Assault on a Public Official

Public officials have a critical mandate concerning making decisions that benefit members of the public. In their services, they might decide or comment in a way that doesn’t stand well with certain people. Thus, they are sometimes threatened and physically attacked. California laws are aware of this kind of danger to our officials. That is why there are stringent laws against assaulting a public official.

Assaulting a public official offense carries severe consequences for the convicted. Therefore, if you face charges for the crime, it is advisable to think about your defense if you are not ready to face the harsh penalties. At Darwish Law, we understand that you may have acted to defend yourself or a loved one. Or, you didn’t intend to prevent the official from performing his/her public duties. If you contact us today in Santa Ana, CA, we might be able help you convince the court to either drop or reduce your charges.

California Laws Against Assault

Generally, assaulting a person is considered a severe offense in California. The law is protective of everyone, but special provisions are available for specific people, including public officials. Public officials have devoted their time and energy to the service of members of the public. Since they are always out there, solving cases, making decisions, and expanding their services directly to public members, conflicts often arise, and members of the public can quickly rise against an official or officials. A mere argument with a public official is not an offense on its own. The law is particular on what assault is and actions that could amount to assault charges.

You can find the crime of assault under California Penal Code Section 240. The law defines simple assault as committing an act, which, by its nature, will probably result in the application of force on another person. Simple assault means that the offender committed the act willfully and that you had the present ability to apply force on that person. The most important aspect of the offense is that you used force on another person. In this case, the application of force means an offensive or harmful touch. Touching another person slightly will be considered a simple assault if done in an offensive or rude manner.

The next important aspect of assault is that the act was done willfully. However, you do not need to have intended to commit an offense, hurt the other person, or gain an advantage over them. A willful act is one that is done intentionally or on purpose. Additionally, you must have known that acting the way you did would have amounted to the application of force on the other person. Note that you may not have intended to use force in that instant, but you were aware that your actions would cause you to use force. That is enough to cause the court to find you guilty of assault.

Legal Meaning of Assaulting a Public Official

The law against assaulting a public official is under Section 217.1 of the California Penal Code. It refers to any assault, as explained above, when it involves a public officer as the victim. Assaulting a government official is categorized under aggravated assault and not simple assault. Therefore, the consequences of this offense could be graver and life-changing. If you or your loved one face charges for assaulting a public official, it is advisable to seek the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney. The court may decide to drop or reduce your charges, depending on the quality of your defense.

To understand what it means to face charges for assaulting a government official, let’s look at the elements of the offense. Elements are facts of the case that the court will require the prosecuting attorney to prove in court beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • That you committed the offense of assault

  • That you directed that assault to a public officer or one member of the official’s close family

  • That you committed this offense to impede the performance or retaliate for the official’s official duty

Let us discuss each element in detail:

Simple Assault

Assault on a public official begins with the offense of assault. In this case, the assault will mean that you illegally attempted to cause a violent physical injury on the official, and you had the present capability to commit the injury. Note that you may not have succeeded in causing the official injuries for the court to find you guilty of the offense.

Example: Sam, an assistant mayor, is among those who vote for the town’s demolitions. Among the buildings to be demolished is one belonging to Margaret, a popular resident in the city. News regarding the demolitions does not sit well with Margaret. During one of the public meetings, Margaret is unable to control her rage. She picks a fight with the assistant mayor and even attempts to slap Sam. But she is subdued by some people before she hits the assistant mayor.

In this case, Margaret is guilty of assaulting a public officer. Her attempt to injure Sam is enough to convict her, even if she didn’t harm the assistant mayor.

Public Official

The next element would be an assault that has been directed at a public officer. To understand this better, you need to understand who a public officer is. A public official, as explained under this law, could be one of the people below:

  • The President or the Deputy President of the U.S.

  • A governor of any territory or state in the U.S.

  • A local, state, or federal justice or a former or present juror or judge

  • A referee, commissioner, or another secondary judicial official

  • The director or secretary of any government agency, state, or federal agency

  • An elected state or federal official

  • A mayor, assistant mayor, member of the city council, county supervisor, sheriff, peace officer, or chief of police

  • Former or current prosecutor

  • Former or current public defender

Any assault directed at these people or their immediate family members will amount to charges for assault on a government official. The immediate family comprises of parents, step-parents, children, siblings, spouses, step-children, or step-siblings.

Example: Tim’s sister, Ruth, is facing a felony charge for vandalism. Ruth and her family claim she is innocent, but the prosecutor has a solid case against her. One afternoon, Tim sees the prosecutor passing by the local joint he likes to hang out with his friends at. Tim runs towards the prosecutor, punches, and pushes him to the ground. But his friends subdue him before he wrestles the public official to the ground. That is a straightforward case of assaulting a public officer.

The Motive

Assaulting a government official requires a specific motive for the offender to be convicted in a criminal court. You must have assaulted the officer to retaliate or prevent him/her from undertaking his official duties. It means that any assault on a public officer with no connection with their official duties won’t be charged under Section 217.1.

If you disagreed with a regular customer in your favorite local joint, and the altercation led to charges against you for assault, you cannot be charged under this law even if the person you assaulted was a government official. However, you may face charges for simple assault or assault using a dangerous weapon, depending on the nature of the offense.

Penalties for Assaulting Public Officials

Simple assault is convicted as a misdemeanor in California, attracting a maximum jail sentence of one year and a fine not exceeding $1,000. However, assaulting a government official is considered an aggravated form of assault. It is a wobbler. Therefore, the prosecutor can charge you with a felony or misdemeanor, depending on your case’s circumstances.

If the court charges you with a misdemeanor, you are likely to receive the following penalties:

  • Summary or misdemeanor probation

  • A maximum of one year in county jail

  • A maximum fine not exceeding $1,000

However, if the court charges you with a felony, you are likely to receive the following penalties:

  • Formal or felony probation

  • Sixteen months, two years, or three years in county jail under California’s realignment program

  • A maximum fine not exceeding $10,000

California realignment program is a process by which people who have been convicted for committing certain felony crimes that are considered less serious, non-violent, and not sex-related are sentenced to county jail or given non-custodial mandatory supervision like probation, instead of being sent to state prison.

If you have been serving a prison sentence for a crime that falls under the realignment category, you will be placed under the supervision of county probation officers when released from prison. The scheme is called Post-release Community supervision.

Realignment is different from felony probation, but it also calls for mandatory supervision as per the terms, conditions, and procedures provided, which are almost the same as those subjected to people placed on probation.

Possible Defenses to Charges for Assaulting a Public Officer

Assaulting a public officer is a serious offense because it carries grave penalties, especially for those facing felony charges. Thus, it might help to hire the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney. A strong defense will protect you from the severe penalties and other life-changing consequences that could come with a felony conviction. The good news is that your criminal defense attorney has various defense strategies he/she can use to fight your charges in court. If successful, the court may decide to reduce or even drop your charges altogether. Some of these strategies include:

You Lacked the Present Ability to Injure

As mentioned earlier, all elements of assault must be satisfied for the court to convict you of assaulting a government official. Among them is that you must have a present ability to inflict injuries on the victim of an assault. If you argued with the person, you probably used harsh gestures and words to express your anger. You probably even tried to hit or injure them. If you didn’t hurt them during the altercation, the court would want to know if you could injure them in the first place.

If you appear stronger than the victim, your strength alone is enough evidence that you had an immediate ability to injure them if you had a chance. However, if you are an older person, and the alleged victim is younger and much stronger, the current capability to injure might be lacking here.

The court might decide to drop or reduce your charges based on the arguments presented by your attorney in court.

There Wasn’t a Motive

The motive here must be that you intended to retaliate or stop the official from undertaking his/her official duties. If none of these reasons existed, then you may face other charges than assaulting a public officer. In this case, the court would want to hear the details surrounding your disagreement with the alleged victim. If your argument was fueled by a personal grudge and not the official’s duties and responsibilities, the court would drop your charges under Section 217.1 of the California Penal Code.

However, you may face charges for simple assault or another form of aggravated assault, such as assault using a dangerous weapon. If the evidence gathered against you is compelling, your attorney may prefer a less-severe charge for you as it comes with fewer punishments.

It Was in Self-Defense

Many cases of people injuring or attempting to harm others in self-defense are emerging. California courts cannot ignore those possibilities, even when one of their own (an official) is seemingly wrong. The problem is that the police, prosecutors, and other government officials are quite protective of their colleagues to the point of defending them even when they are in the wrong. Many people have even been convicted of assaulting public officials while, in the real sense, they were protecting themselves or others from suffering injuries in the hands of the alleged victim.

An experienced criminal attorney will gather evidence and prepare a compelling defense that will paint an accurate picture of what transpired on the day the offender is said to have committed the assault. If your attorney succeeds in weakening the prosecutor’s account, the court will drop your charges. Then, you will be free to file any charges against the official if there is a need.

However, you will have to convince the judge and jury that you believed you or someone else was in actual danger at the time, which caused you to respond with reasonable force. Remember that you might lose the case if the court established that the amount of force you used was more than reasonable.

Assaulting a Public Official and Related Charges

California Penal Code has other offenses that are closely related to Section 217.1. Some of them are charged together with assaulting a public officer, while others are used in its place. These offenses are:

California Assault

As discussed earlier, California assault, as provided in Section 240 of the California Penal Code is quite similar to Section 217.1 in that both are cases of assault. The only difference is the victim of the assault and the nature of the offense. For you to be found guilty of assaulting a government official, the circumstances of your case have to satisfy all elements of assault.

Most crimes of assault on public officials that do not satisfy all the elements provided under Section 217.1 are charged and convicted as simple assault. Additionally, offenders seeking a reduction in their charges for assaulting a government official often opt for assault charges. Assault charges are less severe and carry a lighter punishment.

The Crime of Battery on a Police Officer

The offense is covered in Sections 243(b) and 243(c) of California Penal Laws. It is committed when a person unlawfully and willfully touches a police officer and other protected officers in an offensive or harmful manner while the officer performs his/her duties. The offender must have known or should have reasonably known that the alleged victim was a police officer.

The difference between battery and assault is that assault places the alleged victim in actual fear of battery. It is the threat, real or implied, of causing the other person physical injuries. Battery, on the other hand, is the actual injury. Threatening to beat a public officer will be considered assault, but hitting the officer will be charged and convicted as a battery offense.

Find a Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

If you face charges for assaulting a public official, you would want to know the gravity of those charges and whether or not you have a chance to have the court reduce or drop them. Hiring an experienced attorney will ease the legal process and help you fight for the best possible outcome. At Darwish Law, we have a team of criminal defense attorneys with the right skills and experience in handling similar cases. Call us at 714-887-4810 if you are facing charges for assault on a public official in Santa Ana, CA and need some legal advice for a strong defense.