off-duty officer out with some friends who witnesses a crime in progress and intervenes by showing her badge and calling for back up is performing her official duties. Retaliation against an officer while they are off-duty is also considered a crime against an officer in some states.

It's also important to understand that an officer making an arrest is performing their "official duties" with respect to the law regardless of the circumstances. For example, punching a police officer even if you feel you are being illegally harassed or having your constitutional rights violated is still punishable as a crime under these laws. Even if you are innocent of any criminal violation prior to the assault, you have committed a crime if you hit a police officer.

Sentencing and Punishment

Charges and sentences for this crime vary quite a bit from one state to the next, but often include incarceration (and probation), in addition to steep fines and restitution to the victim. States without a standalone statute for battery against an officer typically provide for enhanced charges when a peace officer is the victim of assault or battery. For example, a second-degree misdemeanor charge for assault may be upgraded to a first-degree misdemeanor.

Florida law imposes a minimum five-year prison term (and up to 30 years, plus 30 years probation and a $10,000 fine) for anyone convicted of aggravated battery (causing great bodily harm) of a law enforcement officer, classified as a first-degree felony. General battery (not causing great bodily harm) against an officer is charged as a third-degree felony in Florida, punishable by up to five years in prison, five years probation, and a $5,000 fine.

Be sure to check the laws of your jurisdiction or speak with an attorney if you are unsure.

Charged with Battery Against a Police Officer? Get Legal Help

Assault against a police officer is taken seriously within the legal system. The likely rationale is the idea that attacking a public servant is an attack against the state itself. Some might see attacking a police officer as an attack on the safety of a community.

You could face severe sentencing and fines if convicted of assault against the police. If you have been charged with this crime, make sure you speak with a local criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

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