Battery on a Police Officer

In California, crimes on certain special persons carry enhanced penalties and tougher punishments.  These “special persons” are generally police officers or protected officials. There is a special rule for crimes against any person falling under this category. If you commit a battery on a peace officer, you will be charged and prosecuted with more aggression since the crime is considered a much more violent offense than simple battery.

In California, it is a crime to commit a battery on a peace officer pursuant to Penal Code Section 243(b) and 243(c)(2). Attacking a peace officer unlawfully and willfully in an offensive manner while the officer is in the process of performing their duties is a crime. For you to be found guilty of PC 243(b) and 243(c)(2) violation, the prosecution must prove that you reasonably knew or should have known that the individual you attacked was a protected official performing his/her duties.

Prosecution of California Battery on a Police Officer

For you to be found guilty of Battery on a peace officer, the prosecution must prove each and everyone of the elements of the crimes listed below:

  1. The purported victim was indeed a protected person or peace officer carrying out his/her duties and
  2. The accused unlawfully and willfully touched the victim in an offensive and harmful way, and
  3. The defendant knew or should have reasonably known that the individual they committed the crime against was a peace officer or protected official in the process of performing their duty.

All these elements combined form the legal definition of what battery on a peace officer constitutes.

An In-Depth Explanation of the Elements

Peace Officer

A peace officer is an individual employed by a law enforcement agency. It could be a police officer, sheriff department, harbor police, transit police, and probation officers just to name a few. Also, it can refer to police officers in distinct police clothing working in private companies as security guards. There are also other types of public officers whose job description is not law enforcement, but they fall under the grouping of protected persons. They include, but not limited to firefighters, lifeguards and search and rescue, EMTs or ER nurses and doctors, service processors, parking ticket employees and city animal control workers. When assessing a charge of battery on a peace officer, the key question is whether the defendant knew or should have known that he/she was attacking a peace officer.  

Performing their duties

If you committed battery on a protected person in the cause of performing their duties at the time of the incident, then you can be charged under PC 243(b) and (c).

Example:

Mark gets into a bar fight with George hits George in the face. It turns out that George was an off-duty police officer, but obviously, while drinking in the bar, he was not performing his duties as a police officer. Therefore, Mark cannot be charged with Penal Code 243 (b) or 243 (c). However, he might be charged under Penal Code 242 PC simple battery.

Touched in a violent or offensive manner

The simple description of battery, including battery on a peace officer as defined under Penal Code 243(b) or Penal Code 243(c)(2), constitutes any violent or offensive touching. Even the slightest touch can be included if it was executed in an angry or rude manner. Also, the touching does not have to result in injury or pain.

Example:

Jane is stopped by a police officer by the roadside because she was over speeding. She knows the consequence of her actions, and as the officer stretches out his hand to get her driver’s license, Jane gets hysterical and slaps the officer’s hand. In this case, the slap could not have caused the officer any harm or pain, but then, it was done in an offensive and rude way.

Also important to note, the touching does not have to be direct. Battery on a peace officer could also include offensive or violent touching of an item that is attached closely or connected to the victim such as an object he/she is holding or clothing he/she is wearing. For example, spitting on a police officer’s shoe or boot can be considered a battery on a peace officer.

Willfully

For a touching to be battery, it must be executed willfully. An action is willful if you acted on purpose or deliberately performed the action.  You do not need to intend to hurt the police officer, break the law or gain an advantage over them.

Knew or should have reasonably known

If you knew or reasonably should have known that you were committing battery on an individual who was a peace officer or somebody else protected by Penal Code 243(b) and Penal C 243(c), then you are guilty. However, the knowledge, in this case depends on whether the alleged peace officer clearly informed you of his/her status and whether he/she was in a uniform, driving an ambulance, marked police car, or any other vehicle associated with protected persons.

Example:

Michael is in a bar and gets into a fight with Darwin.  Michael punches Darwin and he falls backward accidentally onto police officer Bryan who breaks his leg.  Michael did not see police officer Bryan behind Darwin.  Michael should not be charged with battery on a police officer because he could not have known Darwin would fall on police officer Bryan.

Penalties for Battery on a Peace Officer

Simple battery on a peace officer under PC 243(b) PC is filed and charged as a California misdemeanor. If convicted, you can receive:

  • A maximum fine of $2,000
  • A maximum of one year in county jail and/or
  • Summary probation for 3 years

However, the penalties for battery on a peace officer or protected person, under California Penal Code 243 (c) increase if the battery is purported to have resulted in injury. For the purpose of this law, an injury is any bodily injury that needs medical treatment by a professional. However, this does not mean that the victim must seek professional medical treatment or an injury cannot be deemed to have happened just because the officer sought unnecessary medical treatment.

For instance, Officer Rob, while trying to arrest Andrew for drugs possession, gets into a struggle with him. Andrew hits Rob in the groin and also pins his hand between the floor and a pair of handcuffs. After this alteration, Rob goes to a doctor and get an X-rays taken that reveal no broken bones. He has minor cuts causing injury but is then released from the hospital without any medication. On charges of battery on a peace officer causing injury, Andrew is guilty.  Although Officer Rob did not get any specific medical treatment, the jury may go ahead and conclude that the injuries inflicted were severe enough.

Battery on a peace officer that causes injury is a wobbler.  A wobbler is a crime that can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. It is the prosecutor’s discretion to either charge you with a felony or misdemeanor.  This, however, will be dependent on the circumstances of your case, including the severity of the officer’s injuries, and your criminal record and the likelihood of success at trial against you.

If you are charged with battery on a peace officer causing injuries as a misdemeanor, you could suffer the same potential penalties as those listed above covering battery that does not result in injury. However, the only exception is that the maximum fine escalates to $10,000 if the alleged victim is a peace officer.

When charged as a felony

If charged with a felony battery on a peace officer causing injury, you will be subjected to:

  • an incarceration sentence of 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years in California State prison,
  • felony probation, and/or
  • A maximum fine of US$10,000

Legal Defenses

Being charged with a crime such as battery on a peace officer is a nightmare, much less being convicted of one. Going through this ordeal alone can be scary and can have a negative impact on your life for a significant period of time. The best course of action you can take if charged is to find and work with an experienced and competent attorney.

Some of the legal defenses that a criminal defense attorney at Long Beach Criminal Lawyer can apply in your case include:

  1. You acted in self-defense or defense of somebody else

You are not in violation of PC 243(b) or 243(c)(2) if you cause harm on another person in the process of defending yourself or another third party. However, for the defense strategy of self-defense to apply, you must have a justifiable and reasonable belief that you or someone else faced immediate danger of being harmed or being touched unlawfully. Also, you must have held the belief that the best way to defend against the danger that you were facing was to apply force against the protected official or peace officer. Finally, this defense can apply in your case if the force you used was only necessary to protect against that particular danger. If the force was excessive in any way, then that compromises the ability of this type of defense being used to fight the charges.

Example:

Cameron is standing on a street corner in front of a bar.  Two men in plain clothes tackle him from behind and try to bring his arms behind his back.  Cameron fights back and kicks one man in the face.  The men then start shouting they are police officers.  Cameron has a defense that he could not have known the plain clothes police officers were police officers.

In California, self-defense in reaction to police cruelty is an acceptable defense to battery on a peace officer charges. However, words, no matter how offensive they are, are not sufficient to warrant a battery on a peace officer. This means that you can only defend yourself if you had reasonable belief that there was impending danger of being touched unlawfully or suffering physical injury, something that cannot be caused by words.

To illustrate how this defense can be used, let’s look at this example. Mary is driving down the street in Long Beach when she is pulled over by an officer for no apparent reason. Mary is asked to come out of her car by the officer, and while she keeps asking the officer what her mistake is, she gets no response. Before Mary can come out, the officer yanks her door open and grabs Mary by her blouse. She then pushes the officer who then falls to the ground. In this case, Mary does not violate Penal Code Section 243(b) or 243(c)(2) and can therefore not be found guilty. This is because she believed that something dangerous was going to happen to her because of how the officer grabbed her and the alleged battery on a peace officer came as a result of her acting in self-defense.

    ii. You did not act willfully

To be convicted of a PC 243 (b) or (c) violation, the prosecution must prove that you acted deliberately, intentionally, and on purpose. Therefore, you cannot be deemed guilty if you did not act willfully. Accidents happen, and even the peace officer or any other protected person can misconstrue a slight accidental move as battery.

For instance, if you are being arrested and the police officer twists your arm or elbow behind your back too forcefully and you instinctively react to push back the officer, you can argue you did not act willfully.  It could be that you were in pain while being handcuffed or while you were being placed into the back of a patrol car. And you struck an officer accidentally while trying to adjust your position. In practice, a lot of law enforcement officers ignore important facts that explain your actions were instinctive and not willful. 

   iii. The officer was not engaged in his/her duties

For you to be guilty of battery on a peace officer, the prosecutor must prove that the alleged battery incident occurred while the officer was performing his/her duties. If the police officer at the moment was not performing his/her duties, for instance, if the act was against an off duty officer, then you cannot be charged with the statute violation.

Additionally, an officer is not deemed to be performing their duties if the officer was engaged in police misconduct such as unlawful search and seizure, police brutality, unlawful racial profiling, or arresting someone unlawfully.

In some instances, if the facts can be interpreted to your benefit, your attorney, through a plea bargain, can persuade the prosecution to reduce the charges to simple battery or some other charge with lesser punishments.

Contact Long Beach Criminal Lawyer Today

In cases involving battery on a peace officer, it is usually a matter of the officer’s word versus your word. With the assistance of an experienced California criminal defense attorney, a thorough examination can be conducted on how the officer normally behaves on the job, and their background can shed some light on whether the accusations were fabricated, whether the officer overacted, or whether the allegations were exaggerated.

At Long Beach Criminal Lawyer, our legal team is dedicated to examining the specific facts and circumstances in your case and the officer’s record. In these types of cases, early intervention is critical in getting the charges dismissed or reduced. It is never a good idea to wait until formal charges have been filed in order to contact an attorney. A conviction can alter your personal and professional life and your freedom completely. Contact attorney Long Beach Criminal Lawyer today at 562-304-5121 to get your case reviewed and a defense plan formulated.