Assault on a Public Official

Assault laws are generally covered under Penal Code 240 and a conviction could result in large fines or county jail time. That said, assault or battery on a peace officer or other public official is considered a wobbler. A wobbler means one could face either a misdemeanor or felony penalties.

Allegations for assaulting a public official should not be treated lightly. A conviction will have a significant impact on your future. Having such a serious offense on one’s criminal record could affect future employment opportunities, housing choices and higher education goals. Seeking legal help from a skillful criminal defense lawyer is highly recommended

For an in-depth understanding of assault on a public official, we must first take a look at how California defines this crime.

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Definition of Assault on a Public Official

California outlines assault on a public official under Penal Code 217.1. This law states it is a crime when someone;

Unlawfully attempts to commit violence on another person,

It’s important to note, an assault does not require actual physical contact to be found guilty. The attempt to inflict force or violence is enough.

The individual is a public official or an immediate family member of a public official, and

Officials covered under this statute include;

Current or former jurors or judges (at any judicial level),

Judicial officers, referees, or commissioners,

Current or former prosecutors,

Current or former public defenders,

Federal or state elected official,

Mayors, county supervisors, city council members,

Peace officers, sheriffs, or municipal chief of police,

Director or secretary of federal or state executive agencies,

Governors of any state or territory, and

Current or former Presidents or Vice Presidents.

Immediate family members of a public official include;

Spouses, children, brothers, sisters, parents, stepchildren, stepparents, or stepsiblings.

The violent act was committed in order to prevent the said official from carrying out their duties.

Closely Related Offenses

The following is a list of some offenses that are either associated with or closely related to an assault on a public official. Depending on the details of each case, one could face multiple offenses in addition to the main charge OR face one or more of these charges instead of PC 217.1.

Penal Code 243(b) and 243(c) - Battery on a Peace Officer

You commit this crime when you use physical force or violence on a police officer.

Penal Code 240 - Assault

It is a crime to attempt or threaten to use force or violence on another person. This means one would not actually have to get physical with someone else, the attempt or threat is enough.

Penal Code 242 - Battery

It is a crime to actually inflict force or physical violence on another individual(s).

Penal Code 422 - Criminal Threats

This law makes it a crime to threaten to hurt, injure, or kill another person or a member of their family with the intent of placing them in a state of sustained fear of such an attack.

Penal Code 243(e)(1) - Domestic Battery

This crime is one of the most common offenses that fall under California’s domestic violence laws. It makes it a crime to willfully and unlawfully touch in a harmful or offensive manner someone who is a current or former spouse, cohabitant, fiancee, the co-parent of one’s child, or someone you used to have a dating relationship with.

Penal Code 415 - Disturbing the Peace

Also referred to as breaching the peace, this statute makes it a crime to unlawfully fight or challenge someone to a fight in a public space, OR willfully and maliciously disturbing another individual(s) with an unreasonably loud noise, OR using offensive words to provoke a violent reaction in a public space.

Penal Code 148 - Resisting Arrest

To willfully obstruct or resist a police officer or paramedic/emergency medical technician (EMT) while they are performing their duties is a crime.

The Prosecution

The facts of the case must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt if the prosecution wants to get a conviction. The facts are also referred to as the elements of the crime, which are as follows;

  • Attempting to inflict force or violence on someone else, and
  • This person is or was a public official or their immediate family member, and
  • The assault was committed to either prevent the said officials from performing their duties or in retaliation for them performing their official duties.

Example:

Tina wanted revenge on the judge that tried her case so she brought rocks and eggs to throw at him during one of his trials. As everyone was getting settled in, she placed the carton of rocks and eggs on her lap. One of the officers of the court noticed her odd behavior and remembered her face from a recent trial. He moved closer to see what all her movement was about.

Everyone stood up as the judge approached his seat. Tina took the chance to pull out the largest rock she brought and aim it for the judge. The officer watching her spotted it. Before she could throw anything at the judge, he grabbed her arm to stop her.

Tina could be charged with assault on a public official under PC 217.1, even though she did not have the chance to throw any foreign object at him. Not only did she intend on inflicting violence on the judge, but she was also going to attack him while he was carrying out his official duties within the courtroom. 

Who Can Be Charged

There are situations where it can be somewhat unclear on who can be charged with PC 217.1. To illustrate who can and cannot be charged with assault on a public official, take a look at the following scenes.

Example 1:

Tyler wanted revenge on the district attorney, his sister-in-law, after losing his domestic violence case, specifically PC 273.5, inflicting corporal injury on an intimate partner. She was the reason he was caught abusing his spouse.

When he got out of jail he found the home address of the D.A. and attempted to break into their home to attack them. Luckily, their pet dog was there to defend them by attacking Tyler as soon as he gained entry into the home.

Tyler would be guilty of assault on a public official under PC 217.1 for attempting to cause injury to the district attorney. He would also be charged with PC 495, burglary, for illegally breaking and entering the home to commit a criminal act.

Example 2:

Leslie befriended a federal investigators’ son to keep tabs on her own criminal case, in hopes of impeding the investigation. They were building a case against her for embezzlement and fraud.

The son was unaware that she was under investigation by his father. When the father found them together, Leslie pulled out her pocket knife and attempted to stab him. The son managed to stop her from delivering a serious blow to his father.

Leslie would face charges for assaulting a public official. Due to the use of a deadly weapon, the pocket knife, she would most likely face felony penalties. If she intended to hurt the federal investigators’ son instead, she would still face this offense.

Example 3:

Silas got drunk at a bar and the bartender decided to cut him off. He attempted to take another patrons’ drink, resulting in an altercation with the other patron. After a yelling match, he picked up some pool balls and prepared to attack him. Other bystanders stopped him before any of the objects were thrown.

It turned out the other patron was the mayors’ spouse. Silas did not know that at the time nor would it have mattered. He did not get into an altercation with the spouse in order to obstruct the mayor from performing his public duties.

Silas would not be guilty of assaulting a public official, but he would still face charges for PC 240, assault for attempting to violently attack another person. He would also face PC 647(f), public intoxication charges for getting violent after the bartender cut him off.

Legal Defenses

Defending yourself against such charges can seem like a daunting task, especially if you are afraid of getting the maximum penalty. Fortunately, there are people who can help. An expert criminal defense attorney will be knowledgeable about the common defenses that can be used to fight such allegations. Here are just a few of the defenses that have been used to protect the accused from harsh consequences.

Was the intent to retaliate or prevent a public official from performing their duties a motivating factor in the assault?

If your motive for assaulting another person had nothing to do with their status in public office, then you would not be guilty of PC 217.1, assaulting a public official.

Nevertheless, if you still committed the assault, then you could face simple assault charges under PC 240. It will still impact your criminal record, but it does carry lesser consequences.

Example:

Dean, a police officer was having an affair with a married woman. The woman’s husband, Richard, found out about it and went to the police department where Dean was on shift. Richard confronted Dean and attempted to attack him. He was prevented from landing any blows by the other police officers who were present.

Although Dean was a public official and Richard did assault him, it was not motivated by the intention to obstruct justice. Nor were the violent actions driven by the need to stop Dean from performing his public service duties.

Richard would still be guilty of assault for willfully intending to attack Dean in the hopes of hurting him. The extenuating circumstances of the marital infidelity had nothing to do with Dean’s official job, so PC 217.1 would not be the case. 

Did you actually have the physical ability to commit the act?

If one did not possess the present ability to follow through with an assault, they cannot be guilty of PC 217.1. Instances of this would be people suffering from physical ailments that would make it impossible for them to get into an altercation or if the alleged victim was stronger and/or bigger and completely unaffected by such an attempt.

Sometimes using harsh words or bodily movements can come off as preparing to physically attack someone. However, the act of using your words, no matter how harsh is not a crime. It’s considered protected speech under one’s first amendment rights of the U.S. constitution.

On the other hand, it’s important to remember, if you used threatening and/or hateful language that made the public official fear for their safety or that of their family members, you could still face charges for criminal threats under PC 422. A lesser offense would be using offensive language to disrupt the peace, which will result in charges under PC 415, disturbing the peace.

Was it self-defense or to defend another person?

Unfortunately, there are members of public office who feel they hold enough authoritative power to unlawfully or offensively touch another person without consequence. In a situation like this, if you committed assault in order to defend yourself or in the defense of someone else, you are not guilty of PC 217.1, assault on a public official.

Example:

Dina was a teacher at a school and spotted a school police officer arresting a student. She watched as he aggressively slammed the young boy to the ground and handcuffed him. As they stood and drew nearer to his squad car, he kneed the teen in the back twice. Then he slammed the kid down on the hood of his car. The teen was not resisting but was crying and asking for help.

Dina quickly walked up and asked the police officer to stop his aggressive behavior. He ignored Dina, shoved her aside and threatened to arrest her. He then attempted to smash the kids’ head into the windshield. Dina acted quickly to defend the youth and began recording the officer with her smartphone. She also began to swing her book bag back and forth, attempting to hit the officer with it. He moved away to avoid getting hit, which prevented him from seriously injuring the kid again.

Dina would not be guilty of PC 217.1, assault on a public official because she was coming to the aid of a minor who was being abused by a peace officer. In this case, the peace officer was using unnecessary, excessive force on the minor.

Penalties of Assault on a Public Official

Penal Code 217.1 - Assault on a Public Official

Misdemeanor;

Summary (misdemeanor) probation,

Up to one year in county jail, and/or

Up to one thousand dollars in fines.

Felony;

Formal (felony) probation,

16 months, 2, or 3 years in county jail, and/or

Fines of up to ten thousand dollars.

Enhanced Penalties

Steeper fines and longer jail or prison sentences are additional consequences to worry about if assault with a deadly weapon(ADW) or assault with a firearm(loaded or not) were factors in the case.

Penalties for Closely Related Offenses

Penal Code 243(b) and 243(c) - Battery on a Peace Officer

Misdemeanor;

Up to one year in county jail, and/or

Fines of up to two thousand dollars.

Penal Code 240 - Assault Laws

Misdemeanor;

Informal (misdemeanor) probation,

Up to six months in the county jail, and/or

Up to one thousand dollars in fines.

Penal Code 242 - Battery Laws

Misdemeanor;

Summary probation,

Up to six months in the county jail, and/or

Fines of up to two thousand dollars.

Penal Code 422 - Criminal Threats

Misdemeanor;

Up to one-year county jail, and

Maximum fines of up to one thousand dollars.

Felony;

Up to three years in state prison, and

Fines of up to ten thousand dollars.

Penal Code 243(e)(1) - Domestic Battery

Misdemeanor;

Up to one year of attendance to a batterer’s intervention program,

Fines of up to two-thousand dollars, and/or

Up to one year in county jail.

Penal Code 415 - Disturbing the Peace

Infraction;

A fine of up to two hundred fifty dollars.

Misdemeanor;

Informal (summary) probation,

Up to four hundred dollars in fines, and/or

Up to ninety days in county jail.

Penal Code 148(a) - Resisting Arrest

Misdemeanor;

Up to one year in the county jail, and/or

Fines of up to one thousand dollars.

Who Can Help

Finding an effective criminal defense lawyer can make a significant difference when it comes to cases involving peace officers or other public officials.

If you are located in Imperial Beach, National City, Chula Vista, or the greater San Diego area contact the Law Offices of Anna R. Yum for help. As a top-rated criminal defense attorney, you can expect an aggressive fight on your behalf, giving you more control over your future.

For more information about any of the previously mentioned penal codes or to confidentially discuss your case, simply call 619-233-4433. You can also send us a message for further inquiries.

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