California's criminal statutes were established to protect certain groups and individuals. The most common protected groups are those who are most defenseless in society, such as the elderly and children. However, in other circumstances, certain individuals who undertake specific tasks are also covered by these laws. Public officials, such as politicians and other officials, make controversial judgments, some of which could elicit threats and violent attacks from residents who are dissatisfied with their choices. Since the legislature acknowledges the dangers that these officials encounter, it has passed legislation barring citizens from assaulting any public official.
If you're prosecuted for the crime of assault on a public official, your actions will be considered an assault on the state's authorities, and a sentence will result in serious punishment. If you're facing charges of assaulting a public official, we at the Foos Gavin Law Firm are ready to defend you. We provide criminal defense services throughout the Sacramento area.
Understanding Assault Under California Law
Assault on its own is an offense, as stated in California's PC 240. An assault occurs when an individual illegally attempts to injure or cause harm to another individual. The individual must also be capable of doing so. Owing to their profession's nature, public officers are protected under PC 217.1a from violence by members of the general public.
When someone assaults a public official, it is frequently interpreted as an attack on the state's authorities. Being a federal representative, a public official is protected by the government, which imposes harsh punishments on anyone who assaults them. The prosecution needs to prove several facts or elements of the crime before a person can be convicted of the crime of assaulting a public official or another individual. These are some of the elements:
- The defendant committed an act that would inevitably lead to using force against a public officer
- The perpetrator willingly committed the crime
- When the offender acted, she or he knew that the public official would believe that their actions would lead to the use of force against her or him
- The defendant could apply or use force against the public official when she or he acted
To comprehend these numerous aspects, we will go through them in greater detail to fully grasp their significance in light of this law.
Use or Application of Force
Use or application of force is when an individual gets in contact with another person in a harmful or offensive way. Even if the contact is minor, it is considered an assault if it's done harshly or offensively. Even if no harm was inflicted as a result of the contact, how an individual was handled is what defines an assault. The victim doesn't have to be assaulted directly. An assault act involves spitting on a public official or even throwing an object at them. It's also important to remember that even if you didn't succeed in applying force against the official, it is still assault if you engaged in a way that could have resulted in the application of force.
Taking the Action With the Knowledge That It May Result in the Use of Force
This emphasizes the fact that the offender didn't have the intention of using force. However, in the case of allegations of an assault, the offender only needs to be aware that his or her actions would result in the use of force. For example, a police officer arrives to serve Sean with an arrest warrant. When Sean sees the police, he pulls out his pistol and fires a few shots in the air. As a result, the police dashed to his or her car for protection. Sean continues to shoot near the vehicle, probably to terrify the police rather than hurt him. Sean understands that his actions have the potential to injure the law enforcement officer, even if he or she doesn't. When this occurs, Sean will face charges of assaulting a public official under California PC 217.1a.
When an individual acts willingly, it means that they are doing something with a purpose or intention. The individual need not have wanted to violate the laws, to have the advantage of or endanger the other person, to act intentionally.
General Assault Penalties: PC 240
In California, an assault charge is tried as a misdemeanor. Penalties for this crime involve:
- The offender is sentenced to summary or misdemeanor probation
- Paying a cash fine of no more than $1,000
- Serving no more than 6 months in jail
Assault on a Public Official
According to California PC 217.1a, an assault on a public official carries severe penalties for the defendant. Unlike simple assault, which is usually tried as a misdemeanor, assaulting a public official could lead to felony charges. The prosecutor must prove certain elements for an individual to be found guilty of this crime. These elements are as follows:
- Proving the perpetrator committed the offense
- The offender assaulted either a public official or one of the victim's immediate family members
- The perpetrator acted in reprisal or to prevent a public officer from doing his or her job
For example, a city council leader may hold a public meeting that could infuriate some residents. If one of the members of the public feels offended and uses pepper spray to assault a city council official and is captured, she or he would still face assault charges.
Definition of a Public Official As Per California Law
A public official, as per California's PC 217.1a, is someone who works for the state, government, or a public office. Examples of these officials include:
- The president and his or her vice president
- Governor of a state
- A federal, state, or local justice, a current or former judge, or a jury
- A commissioner, referee, or any other subordinate judicial official
- A federal or state agency's secretary or director
- A federal official or a member of Congress
- A city council member, the mayor, the sheriff, the police chief, a county supervisor, or a peace officer
- A current or former prosecutor
- A current or former public defender
The individuals listed above who hold these positions, as well as their immediate family members, are considered public officials. Other public officials have more direct interaction with the general public while carrying out their tasks. Assaulting these officials is likewise regarded as an assault on a public official, which can result in serious consequences. Among these officers are:
- A firefighter when he/she is responding to an emergency
- A doctor or nurse that is assigned to provide medical care
- Lifeguards are also involved while attempting to rescue someone
- Process servers
- Traffic officers, particularly while attempting to apprehend you for traffic infractions
- Peace officers, like police officers and any other law enforcement officer
- A code enforcement officer
- A search and rescue (SAR) team member
- Officers tasked with animal control
- Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) or paramedics
If the complainant of the defendant's assault belongs to either of the aforementioned categories and he or she knew about it, he or she could serve jail time of up to one year. In addition, a $2,000 fine will be imposed on the defendant.
When it comes to an assault on a public officer, having motivation is among the most important aspects of the offense. An alleged perpetrator could only be found guilty of this offense if he or she executed the attack as reprisal or as a constraint on the official not to undertake his or her obligation.
This indicates that if an offender assaults a public official for reasons unrelated to their profession, then the accused will not be convicted of the offense. However, you could be charged with assault with a deadly weapon or simple assault.
For example, the defendant got involved in a brawl with another customer in a bar. Later, he learns that the individual was a judicial officer. The defendant had no idea the individual was a judicial officer at that time, and the attack had nothing to do with his or her employment. Due to these circumstances, the offender cannot be convicted of assaulting the public official. The judicial officer, on the other hand, has the right to press charges of simple assault against him or her.
Penalties for Violations of PC 217.1a
Assaults on public officials are charged as wobblers. At the prosecutor's discretion, the offender could be charged with a felony or misdemeanor offense. If a misdemeanor allegation is proven, the following penalties are likely to be imposed:
- Be convicted of a misdemeanor or summary probation
- Serve a one-year sentence in county jail.
- Pay hefty cash fines of no more than $1,000
A conviction for a felony, on the other hand, carries more serious consequences. The following are some of the penalties:
- Receiving a felony or formal probation sentence
- Serving time in county jail for sixteen, twenty-four, or 36 months under California's realignment program
- Paying no more than $10,000 in cash fines in addition to serving a jail term, or both
Possible Legal Defenses for Assault on a Public Official
If you or a loved one is facing allegations of assault on a public official, engaging a criminal defense attorney is vital to fighting the charges. Your attorney will devise a variety of legal defense techniques to assist you with your lawsuit. Among the most common defense techniques are:
The Defendant Lacked the Capacity To Cause Harm
An altercation with a public officer could lead to the use of aggressive gestures or remarks. You could even try to hurt them simultaneously. However, you can't be held liable for the offense if you were unable to injure them at the time. If the victim of the alleged offense was younger, stronger, or larger, this defense could help you beat the accusations. Furthermore, the facts could be applied to plead for reduced charges, like disturbing the peace, according to California PC 415.
Most public officials and prosecutors believe their coworkers do nothing wrong or harm others. Several defendants are accused of assaulting public officials while they were defending themselves against aggressive and violent officials. If an individual reasonably believed he or she was in danger of being injured and retaliated against the possible threat with aggression, they could use this tactic in their case. This tactic could also be applied in the following situations:
- The offender was acting in the best interests of another individual he or she believed was at risk of being injured by the public official or being illegally touched
- The offender believed that using force was necessary to prevent probable injury
- The defendant's use of force was reasonable in the face of a probable threat
For example, if you're pulled over by an officer, you could be compelled to get out of your vehicle with your spouse. During this time, you and your spouse engage in verbal altercations with the police. Suddenly, the police officer begins pushing and poking your spouse, and fearing danger, you rush to her defense and push the police officer away. As a result, you could argue that the police officer attempted to abuse your spouse and applied force against the police to defend your spouse from any injuries.
The Accused Had No Intent To Interfere With the Public Official's Performance of Their Duty, Nor Did Retaliation Serve as a Motivating Factor
As previously stated, an assault on a public official is punishable if committed with the intent to prevent him or her from carrying out his or her duties or in reprisal. You could be charged with simple assault if the prosecutor is unable to verify these elements, but not as a public officer.
A public official can also make a false allegation against someone else. The victim of an assault does not have to be hurt physically. As a result of this, a public official with a grudge against someone or a misunderstanding with him or her could falsely accuse the defendant of assault. You can uncover the accusations with the help of a professional lawyer by obtaining the relevant proof and witness accounts. Your attorney would be able to apply a variety of techniques to reveal the truth as well as to help you get absolved.
You Didn't Act Intentionally or Willingly
If the offender did not willfully use force against a public official, she or he couldn't be charged with assault. Your actions could have been unintentional or based on a misunderstanding. The official could misinterpret your gestures and press charges against you for assault. For example, imagine you're at a political gathering and people begin pushing each other. In the course of regaining your balance or getting away, you bump into a public official, causing him or her to fall and sustain injuries. This was completely unintentional, with no intention of causing harm to the public official. If that's the situation, you couldn't be convicted of assaulting a public official.
California PC 217.1(a) Assault and Related Crimes
In California, there are several offenses related to an assault on a public official. These crimes can be prosecuted in addition to or in place of a PC 217.1a offense. The following are examples of these violations:
Battery Leading to Severe Physical Injuries
A battery offense, as defined by PC 242, necessitates the use of physical force against someone, as opposed to assaulting a public official, which does not necessitate the use of physical force. Even if a person does not cause physical harm to the other person, they could be convicted of this crime.
The laws only require that an individual effectively gets in contact with another person in a harmful or offensive manner. Battery is classified as a misdemeanor. If someone is convicted of this crime, they could face a maximum of 6 months in county jail. In addition, the accused will be ordered to pay court fines of no more than $2,000.
An aggravated battery, on the other hand, occurs when one person inflicts serious bodily injury on another. For example, a law enforcement officer returning from the local supermarket finds someone trying to steal a vehicle. He approaches the individual, but the individual retaliates with force, grasping the official and dislocating her or his arm in the process.
Ordinary individuals can also be subjected to aggravated battery. For instance, if two individuals start bickering about the game during a soccer match, then one of them collides with the other, breaking his or her nose. This is an aggravated assault case, which would lead to felony charges.
Aggravated assault could be classified as either a misdemeanor or a felony offense. If you are convicted of a misdemeanor, you could face the following penalties:
- Serving up to a one-year sentence in county jail
- Paying fines of up to $1,000 in cash
The penalties are harsher if you are convicted of a felony charge. You could face:
- 2, 3, or 4 years in county jail
- cash fines of up to $10,000
Assault With a Deadly Weapon
If an offender is charged with assaulting another individual or a public official with a knife, a pistol, or any other means that could result in serious harm, she or he is violating the provisions of PC 245a (1). Additionally, if the defendant attacks a public official with a weapon, he or she would face accusations of not just assaulting a public official, but also assault using a deadly weapon. This is regarded as a wobbler, which implies the prosecution could charge you with either a misdemeanor or felony charge. The severity of the sanctions for this crime is determined by several factors. Among these are:
- The kind of weapon or instrument used to undertake the assault
- The nature and severity of the victim's injuries
- Whether the purported plaintiff was a public official, such as a law enforcer, or an individual who was otherwise protected
A person facing charges for a misdemeanor could face up to a year in jail. A felony sentence, on the other hand, would result in severe consequences. A defendant would be sentenced to 2, 3, or 4 years in prison. If firearms were used in the assault, the offense becomes a violation of PC 242a (2.)
Disturbing the Peace (PC 415)
This is a popular plea bargaining offense for a person facing various charges of assault in addition to assaulting a public official. This offense is committed when:
- Getting into a verbal or physical altercation with another individual in public, or even daring them to a brawl
- Disturbing people maliciously and deliberately by using an excessively loud voice
- Making use of offensive or provocative language in public could result in a violent confrontation.
- Using racial slurs against another person and continuing to do so despite their request to stop, as well as inciting or starting a bar brawl
Prosecutors have the discretion to charge the defendant with a misdemeanor or an infraction, based on the nature of the incident. If you are convicted of this crime, you could face the following harsh penalties:
- A maximum sentence of 90 days in county jail
- A cash fine of no more than $400
- Serving time in jail as well as paying the hefty fines
Assault with Caustic Chemicals (PC 244)
This is among the most severe types of assault in California. PC 244 violations occur when someone throws or sets caustic chemicals or flammable materials on another individual. This is done to damage or disfigure people for various reasons. If an individual feels oppressed by the remarks or actions of a public official, he or she could commit this crime against the official. In addition to the assault allegations against the public official, the individual could also be convicted of assault for using caustic chemicals.
When an individual is accused of violating the provisions of PC 244, they'll be charged with felony charges. A defendant could face the following penalties:
- Paying fines in cash of no more than ten thousand dollars
- Serving a two-to-four-year sentence in a state prison
Find a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
An assault on a public official is a far more serious crime in California than a regular assault offense. The state should safeguard public officials as they carry out their obligations. When you attack or threaten a state official, the government or state considers it a direct and personal assault. If proven guilty of assault, the penalties will be severe.
You must treat these accusations with the severity that they require and seek the services of a competent attorney to represent you. We at the Foos Gavin Law Firm have a staff of competent criminal defense lawyers that will fight to defend you. Contact us at 916-779-3500 if you are fighting charges of assault on a public official in Sacramento.