We have all heard or used the phrase “assault and battery” in a manner that suggests that the two words refer to a single offense. However, the two are separate legal concepts in California, each with its distinct elements. The two crimes seem inseparable because they are closely linked and usually occur together, which explains why some states combine them into a single offense. You commit assault or battery when you try to, or you physically strike someone else or act in a manner that threatens the person and puts them in fear of sudden danger. Separate laws apply to aggravated assault or battery, or when you use a dangerous weapon.
Assault and battery are criminal offenses, but they can also result in civil lawsuits. The consequences of a conviction are severe, and even stiffer if your charges are battery on a peace officer. If the police accuse you of this offense, your best option is to contact an Orange County Criminal Lawyer immediately. We have extensive experience to fight for your rights vigorously, defend you, and obtain the best possible outcome.
Legal Differences Between Assault and Battery Under California Law
When you hear the term assault and battery, you may imagine street fights and brawls, but the law gives exact definitions for the two crimes. Each offense has its elements, and it is possible to commit one without the other. The following is a more detailed description of the two violations and what distinguishes them.
Under California Penal Code 240 PC, you commit assault when you attempt and have the present ability to injure another person through force or violence. It also includes issuing threats or acting in a threatening manner against the other person. For an assault to occur, a criminal act is necessary, but contact is not. Actions that constitute assault vary, but generally, it requires a direct or overt act that would cause a reasonable person to worry about their safety.
Verbal threats are not enough to constitute assault unless you back them up with actions that cause the person to reasonably fear possible danger. Also, for you to be guilty of assault, you need to have a general intent, meaning that you intended the actions that constitute assault. Therefore, you can face assault charges for behaving in a way that is harmful to other people, even if you did not intend to cause specific harm to one particular person. Additionally, the intention to frighten or scare someone is enough to initiate assault charges.
Battery, under the California Penal Code 242 PC, is the unlawful and intentional use of violence or force against another person. You commit battery when you deliberately touch someone in a harmful or offensive way without their consent. You do not need to have an intention to harm the person. You only need the intent to cause contact with or touch that individual. Also, if you are criminally negligent or reckless and cause contact, it does not constitute battery, regardless of how offensive the victim may find your actions.
Additionally, for a battery to occur, the victim does not need to sustain injuries. The offense only requires a harmful or offensive act, which may range from a physical attack to minimal contact. Contact is evaluated from an ordinary person’s perspective to determine whether the action is aggressive. For example, spitting on a person constitutes battery because it is offensive even if it does not cause injuries.
The main differences between assault and battery are:
- Assault does not require contact, while battery must have some form of contact
- Assault is a threat or an attempt to injure an individual, while battery is the actual offensive or harmful contact with the person
- Assault is an attempt to commit battery, while battery occurs when you complete an attack
Battery on a Peace Officer
California’s Penal Code includes specific statutes that prohibit battery on peace and other protected officers.
- Section 243(b) PC: You are liable for battery on a peace officer if at the time of the offense you were aware or you reasonably should have been informed that the person was performing their peace officer duties or those of other protected officials.
- Section 243(c)(2) PC: It is a crime to inflict injury on a person if, while you are committing the offense, you know or reasonably should be informed that the person is either a peace officer or another protected officer discharging their duties.
Penalties for Battery on a Peace Officer
Simple battery on a police or peace officer is a misdemeanor punishable by:
- Summary (misdemeanor) probation
- A maximum one-year term in a county jail
- A fine not exceeding $2,000
- Both jail time and a fine
- Participation in a batterers program
- Doing Community service
The potential punishment for battery on a peace or protected officer increases if the victim sustains an injury. In this context, an injury is any physical harm that necessitates professional medical treatment, even if the victim did not get such medical treatment. Also, the court will not consider you to have caused an injury if the victim sought attention unnecessarily.
Battery on a peace officer with injury is a wobbler, meaning it is either a felony or a misdemeanor depending on:
- Your criminal history
- The circumstances surrounding your crime, including the severity of the officer’s physical trauma
As a misdemeanor, the penalties for battery on a peace officer causing injury include:
- Summary (misdemeanor) probation
- A maximum one-year sentence in a county jail
- A fine not exceeding $10,000
- Both a fine and time in jail
The possible penalties for felony battery on a peace officer are:
- Formal (felony) probation
- A county jail term of 16 months, two or three years
- A fine not exceeding $10,000
- Completion of a batterer’s program
- Doing community service
- A prohibition from purchasing, receiving, owning, or possessing a firearm
- A strike in your criminal record, according to California’s “Three Strikes” law
Some factors, if present, make battery on a peace officer a felony and further increase the prison term to four, six, or eight years. These aggravating factors include:
- The officer sustains a severe physical injury
- You commit the crime to aid criminal street gangs
- You display or use a firearm, or other deadly weapons while committing the offense
What the Prosecution Must Prove
To demonstrate the battery of a peace officer charges against you, the prosecutor must demonstrate the various elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. These elements are also critical components in the legal definition of the offense:
- The Supposed Complainant was a Peace Officer Performing their Duties
The laws on battery on a peace officer apply in the prosecution of cases involving battery on peace officers working in law enforcement agencies. These officers include, but without restriction to:
- Police officers
- California Highway Patrol officers
- Sheriff’s department officers
- Harbor or port police
- Transit police
- California Department of Justice Special Agents
- State Parks Peace Officers
- Campus police
- Police officers working as casual or part-time private security guards, provided that they are discharging peace officer duties, and in police uniform.
The laws prohibiting battery on a peace officer also apply to several other professions and public officials who are not in law enforcement. They include:
- Custodial officers
- Paramedics and Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT)
- Custody assistants
- Security officers
- Traffic officers
- Process servers
- Search and rescue team members
- Animal control officers
- Code enforcement officers
- Probation department employees
- Doctors and nurses offering emergency medical attention
Performing their duties means that the protected person was engaged in their official responsibilities. If you commit battery on such an officer when they are not doing their job, you have not committed battery on a peace officer. However, you may be culpable for Penal Code 242 PC simple battery. This legal requirement does not specify that the officer must be on duty. They only need to be engaged in what is required of them as peace officers, including actions they do while serving in different roles or when off duty.
- You Intentionally and Unlawfully Touched the Complainant in an Offensive or Harmful Manner
The keywords in the definition of battery are offensive or harmful touching. This definition includes a slight touch so long as you do it in anger or rudely, and you do not need to cause an injury or pain of any kind. Battery also includes an offensive or violent touch of an item that is connected with or attached to the victim. Such things may consist of clothing that the person is wearing or a bag they are carrying. However, California courts are yet to provide clear guidelines on this point.
Touching a peace officer offensively or harmfully becomes battery if you do it willfully, meaning you acted deliberately or intentionally, but not necessarily with the intention to:
- Violate the law
- Injure another person
- Gain an advantage
- When You Touch the Person, You Knew, or You Reasonably Should have been Aware that the Individual was a Peace Officer Engaged in Performing their Duties
You are guilty of battery on a peace officer only if you knew or you reasonably should have been aware that the person was either a peace officer or another protected official under PC 243(b) and (c). To determine whether you were or should have been informed, the jury will consider details like:
- Whether the victim was in uniform
- Whether the complainant clearly announced their status to you
- Whether the peace officer was driving a clearly identifiable vehicle
- Whether the victim was a police officer in the company of fellow officers
Common Defenses in Battery on a Peace Officer
The prosecutor may accuse you of battery on a peace officer, but that does not automatically translate to a conviction for the crime. You have every right to fight the accusations and defend yourself. Your experienced criminal lawyer will investigate the supposed offense, and use some or all of the following strategies in your defense. A persuasive defense argument will limit the prosecution’s ability to prove their case against you. Therefore, the state may offer you a plea deal or even drop the charges.
You Acted in Self-defense or Defense of Others
In California, the law accords you the right to apply force in self-defense in particular situations. If a law enforcement officer exerted force beyond what was reasonably needed to arrest you, your actions might be legally justified. Asserting that you acted to defend yourself or to defend others will apply if the following statements are true:
- You had reasonable cause to believe that you or a third party was possibly in danger of being touched unlawfully or sustaining physical harm
- You had reasonable cause to believe that it was necessary to use force against the peace officer to defend yourself or the third party against the danger
- You only used the reasonable force needed for defense against the danger
You must note that words alone, regardless of how offensive or provocative they are, cannot justify your battery on a peace officer. If the person only speaks or threatens you verbally but does not follow up with action, self-defense does not apply. Defense of self or others only applies if you had reason to believe that you or another person was in danger of physical injury or unlawful touching. A convincing self-defense argument will be instrumental in discrediting the charges against you.
Your Actions were Accidental, not Willful
A conviction for battery on a peace officer requires you to have acted deliberately, but not necessarily to harm another person. This defense is mostly useful if the police accuse you of battering a law enforcement officer when they are arresting you. You could have been physically uncomfortable when they were handcuffing you or placing you into the police car, and you accidentally struck the officer while you were adjusting your position.
Also, you can use this defense to fight accusations of battering a police officer during public unrest. When law enforcement officers move to disperse unruly crowds, you cannot tell who is grabbing you if an officer grabs you from behind. You may hit the officer as you attempt to free yourself from the person. If charged, you can assert that you had no intention of striking a law enforcement officer.
The Officer was not Engaged in the Performance of their Duties
You are guilty of battery on a peace officer only if the officer was executing their duties at the time of the incident. An officer is not engaged in the performance of their duties if they are:
- Detaining or arresting you unlawfully
- Participating in unlawful seizure or search
- Participating in police brutality
- Engaging in illegal racial profiling
You did not have Physical Contact with the Officer
Battery only occurs if you intentionally and unlawfully touching another person in an offensive or harmful way. If you did not directly or indirectly contact the officer, you did not commit any crime.
Lack of Knowledge
You cannot be guilty of battery on a peace officer if you were not aware or did not have reasonable cause to believe that the person was a peace officer. The prosecution bears the burden of proving that you either knew or had reasonable cause to know that the person was a peace officer.
Most incidents of battery on a peace officer occur in places where large crowds gather, such as at sporting events or concerts. In such situations, you can be mistakenly arrested when police try to break up fights and control the crowds. When the group pushes, kicks, or hits the police officers, they often apprehend the people closest to them on the assumption that they are responsible.
In such venues, most people are usually in the same age group and dress in a similar way, which makes mistaken identity much more common. You can be wrongfully accused of committing a crime because you resemble another person. If someone mistakenly identified you as the perpetrator of the battery, your attorney can present evidence to prove your innocence or at least cast doubt on the identity of the perpetrator. If the prosecution cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed the offense, the jury may rule in your favor.
Offenses Related to Battery on a Peace Officer
Some crimes in California relate closely to battery on peace officers. They include:
- Simple Battery
Penal Code 242 PC defines battery as touching another person willfully and unlawfully, regardless of whether they are peace officers or not. If the prosecutor does not have strong evidence to sustain your charge of battery on a peace officer, they may make a plea bargain to reduce your charges to a simple battery offense. The offense is a misdemeanor punishable by:
- Up to six months in a county jail
- A fine not exceeding $2,000
- Both a fine and jail time
- Battery causing Serious Injury
Inflicting serious bodily injury on anyone, including a peace officer is an offense under Penal Code 243(d) PC. Serious bodily injury refers to severe conditions of physical impairment, such as a concussion or a broken bone. Battery causing serious injury can be a felony or a misdemeanor. Felony charges will result in two, three, or four years in state prison.
If, in your alleged battery on a peace officer, the victim sustained severe bodily injury, you will face charges for violating either of two codes. The prosecutors may opt for battery causing serious injury (PC 243(d) or battery on a peace officer causing injury PC 243(c)(2). However, they are more likely to charge you with the former because the felony sentence is longer.
- Assault on a Police Officer
You are likely to face criminal charges for assault on a police officer under Penal Code 241(c) if you intentionally threaten violence against a law enforcement officer engaged in executing their duties. This law applies in the prosecution of all cases involving assault of police officers, California Highway Patrol officers, and sheriff's deputies. It also serves other protected officers while they are discharging their duties. PC 241(c) does not apply if the law enforcement or other protected officers are not performing their duties. Violating this statute will likely result in:
- A maximum of one year in county jail
- A fine not exceeding $1,000
- Both jail time and a fine
- Resisting Arrest
A charge of resisting arrest under Penal Code 148 PC is also a useful plea bargain for battery on a peace officer. The definition of the offense is delaying, resisting, or obstructing an emergency medical technician or peace officer while they are performing their duties. It is a misdemeanor that carries:
- A maximum one-year sentence in a county jail
- A maximum fine of $1,000
- Both a jail term and a fine
The penalties for resisting arrest do not vary much from those of battery on a peace officer. Still, a conviction for resisting arrest leaves a smaller stain in your criminal record.
- Sightseeing at an Emergency
Sightseeing at a scene of an emergency is a crime under California Penal Code 402(a) PC. You violate this statute when you stop or go to an emergency scene and hinder peace officers, emergency medical personnel, firefighters, and other emergency workers from discharging their duties. This offense is a misdemeanor whose penalty is a maximum six-month sentence in county jail. This relatively light sentence makes sightseeing at an emergency a beneficial plea bargain to avoid the more severe consequences of battery against a protected officer.
Frequently Asked Questions About PC 243(b) and (c)
- Can I face felony charges for battery on a peace officer if the victim did not seek medical treatment?
When deciding whether to charge you with a felony or a misdemeanor, the prosecutor will evaluate the severity, extent, and nature of the injury. You could still face felony charges regardless of whether or not the victim sought medical treatment. However, medical treatment is an essential element for a felony conviction. Therefore, your lawyer can have your charges reduced in the absence of medical treatment.
- Can a prosecutor charge me with battery on a peace officer if the officer was off duty?
Whether the person was on or off duty is irrelevant. What matters is whether the person was performing the duties of a peace officer. For example, if an off duty police officer informed you about his or her status as a law enforcement officer, you can be convicted for battery on a peace officer according to PC 243(b) and (c).
Contact a Orange County Criminal Lawyer Near Me
Are you or a loved one facing charges of battery on a peace officer? A conviction can cost you substantial dollar amounts and valuable time behind bars. To avoid severe consequences, it is in your best interest to contact a competent and experienced lawyer at 714-262-4833. Our team at Orange County Criminal Lawyer has been successfully representing clients from all around Orange County, CA, for many years in criminal cases. We will review your case and put up a vigorous defense strategy to achieve the best possible outcome.