Many people assume that assaulting an officer and the battery of a police officer are the same thing. They’re not. While the two terms are becoming increasingly interchangeable, when many of California’s laws were drafted, the term battery referred to a physical act that resulted in the victim sustaining an injury.
As time passed, California’s legal system tightened up the laws, especially ones that involved police officers. Today, you can be charged and convicted of battery of a police officer even if that officer didn’t sustain an injury. Simply touching a peace officer in a manner that’s designed to be threatening, physically harmful or offensive is enough for you to face battery of a police officer charges.
The topic of battery of a police officer is addressed in Penal Code 243c2 PC.
The law clearly states that:
“When a battery is committed against the person of a peace officer, custodial officer, firefighter, emergency medical technician, lifeguard, security officer, custody assistant, process server, traffic officer, code enforcement officer, animal control officer, or search and rescue member engaged in the performance of his or her duties, whether on or off duty, including when the peace officer is in a police uniform and is concurrently performing the duties required of him or her as a peace officer while also employed in a private capacity as a part-time or casual private security guard or patrolman, or a nonsworn employee of a probation department engaged in the performance of his or her duties, whether on or off duty, or a physician or nurse engaged in rendering emergency medical care outside a hospital, clinic, or other health care facility, and the person committing the offense knows or reasonably should know that the victim is a peace officer, custodial officer, firefighter, emergency medical technician, lifeguard, security officer, custody assistant, process server, traffic officer, code enforcement officer, animal control officer, or search and rescue member engaged in the performance of his or her duties, nonsworn employee of a probation department, or a physician or nurse engaged in rendering emergency medical care, the battery is punishable.”
It’s important to note that while battery is typically connected to assaults on police officers, the law is written in such a way that all on-duty peace officers are included. Physically threatening a fireman or EMT has the same consequences as physically assaulting a police officer.
Battery of a police officer is one of California’s wobbler offenses. The circumstances surrounding the incident determine if you’ll be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony. It’s in your best interest to seek a misdemeanor charge since the potential sentence is considerably milder. If you’re convicted of misdemeanor battery of a peace officer, the judge could sentence you to a year in a county jail. If you’re convicted of felony battery of a police officer in California, the judge could order you to spend as much as three years in a state prison.
There are some defenses that can be used in cases involving battery against a police officer. The best defenses are:
- Proving that you acted in self-defense.
- Proving that you didn’t mean to assault the officer, that the touch was in fact accidental.
- Proving that you had no way of knowing that your victim was a peace officer.
The single best way to avoid a battery of a police officer in California charges is to always work hard at keeping your cool in tense situations, and always keeping your hands to yourself when you’re dealing with a peace officer. If you think you’re being treated unfairly, your best course of action is seeking legal advice rather than taking matters into your own hands.