The California PC 217.1 outlines the crime of assault on a public official. The violation of PC 217.1 is a form of aggravated assault whereby the defendant targets a public official to prevent them from performing their official duties. The typical consequences for assault on a public official include imprisonment in county jail and hefty fines. If you face an assault on a public official charge, you should contact an experienced attorney to help you fight the charges. For reliable legal representation, you can count on the California Criminal Lawyer Group.
The Definition Of Assault On A Public Official
The definition of assault on a public official revolves around the elements of the crime. The prosecutor must prove several elements to accuse you of assault on a public official successfully:
- You committed an assault
- You committed the assault against the public official or the official's immediate family member.
- It should also be evident that you committed the assault to prevent the victim from performing their official duties.
The law defines simple assault as an attempt to commit a violent injury or severe bodily injury on another person. When you attempt to commit the assault, you should have a present ability to commit the crime. You do not need to succeed in assaulting or injuring another person for assault charges to apply.
Under the California PC 217.1, the following persons qualify as public officials:
- The U.S. president or vice president
- The Governor or any territory or state in the U.S
- Any local justice, state, or federal judge or juror
- A subordinate judicial staff like a referee or commissioner
- The director or secretary of any executive agency, either federal or state
- Any state or federal elected official
- A district attorney/prosecutor, current or former
- A public defender, current or former
- County supervisors, law enforcement officers, mayor, peace officer, city council member, sheriff, or municipal chief of police
You will also face an assault on a public official charge if you assault any member of the public official’s family. The immediate family members include:
You will only face an assault on a public official charge if you attack the official to retaliate or prevent the official from engaging in their formal or legal duties. You will not be guilty under PC 217.1 if you assault a public official, but the assault has nothing to do with the public official’s duties.
Why Public Officials Are Prone To Assault
As part of their duty, public officials often make many crucial policy decisions. Many policy decisions in California and the entire United States are unpopular and dramatic. Therefore, public officials are often at constant risk of threats and attacks. This explains why California has a specific law to address the issue of attack on a public official. Upon conviction of this crime, the consequences could be detrimental.
Different public officials have varying roles. These roles typically revolve around settling disputes within the state. Many public officials also play a central role in creating state laws. Assaulting a public official will attract harsher penalties than assaulting a regular person. Unlike a simple assault that attracts misdemeanor charges, assault on a public official could attract felony charges. In difficult situations, assault on a public official could impose a death sentence or life imprisonment.
The prosecutor has a burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you assaulted a public official. In addition to fighting assault charges in a state court, you might also have to fight the charges in a federal court. Most attacks on public officials are often revenging against the official for exercising the law against the defendant. The attack could also be a way of preventing the official from performing their duties.
The Meaning Of Assault
The California PC 240 outlines the legal meaning of assault. You could be guilty of assault if you:
- You do something that would lead to the direct application of force on someone else
- You do the said act willingly
- When you acted, you knew that a reasonable person would believe that your actions could result in the direct application of force on them.
- When you acted, you had the present ability to apply force on the victim.
The application of force refers to any form of offensive or harmful touching. Even a slight form of touching will qualify as an application of force, provided you do it in an offensive or rude manner. Even if the touching involved couldn’t or didn’t cause any form of harm, you could still be guilty of an assault. For example, you could be involved in an argument with a public official; you suddenly lose your temper and spit on the official’s face. In this case, there is no chance of injuring the public official by spitting on their face. However, your action may still qualify as assault under California law because you did it in a rude or offensive manner.
The touch can be direct or indirect; indirect touch involves using an object to touch the victim. The defendant does not need to have succeeded in applying force on the victim to face the charges. All that is required is proof that the defendant took an action that could have resulted in force being applied to the victim.
Acting willfully means that you did something on purpose or intentionally. You don’t need to have intended to hurt someone, break the law, or gain any advantage. You must have been aware that your action could lead to the application of force for you to face assault charges. You do not need to have intended to apply force on the victim. You only need to have known that your actions could lead to the application of force under the circumstances.
Whether Assault Is The Same As Battery
A common misconception is that assault and battery mean the same thing. People use the phrase assault & battery, often assuming that the two terms mean the same thing. However, assault and battery are entirely different crimes under California law. Under PC 240, assault is any action that could inflict unwanted touching or physical harm on someone else. Under PC 242, battery refers to the actual infliction of force on someone else. Assault doesn’t need to involve physical contact between the defendant and the victim, but battery involves physical contact. In other words, assault is an attempted battery, while the battery is a completed assault.
The Consequences Of Violating PC 217.1
The violation of the California PC 217.1 is a wobbler offense. The prosecutor may charge you with a felony or misdemeanor, depending on the facts of your case and your criminal history. If the prosecutor charges the crime as a misdemeanor, the penalties will include:
- A jail time in a California county jail for not more than one year
- A fine of not more than $1,000
If the prosecutor charges the crime as a felony, the consequences will include:
- Jail custody of up to three years
- A fine of up to $10,000
The judge may also subject you to felony probation, also known as formal or federal probation. The probation typically lasts for three to five years. Felony probation allows the convicted person to serve part or their entire sentence out of custody. However, unlike misdemeanor probation, anyone on felony probation will be under the close supervision of a probation officer.
The court will consider several factors to determine a defendant’s eligibility for probation instead of jail time. Some of the factors that the judge considers include the facts of the case and the defendant’s prior criminal history. While on probation, the defendant will have several terms and conditions that they must follow. For example, the defendant will have regular monthly meetings with the probation officer. The probation officer will monitor the defendant’s progress and adherence to the terms and conditions set by the judge.
If the defendant violates the probation terms, the judge may revoke the probation and send the defendant to jail. The judge may also modify the probation terms or give the defendant a warning and reinstate the probation on similar terms.
Below are some of the common conditions of probation:
- Performing community service
- Monthly meetings with the probation officer
- Participating in group therapy or counseling
- Paying fines and restitution to the victim
- Submitting to impromptu searches by the probation officer or the law enforcement officers
Fighting Assault On A Public Official Charges
With the help of a criminal defense attorney, you can use several legal defenses to fight the assault on a public official charged. The common defense strategies are:
You Did Not Have A Criminal Intent
You can only be guilty under PC 217.1 if you assault a public official intending to retaliate or prevent the official from performing his official duties. Therefore, you can always defend yourself by stating that you did not act with this aim or purpose. If the prosecutor cannot prove that you were retaliating or trying to stop the public official from performing their duties, they may have to charge you with a lesser offense like simple assault. Simple assault is charged as a misdemeanor and has lesser charges than an assault on a public official, generally charged as a wobbler.
You Did Not Assault The Public Official
You are only guilty under PC 217.1 if you commit an assault. You can defend yourself by stating that you did not assault the public official. If your actions did not qualify as an assault, you could fight the charges on this basis.
You Did Not Know That The Victim Was A Public Official
For the prosecutor to charge you with the crime of assaulting a public official, the prosecutor must prove that you knew or reasonably should have known that the public was a public official. You should also have known that the official was involved in the performance of their designated official duties. Some of the factors that can help you realize that someone is a public official are:
- The person was wearing a distinctive uniform or clothing associated with their role.
- The victim provided you with an identifying document that indicated their status
- The victim was driving an official vehicle like a police car, a fire engine, ambulance, or any other official vehicle identified with their position.
- The victim tried to handcuff you, a clear indication that the victim is a law enforcement officer.
- The victim was involved in the performance of their official duties like putting a parking ticket on a vehicle or any other tasks associated with their role.
If no indicators were present to help you realize that the victim was a public official, the prosecutor would have difficulty charging you with assault on a public official.
You Didn’t Have The Present Ability To Apply Force On The Public Official
The prosecutor must prove that you had a present ability to inflict an injury on the victim when you committed the crime. For example, when involved in a confrontation with a public official, you may lose your temper and use harsh words and wild gestures. You may even try to threaten the official to make your feelings understood. However, if you do not have a present ability to apply force on the official, you cannot face assault charges. If you had no ability to apply force on the official, your attorney could persuade the prosecutor to reduce your charges to a lesser offense like disturbing the peace.
Self-Defense Or Defense Of Someone Else
With the help of your criminal defense attorney, you can raise a defense and point out that you assaulted the public official out of self-defense or defense of another person. You can also state that you were defending your property. For this defense to apply, it should be evident that:
- You had a good faith belief that you or someone else was in danger of significant bodily injury or physical harm
- It was necessary for you to use force to stop the danger from occurring
- You did not use more force than was required under the circumstances
It is important to note that words, no matter how offensive, cannot justify an assault. Therefore, you can only claim that you acted in self-defense or defense of another person if you believe that someone was in danger of physical injury or unlawful touching.
Under California law, a victim of assault doesn’t need to suffer an injury to prove that the defendant attacked them. Therefore, you could be easily accused falsely of assaulting a public official since the official does not need to suffer visible injuries. A public official may accuse you of assaulting them, yet you are innocent. The typical motives behind false accusations are anger, jealousy, and revenge. With the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney, you can prove that you did not commit the crime.
Three crimes are closely related to the crime of assault on a public official:
Assault With A Deadly Weapon
You could face assault with a deadly weapon charge under PC 245 if you attack or attempt to attack another person using a deadly weapon or other means that could cause significant bodily injury. Before convicting you of attack with a deadly weapon, the prosecutor will need to prove the following:
- You engaged in an act that could result in the direct application of force on someone else
- While performing the act, you use a lethal weapon or a force likely to cause significant bodily injury
- You acted willfully or on purpose
- While you acted, you knew that your actions would make a reasonable person believe that the actions would result in the application of force on them or someone else.
- While you acted, you had a present ability to apply force on the victim using the lethal weapon.
Like in an assault on a public official, the victim of an attack with a deadly weapon does not need to sustain injuries for you to face charges. The focus will be on whether your actions could have resulted in the application of force on the victim. The application of force refers to any harmful or offensive touching. For example, a seemingly harmless physical contact with the victim could qualify as an application of force.
Under this statute, a deadly weapon refers to any object or weapon that could cause significant bodily harm or death. A deadly weapon could include a knife or a gun. If you use an object in a manner that could cause death or extensive injuries, the object may qualify as a deadly weapon. Examples of items that may qualify as deadly weapons depending on how you use them include pencils, bottles, BB guns, and unloaded guns.
Assault with a deadly weapon is a wobbler offense, chargeable as a felony or misdemeanor. If the prosecutor charges the crime as a misdemeanor, the penalties are:
- Misdemeanor probation
- A jail time of not more than one year in county jail
- A fine of not more than $1,000
If the crime is a felony, the potential consequences may include:
- Formal probation
- Imprisonment of up to four years in a state prison
- A fine of not more than $10,000
Battery — PC 242
The California PC 242 defines battery as a willful and unlawful use of violence or force on another person. You could face battery charges even if the victim does not sustain injuries or experience pain, provided you offensively touched the defendant. The prosecutor needs to prove that you touched someone else intentionally, in an offensive or harmful manner. If the prosecutor fails to confirm all the outlined elements, you will not face battery charges.
Under California PC 242, a simple battery that does not cause serious bodily injury is a misdemeanor offense. You will face misdemeanor charges provided you do not commit battery against a law enforcement officer or other protected persons. The potential penalties for simple battery are:
- Summary probation
- A jail time of up to six months in a county jail
- A fine that does not exceed $2,000
If the prosecutor accuses you of battery, you can use the following legal defenses to fight the charges:
- You did not act intentionally
- You acted in self-defense or defense of another person
- You were exercising your parental rights to discipline your child
Assault On A Police Officer
The California PC 241c outlines the crime of assaulting a police officer or any other public safety first responder. You will face charges provided you assault an officer during the performance of their official duties. The following are the elements of assault on a police officer:
- You did an act that could lead to the application of force on someone else
- You acted intentionally or willfully
- A reasonable person would have realized that your actions could lead to the application of force on them
- When you acted, you had a present ability to apply force on the victim
- When you acted, the victim was performing their official duties
- When you assaulted the victim, you knew that the victim was a police officer
A police officer is a broad term that comprises of police officers and the following persons:
- California Highway Patrol Officers
- Paramedic and EMT
- Traffic officer
- Process server
- Search and rescue members
- Animal control officers
- A nurse or doctor providing emergency medical care
The crime of assault of a peace officer is a misdemeanor crime. The offense is punishable by custody of up to one year in county jail and a fine that does not exceed $2,000. The crime of assault on a police officer will not have negative immigration consequences. If you complete probation or jail time (whichever is applicable) successfully, you can apply for an expungement of your criminal record. In addition, a conviction of assault of a public official will not affect your gun rights.
You can use the following legal defenses to fight a conviction on a public official charge:
- You did not assault the police officer. For example, if you only shouted at the officer, this does not qualify as an assault
- The victim is not a police officer and is therefore not protected under this statute
- You acted in self-defense or defense of someone else
Find A Anaheim Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
Assault on a public official is a severe crime with severe consequences. You should contact an experienced attorney immediately when you learn you are under investigation for assault on a public official. You can count on the California Criminal Lawyer Group for aggressive legal defense. Contact us at 714-766-0965 and speak to one of our attorneys.