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Battery Against a Police Officer

An assault and/or battery is when you hit or touch someone in an unwanted, offensive manner. Even threatening or attempting to do so can lead to criminal charges. The two terms are often used together, so it can be difficult to distinguish between the two crimes.

Some state laws define these terms differently. However, assault usually refers to a threat of physical force that causes fear in the alleged victim. On the other hand, the crime of battery is the offensive physical contact itself. As an offense, battery is generally defined under the larger umbrella of assault.

Those convicted of this crime may face fines or jail time, depending on the severity of the offense. Even a conviction of simple battery can lead to serious penalties. However, if you commit assault or battery against a police officer, you are much more likely to receive a prison sentence.

This article explains the offenses of assault and battery against a police officer. They are considered crimes against justice since they interfere with law enforcement.

Assault and Battery Against a Police Officer: Elements of the Crime

As with other crimes, the prosecution must prove certain elements to convict a defendant of assault against an officer. These elements include the following:

  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

Some jurisdictions require the officer to suffer actual physical injuries to support an enhanced charge of assault against a police officer. But other states only require proof of a threat or attempt of battery.

Sometimes, if you're involved in an altercation with a police officer, you won't face a charge of battery. The law enforcement officer may feel it is more appropriate to charge you with a lesser offense, such as resisting arrest. For example, if you are arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) and accidentally fall into the police officer, you will likely not be charged with battery.

California law imposes more serious criminal charges when "an injury is inflicted" upon the victim. Serious bodily injury is defined by California law to include things like broken bones, loss of consciousness, and serious disfigurement. If the law enforcement officer (or anyone) you commit the battery against suffers serious injuries, you can be sentenced to up to four years in state prison.

Peace Officers and 'Official Duties'

Statutes prohibiting battery against police officers typically refer to them as "peace officers." Most states define peace officers to include:

  • Search and rescue personnel
  • Park rangers
  • Prison guards
  • Private security officers
  • University campus police
  • Others whose job is to maintain public peace

Some state laws also may include service processors, ER doctors and nurses, and even lifeguards in that category. To be charged with this offense, the peace officer must act within the scope of their "official duties" regardless of whether they are on the clock. There are multiple instances when an assault on an off-duty officer can be classified as involving an officer. For instance, an off-duty officer who witnesses a crime in progress and intervenes by showing their badge while calling for backup is performing their official duties. In some states, retaliating against an officer while off-duty is also considered a crime.

Regardless of the circumstances, an officer making an arrest is performing their official duties with respect to the law. 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.

If you believe the officer is using excessive force, that does not give you the right to attack them. You will not be able to claim self-defense in this situation. Even if you are innocent of any criminal violation before the assault, you have committed a crime if you hit a police officer. You may face felony charges, and your criminal defense lawyer will have to prove that the officer's use of force justified your reaction.

Is Assaulting a Police Officer an Independent Criminal Charge?

Many states define battery (or assault) against a peace officer as a separate offense. Others consider it an enhancement or aggravating factor in a standard assault charge.

For example, California Penal Code Section 241(c) addresses battery committed against:

  • Police officers
  • Firefighters
  • Correctional officers
  • Other first responders

Committing battery against any of these people can lead to up to one year in the county jail and fines of up to $2,000.

Even if your state doesn't have a separate statute for the battery of a police officer, you are at risk of a lengthy sentence.

Sentencing and Punishment

Charges and sentences for this crime vary from one state to the next. They often include incarceration, 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 for anyone convicted of aggravated battery of a law enforcement officer. This charge is classified as a first-degree felony. General battery (not causing great bodily harm) against an officer is considered a third-degree felony in Florida. It is punishable by up to five years in prison, five years probation, and a $5,000 fine.

Be sure to ask your criminal defense lawyer what the possible penalties are in your state.

Charged With Battery Against a Police Officer? Get Legal Help

Assault against a police officer is a serious charge, no matter where you live. Attacking a police officer is viewed as an attack on the safety of a community. 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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