BATTERY ON A PEACE OFFICER – CALIFORNIA PC 243(b), 243(c)(2)
Battery on a peace officer is a very serious crime which can carry severe penalties. Most of the time it is charged as a misdemeanor. Under Penal Code sections 243(b) and 243(c)(2) there are several elements which must be proven by the prosecutor beyond a reasonable doubt in order for there to be a conviction of the crime of battery on a peace officer.
Elements of Battery on a Peace Officer
- The person has to have harmfully or offensively touched a peace officer or another protected person
- The touching was willful and unlawful
- When the defendant acted, he or she knew or should have reasonable known that the victim was a peace officer who was performing his or her duties
Let’s get into more detail about each and every element required for this crime:
Harmful or Offensive – Like all of the other types of battery, battery on a peace officer requires a harmful or offensive touching. And, as with the other battery crimes, Penal Code sections 243(b) and 243(c)(2) merely require that there be physical contact. There does not have to be an injury! This means that if someone unlawfully touches an officer or another protected person by slapping or shoving him without causing injury, this qualifies because the touching was offensive.
Willfully - What does it mean for a person to commit an act willfully? It means that the person did the act intentionally or on purpose. Even if you didn’t mean to break the law or cause an injury to a peace officer, as long as you purposely committed the act you can be convicted of a battery on a peace officer. If Sharon gets into an argument with a bailiff outside of the courtroom and gets frustrated and throws an object against the wall and it strikes the bailiff instead, this is considered a willful act. She didn’t mean to strike the bailiff, but she did mean to throw the object.
Peace Officer – What the Code means by battery on a peace officer is battery on anyone who is employed as a peace officer by a law enforcement agency. This could be police officers, Transit police, harbor police and sheriff department police, just to name a few. It can also refer to police officers who are in distinct police clothing working as security guards in private companies. But it doesn’t stop there! The laws for Penal Code sections 243(b) and 243(c)(2) also encompass many other types of professionals and public officers who don’t fall under the category of law enforcement but do fall under the category of protected person. Some include, but are not limited to EMTs, firefighters, lifeguards, security guards, animal control officers and doctors or nurses giving emergency care.
Knew or Should Have Reasonably Known – You can only be found guilty of committing a battery on a peace officer if you knew or should have known that the person was, in fact, a peace officer or another protected person. Now how can a person know if the alleged victim is part of such a protected class? What is examined first and foremost is whether the person is wearing a uniform or the type of clothing that gives away his/her status. When a female police officer is wearing cutoff shirts and a t-shirt in a store, it would unreasonable for someone involved in a scuffle with her to know that she is a policewoman.
Performing His or Her Duties – What does Penal Code section 243(b) and 243(c)(2) mean by the requirement that the peace officer be performing his or her duties when the alleged battery occurs? Just as is sounds. If Carson gets into a fight with Larry the lifeguard at a resort when they are both on vacation, and Larry the lifeguard was punched in the stomach, Carson cannot be convicted of Penal Code sections 243(b) and 243(c)(2) battery on a peace officer because it is clear that Larry was not performing his lifeguarding duties when the alleged battery occurred. Of course, Carson can be convicted of a simple battery if all the other elements for battery are met.
Penalties for Battery on a Peace Officer
Battery on a peace officer is filed as a misdemeanor. If convicted of a violation of Penal Code section 243(b) battery on a peace officer you could potentially receive summary probation, spend a maximum of one year in county jail and/or pay a maximum fine of $2,000.
If the battery on a peace officer results in an injury for which the peace officer needs professional medical treatment, it is a wobbler charge under Penal Code section 243(c). This means that you can be charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony at the discretion of the prosecutor. The prosecutor will look at all of the circumstances surrounding the case as well as the defendant’s prior criminal history, if any, and then decide how to file it. If the alleged battery of a peace officer results in an injury that requires that the officer be sent to the hospital for professional medical treatment, you could be on the hook for a felony battery on a peace officer. Be aware, though, that just because the officer doesn’t seek professional medical help for his injury does not mean that he didn’t receive a serious injury – it can still be filed as a felony.
When battery on a peace officer causing injuries is charged as a misdemeanor, the penalties are the same as battery on a peace officer without injuries. The only difference is that the maximum fine is now increased to $10,000 if the victim is a peace officer.
When battery on a peace officer causing injuries is charged as a felony, the possible consequences include felony probation, sixteen months, two years or three years to be served in county jail, and/or a maximum of $10,000.
Defenses for Battery on a Peace Officer
No one wants to be charged with a crime such as battery on a peace officer, much less convicted of one. Fighting these charges alone can be very scary and can have devastating effects on your life for a very long time. You need a competent and experienced attorney by your side working with you every step of the way. The Criminal Law Office of Leah Legal will aim to try and avoid these ramifications and will fight hard on your behalf.
Self-Defense - Should you inflict harm on a peace officer in self-defense or defense of others you are not in violation of Penal Code sections 243(b) or 243(c)(2). However, you must have a reasonable and justifiable belief that you or someone else was in immediate danger of receiving an unlawful touching or physical injury. This doesn’t include offensive words because words do not cause physical injuries. You also had to have had a reasonable belief that the force you used against the peace officer or protected person was necessary to defend yourself or another from that danger. Finally, you can only have used enough force that was reasonably necessary to protect yourself or another. If the force was clearly excessive, self-defense will not work in your case.
An example that illustrates how this defense can be used: Jessica is driving down the street in Hollywood. She is pulled over for no reason. The officer tells her to exit her vehicle and she repeatedly asks for a reason why but receives no response. Before Jessica can even open the door the officer yanks open the door and grabs her by the arm. Jessica pushes the officer away and the officer falls into his car. Jessica is not guilty of battery on a peace officer in violation of Penal Code sections 243(b) or 243 (c)(2) because the alleged battery on the peace officer was committed as an act of self-defense.
Lack of Willfulness – Since one of the elements needed to prove battery on a peace officer is that the touching needs to be done on purpose, a defense would be to show that the act happened accidentally.
Officer Wasn’t Engaged in His/Her Duties - Another possibly applicable defense is that the peace officer was not on duty. If the peace officer you allegedly committed battery against was not currently acting within his/her duties as a peace officer than you cannot be charged with a violation of Penal Code section 243(b) or 243(c)(2). In order to be convicted of battery against a police officer you must inflict injury upon a peace officer while they are acting out their duties as a peace officer. Additionally, when a peace officer arrests someone unlawfully, engages in police brutality or engages in an unlawful search and seizure, he or she is NOT considered to be performing their duties.