The use of violence or threats against any person is illegal in the state of California. While this is a general law whose intention is to protect everyone in the state, California makes special provisions for specific individuals such as children, the elderly, and protected officials. Protected officials are people who have dedicated their life and time to serve the members of the public. Often, California criminal law makes special provisions for these individuals.
Even though assault is a severely punished offense in the state, additional penalties apply to those individuals that are found guilty of assaulting a public official. Unfortunately, it is common for people to face false accusations of assaulting a public official. It means that you might end up getting convicted for an offense you did not commit. That is why you need the best legal help you can get. At Orange County Criminal Lawyer, we have a team of experienced attorneys that can walk with you and protect your rights throughout your case.
Understanding California Assault Laws
The laws against simple assault in California are under Section 240. Under these laws, assault is defined as an illegal attempt, plus its capability, to commit an act of violence or injury against another person. If a person willfully acted in a way that was probably going to end in the use of violence or force against another person, they could be guilty of simple assault in California. The person must, however, be well aware of the fact that they led a reasonable person to trust that their actions would probably and directly lead to force being used against them.
Simple assault in California is usually a misdemeanor offense. However, there are cases of assault that go beyond the simple attempt to use violence or force against another person. If a person commits the crime of assault on a minor, an older adult, or a protected official, the conviction for the offense will no longer be a misdemeanor, but a felony offense. Children and the elderly or physically challenged persons may not be in a position to defend themselves. That is why assault and battery laws are stringent when it comes to such individuals.
Similarly, special protection is provided by California criminal law to a particular group of people, and it depends on the nature of their job. These are mainly public officials who are employed by the government and have the responsibility of executing their assigned duties accordingly. In addition to the defenseless members of the community mentioned above, assault on public officials is a grave offense that is treated as a felony offense. Since public officials serve the members of the public directly, assaulting them is usually taken as an assault on the government and society. That is why the offender can face severe punishment if found guilty.
Because of the nature of this offense, it is common for a person to face false accusations of assaulting a government official. When this happens, and the person is not able to defend themselves against the charges they are facing, they might end up paying heavily for a crime they did not commit. The police can, for instance, take something that was done or said to them personally. No official will take it kindly if any person disrespects any of them, and this could lead to a wrongful conviction.
That is why it is advisable to find a competent criminal defense attorney if you are facing such serious charges as an assault on a public official. An experienced attorney will understand your charges better to develop a strong defense against your charges. With that, he/she can convince the court to either drop your charges or reduce them to more lenient charges.
Legal Definition of Assaulting a Public official
Assaulting a public official is a separate crime from California simple assault and is under Section 217.1(a) of California Penal Code. It is the law that makes it illegal to assault or threaten to attack an official working for the government. The offense covered under this law is the one committed in retaliation or to stop the official from carrying out his/her duties. To understand this crime even better, let us look at its various elements. They are the facts, which the prosecutor must demonstrate in court beyond a reasonable doubt for the offender to be found guilty of the offense. They are:
- That the defendant committed the crime of assault
- That the commission of the crime was against a government official or a person in the official’s immediate family
- That the offense was committed in retaliation or as a way to stop the official from executing his/her duties
The crime of assault, as used in this context, is the same as the one provided under Section 240 of California laws. It means an illegal attempt by a person to commit a forceful injury to another person when they have a current ability to do it. Note that the defendant doesn’t have to cause the other personal injuries to be found guilty of the offense.
Example: Mary has a problem with George, a city council member, because of a vote George made against a proposed development that was Mary’s idea. In a meeting downtown, Mary confronts George and almost slaps him when other members of the city council intervened. Mary could be guilty of assaulting a government official even if she did not hit George.
A public official, as used in this context and as defined under Section 217.1(a) of California laws is any of these people:
- The U.S President or the Vice President
- The state governor of any state in the United States
- State, federal, or local present/ previous judge, juror, or justice
- Commissioners, referees, and other secondary judicial officials
- Secretaries or directors of all executive agencies, both federal and state
- State and federal elected officials
- Mayors, city council members, sheriffs, county supervisors, peace officials, and municipal chiefs of police
- The current or previous public defender or prosecutor
- Immediate family members of any of the above-named public officials, including their children, spouses, siblings, step-children, parents as well as stepparents
The motive: The crime of assaulting a public official needs motivation, which is to retaliate or prevent the official from performing his/her duties.
Example: Peter, who is a police official, arrests and charges John for possession of illegal substances. John’s brother, Derrick, visits Peter’s family and threatens to harm them if Peter does not do something to prevent his brother from being convicted of the offense. Derrick will be guilty of assaulting a government official, even though he made the threats to the official’s family. Again, the threats were to stop the official from performing his duties accordingly.
What this means is that if a person assaults a public official and the attack is not connected to the official’s job, the person will not be found guilty of this offense but could be convicted of simple assault or California assault by use of a deadly weapon.
If, for instance, two men, James and Zack, disagree in a bar one night, and Zack almost injures James before bar patrons intervene. Then it happens that James was a judicial official. Zack will not be guilty of assaulting a government official but another form of the crime of assault. It is because Zack was not aware that James was a public official, and the fight was not connected to Jack's job.
All these bring us to assault, which is in itself an offense, regardless of the person that is facing the attack. Contrary to what many people may call assault, the crime’s definition is an attempt to injure another person violently. Assault and battery are two different crimes under California laws. While aggression is a mere attempt to use force or violence against a person, battery involves the actual use of force and violence. As a general offense, here are the elements of California assault:
- That a person acted in a way that could have likely resulted in using of force
- That the person has a willful intent of carrying out the act
- That the person was well aware that a reasonable person would believe that their actions would result in the use of force
- That the person can carry out the actual use of force at the time they committed the offense
The most important thing in understanding Section 217.1(a) of California laws is awareness of who is considered a government official in the state.
Penalties for Assaulting a Public official
As mentioned above, the conviction of California's simple assault is a misdemeanor. However, when it comes to assaulting a government official, the offense becomes a wobbler. It means that the prosecutor can proceed with the charge as a felony or a misdemeanor. Naturally, the consequences for each of these will be different.
If the defendant faces charges for a misdemeanor, they are likely to get a year in jail if they are found guilty or if they plead guilty to the offense. In addition to that, the defendant can get summary/misdemeanor probation and fines of not more than $1000.
If, on the other hand, the offender gets a felony conviction, they are likely to face the following penalties:
- Sixteen months, two, or three years in jail under the state’s realignment program
- Fines of not more than $10,000
The length of time the defendant gets to serve in prison is dependent on several factors, which the judge will consider before pronouncing their sentence. The most important of these factors include the facts of the case and the defendant’s criminal history.
Jail time is a possibility in any case involving an assault on a government official. The good thing is that the judge would grant the defendant probation if he/she qualifies. The advantage of working with a competent criminal defense attorney is that he/she can request on your behalf to lessen the sentence.
Possible Legal Defenses for the Charges of Assaulting a Public official
As mentioned above, assaulting a government official is a grave offense that could leave the defendant serving more time in jail and paying hefty penalties. Penalties could be more, based on the seriousness of the offense. For that reason, it is essential to have the right legal help to ensure that you are not facing the full wrath of the law. Excellent defense services could assist you to get a more lenient sentence or have your charges dropped altogether. That is why you need to make the best choice for a criminal attorney. The good thing is that there are several defense strategies that your attorney can use to help with your case. Some of these are:
You didn’t have a Present Capability to Injure the Official Violently
A mere intention to hurt a public official does not qualify as assault unless the defendant can cause the official harm at that instant. If you merely had a quarrel with the said official and had used gestures or harsh words to imply that you could hurt him/her, it does not make you guilty of assaulting the official. The same applies even if you attempted to harm the official. As long as you don’t have the current ability to carry out your threats, you will not be guilty of any form of assault.
Your attorney can use this defense to have your charges dropped. He/she could argue that the victim had provoked you to the point of using harsh words or attempting to injure the official violently, but you could not do it. This defense would also work if the supposed victim were stronger or even more significant than you. If the court does not drop your charges, it could reduce them to a more lenient offense, such as disturbing the peace as provided under Section 415 of California laws.
There was no Motive
Again, the crime of assaulting a public official needs a cause such as retaliation or preventing the official from performing his/her duties. If any of those motives did not drive your act, then you may not be found guilty of the offense. The prosecutor will be required to prove to the court that you had a specific intent to commit the crime. Sometimes demonstrating a person’s intention is not an easy thing, and your attorney could take advantage of that to get you off the hook.
Note that if there is another reason why you acted the way you did, you will still have to face charges for simple assault. If your actions did not have a motive altogether, you would not be guilty of any form of assault.
You Acted on Self-defense or Defense for Others
A lot of times, people act violently in self-defense or defense for other people. There is always a belief with prosecutors, police officials, and other public officials that their colleagues can never do something wrong. That is why the police are quick to arrest and charge a person who is suspected of having assaulted or battered one of their own without thinking that maybe that person was defending themselves. The truth is, there are aggressive and violent public officials who could cause an otherwise innocent person to act violently towards them. If that is the case, the court would want to know that you were defending yourself or another person.
Your attorney will, however, be required to prove to the court that you believed that you or the other person was in danger of suffering injuries or being unlawfully touched by the said official. That would be a good reason for you to respond to the threat with rational force
You are Facing False Accusations
As mentioned earlier, every serious criminal charge carries in itself the ability for an innocent person to be charged and prosecuted unjustly. It applies to such an offense as assault. It is common for a person, out of malice, jealousy, or the need to revenge to accuse another person of assault. That will be serious if the person is charged and convicted with assaulting a government official while in the real sense, they did not commit the offense. If the court adopts the other person’s statement, the innocent person may end up serving a long time in jail and paying hefty penalties.
That is why you need to speak to your attorney as soon as the police arrest you for assault. It gives your attorney enough time to gather the necessary evidence to convince the court that you did not commit the crime of which you are accused. A smart attorney will be able to point out any flaws in the prosecutor’s theory to prove to the court that you are innocent of the charges you are facing.
Assault on Public Official and Related Charges
The offense of assaulting a government official does not always stand alone; other crimes are charged together with or in place of Section 217.1(a) of California laws. Some of these are:
Battery and assault are two offenses that usually appear the same, although, in California, they are separate offenses. Laws against battery in California are under Section 242. The definition of this crime is an intentional and illegal contact on someone else. Although battery and assault are, in some instances, used together, they are separate offenses, each with its unique elements. For a person to be found guilty of battery in California, they must have done the following:
- Unlawfully and intentionally touched another person in an offensive or harmful manner
- They acted that way without defending themselves, defending others or reasonably disciplining a child
Note that even a slight touch can satisfy the elements of a simple battery, as long as the contact was rude or angry.
A simple battery offense in California is convicted as a misdemeanor, carrying a jail sentence of up to six months and hefty fines. In addition to that, the person could get misdemeanor probation with community work and a mandatory requirement to finish an anger management program during the probation period.
A more severe form of battery is one in which the victim suffers serious physical injuries in the hands of the defendant. In that case, the defendant can get a maximum of four years of incarceration and a strike in their criminal record.
California Assault with a Deadly Weapon
Assault with a deadly weapon is a more severe form of California assault and will attract a more severe penalty. Assaulting a person is a mere attempt to injure another person. However, when the person uses a deadly weapon, it means that the other person is in danger of suffering a severe physical injury. The offense of assaulting a person by use of a deadly weapon is under California laws Section 245(a) (1). For a person to be found guilty of this offense, the prosecutor will be required to prove that:
- That the defendant committed the crime of assault by use of a deadly weapon that in its nature would have directly caused the victim serious physical injuries OR that the defendant used more force that could have caused the victim serious physical injuries
- That the defendant did so willfully
- That when he/she acted so, he was aware of the fact that his/her actions would cause a reasonable person to believe that their actions would probably result in the use of violence against another person
- That when the defendant acted the way he/she did, there was a present ability to use force on the victim
The crime of assault with a deadly weapon is a wobbler in California. If charged as a misdemeanor, the defendant could face a conviction of up to one year in jail. But if convicted as a felony, the defendant could be sentenced to up to 12 years behind bars.
Find an Orange County Criminal Lawyer Near Me
Assaulting a public official is an offense that could leave you serving more time behind bars and paying more on court fines. That is why you need the best criminal defense services to try and have your charges reduced or dropped. At the Orange County Criminal Lawyer, we have a team of well-trained and experienced attorneys that are ready to take up your case. Call us at 714-262-4833 today and let us plan the best defense for your situation.