California criminal laws are enacted to protect specific individuals and groups. The most popular groups that are protected are those that are most vulnerable in society, like the children and the elderly. However, in some cases, certain people who perform specific jobs are also protected by these laws. Public officials like politicians and others make unpopular decisions, some of which might attract threats and physical attacks from citizens who are not happy with their decisions. Because the legislature recognizes the danger faced by these officials, they have enacted laws prohibiting individuals from assaulting public officials. If you are charged with the offense, you are considered to have assaulted the government, and a conviction will attract harsh penalties. At the San Diego Criminal Attorney, we are ready to represent you if you are being charged with assault on a public official.
Legal Definition of Assault on a Public Official
As per PC 217.1 (a), it is illegal to assault a public official with intent to prevent them from performing their duty or in retaliation for public action by the officials. Simple assault on a public official is different from an assault against a public official. The two differ in terms of punishment. Simple assault is charged as a misdemeanor, but if it involves a public official, it is charged as a felony, which has more severe penalties. Keep in mind that it is not a must to have inflicted substantial injuries to be convicted under PC 217.1 (a). Merely, attempting to inflict wounds qualifies as assault.
Fundamental Elements that the Prosecution Must Prove in an Assault on a Public Official Charge
To be found guilty of PC 217.1 (a) violation, the prosecution must prove any of the following elements:
- You Committed an Assault
Assault is defined as per PC 240 as an unlawful attempt to carry out an action that can cause violent injuries to another individual, coupled with the present ability to do so. It is different from the battery because you don’t have to succeed in injuring the person or use real force. So, if you attempt to attack a public official using means that are likely to cause significant bodily injury, you are guilty as per PC 217.1. You will be convicted even if you didn’t succeed in wounding the person. For the prosecution to prove that you committed an assault, they must show the following:
- You willfully attempted an unlawful act that would have resulted in the use of physical force.
- You intentionally engaged in conduct that could probably or directly cause injuries to another individual.
- The person you were threatening had a justifiable belief that your acts would result in the use of force.
- You must have had the ability to use force during the act
- The Assault was Committed on a Public Official
You will be found guilty if the prosecutor succeeds in showing the jury and the judge that you assaulted a former or current government official or immediate family of these officials. California PC 217.1 defines a public official as a person who is an affiliate of the judiciary, a government official, or a peace officer. Persons considered under this statute to be public officials include:
- The president of the United States
- Deputy President of the United States
- Police officer
- Current or former public defender
- Police officer
- Peace officer
- Current or former prosecutor
- City council member
- A secretary or director of a state or federal agency
- Elected state or federal officials
Also, the law applies to the close family, such as:
- Children of the aforementioned officials.
The duties of these officials are creating laws, ensuring the enforcement of the rules, and resolving disputes. To be convicted of violating PC 217.1 (a), the prosecution must show beyond a reasonable doubt that the casualty of the assault is any of the persons defined under PC 217.1 (a).
- Motive or Intention of the Crime
You are only guilty of violating this statute if the prosecution can prove that your motive or intention of committing an assault on the public official. Also, the attempt to injure the public official was to prevent them from performing the official duties or to seek revenge. In case you as assaulted a public official while he or she was off duty, then you aren’t guilty. Also, if you had no intention of preventing the official from performing their duties, you won't be convicted.
Note that the prosecution needs testimonies from the casualty and witnesses. So, the victim and other people who know about the alleged assault must testify in court. The plaintiff and the witnesses must be truthful when giving the testimony and be willing to cooperate with the prosecution and the court. Witnesses are essential during proceeding because they are used to strengthen the allegations and the evidence given by the plaintiff. With the absence of a plaintiff and witness testimonies, a case cannot proceed.
Potential Penalties for PC 217.1 (a) Violation
Assault on a public official is a wobbler. It means the decision to be charged with a misdemeanor or felony is left to the discretion of the prosecuting party after they have examined your case. The type of charge to be filed depends on the elements of the crime the prosecution can prove. The penalties, on the other hand, depends on your conduct during the act and circumstances surrounding the whole incident.
The penalties for a misdemeanor PC 217.1 (a) are:
- Misdemeanor probation
- No more than 364 days of incarceration in jail
- No more than one thousand dollars in fine
- Both fine and incarceration
If your actions were severe, and you have a criminal history, you will be charged with a felony. The potential penalties for a felony conviction include:
- Felony probation for 36 to 60 months
- Jail incarceration for between sixteen to thirty-six months
- A fine that doesn’t surpass ten thousand dollars
- Imprisonment together with the fine
Keep in mind that if you are sentenced to probation, there are conditions that come with the sentence. You might be required to pay the victim restitution and report to the probation officer at an agreed time. Failure to comply with the terms of probation can lead to revocation of the probation and you being sent to jail to serve your original sentence.
In case there was attempted murder on a public official due to vengeance or to prevent them from performing their duties, the punishment is fifteen years to life imprisonment. A strike is also going to affect your sentence in the crime of assault on a public official. If the court concludes that your behavior during the incident amounts to a strike, whether it is a first or second strike, you will get double penalties. Also, in the event the court finds out that it is your third strike, the punishment is twenty-five years to life detention in state prison. The best way to prevent these penalties is to hire a competent criminal attorney to contest the charges.
Legal Defenses to PC 217.1 (a)
Being charged with assault on a public official doesn’t amount to a conviction. You have a constitutional right to defend yourself against the charges. Remember, a conviction for this crime will affect your criminal record. Employers who will perform background checks on your criminal history are not likely to consider you for the job. Therefore, in case you or a close friend is being charged with this crime, it’s essential to contact a San Diego Criminal Attorney for legal representation. These attorneys are likely to use some of the following defenses to contest the charge:
Lack of Evidence of Present Ability to Inflict a Violent Injury
A conviction for assault on a public official can only occur if you had the present ability to commit the crime. So, if you got in an argument with a public official that led to harsh language and gestures or attempted to harm the official, you can quickly be convicted of the crime. But if there is no proof you had the present ability to cause injuries, you cannot be convicted of the crime. The attorney can argue that the victim was more abundant in size or stronger compared to you, making it impossible for you to have the present ability to cause the injuries.
Lack of Purpose to retaliate or Sabotage Performance of Public Duties
You cannot be convicted under PC 217.1 (a) if you had no motive of vengeance or preventing the public official from performing their responsibilities. Therefore, if when the crime occurred, you had no purpose or intention to prevent the performance of duty, then you are not guilty. However, you can be charged with a lesser crime like simple assault. If your attorney can show that there is no evidence or witnesses who saw you violate PC 217.1 (a), the case will be dismissed. There must be witnesses who saw you prevent a public official from performing official responsibility or seek revenge. Lack of such proof will lead to acquittal or a plea bargain for a lesser charge.
The Public Official wasn’t Performing Official Duties
Your attorney can argue that you could not identify the public official was performing public duties because:
- The victim was not wearing a uniform or clothing associated with his or her duties
- The victim was not driving an official vehicle or a car identified with their position
- The casualty didn’t attempt to handcuff you, so you could not tell if he or she is a law enforcer.
- The casualty was not performing an official duty associated with their title.
If, because of these issues, it was unclear who the casualty was, then you cannot be convicted.
You were Acting in Self Defense, or you were Defending Other Individuals
If you reasonably believed that you or another person were in danger of being touched offensively or harmfully by the plaintiff, then you can claim it was self-defense. However, you must have reacted to the danger using reasonable force for self-defense to hold in court. There is an assumption by the prosecution and law enforcers that public officials cannot commit a crime or do wrong. However, the truth is that these officials can be frustrated and angered during public interaction to the extent they become aggressive, just like any other human being. A lot of defendants, therefore, end up being convicted of assault on a public official, whereas in the real sense, they were defending themselves or another person from aggression by a public official. As long as you had a rational belief that you were in immediate danger of being injured by a public official and you reacted with reasonable force, you are innocent.
It is also possible to argue that you were falsely accused as a defense for PC 217.1 (a) charges. Your attorney can claim that the plaintiff accused you out of anger after an altercation or because of vengeance. Also, false allegations might be as a result of mistaken identity or jealousy.
Offenses Similar to PC 217.1(a) Charges
If you have been charged for violating PC 217.1, there are additional or alternative charges that you are likely to face. These charges include:
- The battery on a Police Officer
As per PC 243 (b) & (c), it is illegal to commit battery against a peace officer or a law enforcement officer. The offense is very similar to assault on a public official. A peace officer or police officer has a duty of enforcing the law; hence, they fall under the category of public officials. The only difference between battery and assault of a public official is that with a battery, there is actual contact or use of physical force on a police officer. Assault, on the other hand, is attempted offensive physical contact, which means you don’t actually have to touch the peace officer. You could be charged with battery alongside PC 217.1 if you made physical contact with a peace officer.
When it comes to proving the crime of battery on a peace officer, the prosecutor must prove the following elements:
- The casualty was a peace officer in the line of his or her lawful duty
- You touched the plaintiff offensively or in a harmful manner
- You should have reasonably known the casualty or victim was a peace officer
The offense is also a wobbler. If the victim didn’t sustain any injuries, the charge would be filed as a misdemeanor whose potential penalties upon conviction are?
- Community service
- No more than 12 months’ jail imprisonment
- Anger management program
- Court fines
If you are convicted of a felony battery on a peace officer, the sentence includes:
- Up to 36 months’ incarceration in state prison
- A fine not exceeding ten thousand dollars
- A possible strike if the battery causes substantial bodily injury
You can avoid these penalties by contesting the charge. Some of the legal defenses you can apply to include self-defense, false accusations, and accident.
- Regular Battery
PC 242 defines battery as intentional and unlawful touching of another person. Regular battery relates to assault on a public official in that PC 217.1 charge can be reduced by the prosecution to simple battery. So, if you have been charged with violating PC 217.1(a), the penalties are harsh. However, you can take a plea bargain and be charged under PC 242. For the prosecution to show you are guilty under PC 242, they must prove any of these elements:
- You or the defendant willfully and unlawful touched the victim harmfully or offensively
- You were not protecting yourself or another person nor were you disciplining a kid
Even if the touch is indirect but was done rudely, you will be guilty of this offense. Prosecutors file simple battery as a misdemeanor. When found guilty of the crime, the potential penalties include:
- A fine not exceeding two thousand dollars
- Serving a sentence of 180 days or lesser
- Anger management and counseling programs
- Misdemeanor probation with a condition of community labor
To defend yourself against these charges, your attorney can claim that it was an accident. Also, an excellent attorney can argue that you were acting in self-defense, or you were disciplining a child using reasonable force.
- Resisting Arrest
PC 148 (a)(1) makes it a crime to intentionally resist, delay, or obstruct a police officer or an emergency medical expert from undertaking or performing his or her lawful duties. The lawful duties include all activities officials in this position are supposed to perform. These duties are not limited to, making an arrest. PC 148 (a) (1) is charged alongside PC 217.1 (a). The majority of the persons arrested after being caught attempting to assault or assaulting a public official are charged with violation of the two Penal Codes.
When proving you are guilty of resisting arrest, the prosecution attorney must prove the following elements:
- The plaintiff was a peace officer or an emergency medical treatment expert performing or attempting to perform his or her lawful duties.
- You purposely resisted or delayed the performance of the victim’s official duties
- When you engaged in the unlawful act, you were aware the victim was performing his or her lawful duties.
Considering the above element, doing anything else to delay or resist the performance of lawful duties by law enforcers is a crime under PC 148 (a) (1). Resisting arrest is not the only thing you can do to be charged under PC 148 (a).
Resisting arrest is a misdemeanor offense, and the potential legal penalties include:
- No more than 364 days’ detention in jail
- A fine not surpassing dollars one thousand
- The judge might also impose community labor and counseling programs
You can defend yourself against the charge of resisting arrest by arguing that you were defending yourself after the arresting officer started using excessive or unreasonable force. Remember, whenever an officer uses inappropriate energy to make an arrest, he or she is no longer performing his or her lawful duties. Also, you can argue that the plaintiff is falsely accusing you after feeling disrespected by something you said or did.
- Disturbing Peace
PC 415 makes it a criminal offense to fight or exchange offensive words with another person in public. The charge of disturbing another person’s peace can be used when entering a plea bargain for assault against a public official. It happens where you have been charged under PC 217.1 after you were involved in a public altercation or attempted to fight a public official. Instead of being charged with PC 217.1 after using offensive words against a public official in public, the prosecution can charge you with PC 415, which is a minor offense. PC 415 is a low-level misdemeanor and can be handled as an infraction. If you are charged with a misdemeanor, the maximum period of incarceration is three months or a fine of dollars four hundred or less. If you are charged with an infraction, the punishment is dollars two hundred in fine. To defend against the charge of disturbing the peace, you can argue that:
- The first amendment protects your words
- You were wrongly arrested
- You were protecting yourself or a different person
- Assault using a Deadly Weapon
PC 245 (a)(1) prohibits any form of assault using any means of force or weapon like a knife or gun. The criminal offense is related to PC 217.1 in that you can be charged for both crimes if you used any means of force to assault a public official. PC 245 (a) (1) is a wobbler. For a conviction for a misdemeanor charge, the penalties are one year in jail, victim restitution, and hefty fines.
On the other hand, a misdemeanor conviction attracts penalties as follows:
- No more than 48 months’ incarceration
- Additionally, if you used a firearm, your sentence can be increased to twelve years’ state imprisonment. If the assault was on a peace officer, you get an additional five-year sentence on your initial conviction.
Find a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
When you or someone you care about has been charged with assault on a public official, your first move should be finding a competent attorney. At the San Diego Criminal Attorney, we have in-depth knowledge of assault and battery and how the criminal justice system works. Cases involving a violation of PC 217.1 are severe because, in most instances, the prosecution and law enforcers believe the official you assaulted was innocent. Chances of being convicted are therefore high. But with proper defense, you can avoid the conviction and have the charges reduced or dropped. Call us today at 619-880-5474 for free consultation and evaluation of your case.