Who is a Peace Officer?
California law defines a peace officer as any appointed public official who is engaged in law enforcement. He/she could be a police officer, harbor police, an animal control officer, a sheriff department officer, a traffic control officer, or a probation officer. However, there are other public officials whose job description does not include law enforcement but falls under the category of peace officers including, firefighters, paramedics or ER doctors, search and rescue officers, service processors, among others.
Legal Definition of Battery on a Peace Officer
According to the law, simple battery includes any intentional and unlawful use of force on the person of another. The penalties for a simple battery include a jail term of up to six months, a $2000 fine, or both. However, due to their protected status, battery on peace officers is a more severe offense and attract harsher penalties compared to simple battery. California law defines battery on a peace officer as a battery on such a person while engaged in the performance of their official duties.
California law facilitates the performance of law enforcement duties by requiring everyone to treat peace officers respectfully hence the harsher penalties associated with battery offenses against them. In addition to the severe punishments, the law also requires the adherence of several elements to distinguish battery on a peace officer from a simple battery. First, the victim in the battery case is a peace officer, and the defendant knew or should have known the same. Secondly, the victim was performing their official duties at the time of the battery incidence. It is irrelevant whether the peace officer was on or off duty.
Elements of Battery on a Peace Officer
The legal definition of battery on a police officer is made up of several elements, and for a prosecutor to prove that you are guilty of the offense, he/she must prove these elements beyond a reasonable doubt. The elements include:
- The victim was a peace officer engaged in the performance of their official duties
- The defendant intentionally and unlawfully made violent or offensive physical contact with the victim
- At the time of the incident, the defendant knew or should have reasonably known that the alleged victim was a peace officer performing their duties
Peace officer Performing Their Duties: The prosecution must prove that the alleged victim was a peace officer engaged in the performance of their official duties at the time of the battery incidence. In this case, it is irrelevant whether or not the peace officer was on duty as long as he/she was engaged in a job-related activity. Similarly, if an off-duty peace officer experiences battery in situations where he/she is not involved in the performance of their duty, the defendant may only be guilty of simple battery.
For example, while drinking at a local bar, James and John got into a heated argument that eventually turns physical. James strikes John in the face and ends up injuring him. It turns out that John is a paramedic. Although the law recognizes him as a peace officer, he was not performing his duties at the time of the incident. Therefore, James is not guilty of a battery on a peace officer offense. However, the court may charge him with simple battery.
Violent or Offensive Physical Contact: The prosecution needs to prove that the defendant willfully touched the peace officer violently or offensively. The element of harmful physical contact is the basis of all forms of battery. It does not matter whether the touching results in injury or not as long as it is violent and offensive. Therefore, the law classifies as battery all forms of indirect physical contact, including throwing objects at a victim as long as they are violent and offensive.
For example, June, a process server, has made several attempts to serve Bob with a legal summons for a child custody case. June spot Bob in the local liquor store and try to serve him as he is leaving. On seeing June at the door, Bob throws the shopping bag he was carrying at her and attempts to escape. Although the shopping bag hits June, she does not sustain any injuries. Even though the physical contact was indirect, Bob has violated California laws and is guilty of battery on a peace officer.
Knew or Should Have Known: The prosecutor needs to prove that the defendant knew or should have reasonably known that the alleged victim was a peace officer. In establishing this element, the prosecution must outline the circumstances that should have made any reasonable individual know that they were dealing with a peace officer. In essence, did the peace officer verbally identify him/herself, and was he/she in official uniform? Other circumstances that the prosecution can use to prove the defendant knew or should have reasonably known include if the peace officer was driving vehicles associated with his/her official duties, including an ambulance and marked police vehicles. Mostly, the prosecution relies on standard identifiers to prove their case.
For example, following an anonymous tip that Mike is involved in drug trafficking, two police detective shows up at his with a search warrant. Although they are not uniformed, the detectives verbally identify themselves as police officers and also produce their identification badges. Additionally, they give Mike the search warrant to verify. However, Mike denies them access claiming they are not police officers as they are not in uniform. The detectives attempt to force their way into the house, and in the ensuing commotion, Mike strikes one of them in the face. Even though they were not in police uniform, Mike should have reasonably known that they were law enforcers. By striking one of the officers, he violates California laws and is guilty of battery on a peace officer.
Penalties for Battery on a Peace Officer
According to California laws, a battery on a peace officer offense can either be a misdemeanor or a felony. The facts of your case, including the severity and nature of the victim’s injuries, are the ones that determine whether it is a misdemeanor or a felony. Generally, the law classifies extreme battery cases or where the victim has suffered severe bodily harm as felony crimes, while battery cases where the injuries are insignificant are misdemeanors. However, the court has discretion on the nature of your charges. The charges, in turn, determine the severity of your criminal penalties. If the court convicts you for a misdemeanor offense, your potential penalties include:
- A prison term of up to one year in county jail
- A fine of up to $2000
- A combination of both incarceration and a criminal fine
If the court charges you with a felony offense, your potential penalties may include:
- A prison term ranging from sixteen (16) months to three years in county jail
- A fine of up to $10,000
- A combination of both prison time and a criminal fine
The court may choose to enhance the penalties if there are aggravating factors, including severe injuries that require medical attention. Other aggravating factors include using or displaying a firearm during battery incidence.
Common Defenses for Battery on a Peace Officer
In a criminal case, the prosecution has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant's actions make him/her guilty of the crime. Your attorney can apply some legal defense strategies that ensure the prosecution is unable to prove you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. However, the success of the defense strategies will largely depend on the facts of your case and the skills and experience of your criminal defense attorney. Some of the common legal defenses in a battery on a peace officer case include:
- You did not know, and any reasonable person could not have known either that the victim was a peace officer.
Your attorney needs to prove that you were unaware and could not have reasonably known that you were dealing with a peace officer. A peace officer has to be identifiable either by their uniform or other standard identifiers, including marked official vehicles such as an ambulance or a police car. Additionally, they need to identify themselves verbally. As a legal defense, you can argue that your lack of knowledge of that the victim a peace officer was because they did not identify themselves and did not have any form of official identification on them. While a successful defense along this line may lessen your penalty, the court can still convict you of a simple battery.
- You did not willfully touch the victim.
Your attorney needs to prove that the conduct that resulted in your touching of the victim was not voluntary; rather, it was accidental. Essentially, this line of defense proposes that no battery occurred since the battery has to be deliberate or willful. As part of the no-battery defense, you could also argue that the victim misjudged your actions. If successful, the no-battery defense usually leads to an acquittal.
- The physical touching was in self-defense or defense of others.
To use self-defense and defense of others as a defense strategy, then you need to prove that you were protecting yourself or another person from imminent physical harm, including being unlawfully touched. You also have to prove that using force against the alleged victim was your only option and that any reasonable person would have used the amount of force you used under those circumstances. If you meet the above criteria, an expert attorney should be able to demand your acquittal successfully.
- The victim was not engaged in the performance of their official duties when the battery occurred.
As a legal defense, you can argue that at the time of the battery incidence, the peace officer was performing an unlawful activity or an activity that is not related to their job. The illicit activities may include police brutality or unlawful arrest. The peace officer could also have been performing an activity utterly unrelated to their job. Depending on whether the activity the peace officer was involved in was lawful or unlawful, a successful defense strategy leads to either a lessened punishment or an acquittal.
- You were wrongly identified as having touched the victim.
The basis of the defense strategy is mistaken identity hence the argument that there was no physical contact. Whether it is malice or it was just a case of an honest mistake, you need to prove that you did not and touch the peace officer. While this defense is straightforward in some cases, it may be hard to sustain in others. However, a skilled attorney should be able to convince the court to drop the wrongfully charges hence get you acquitted.
In Long Beach and the rest of California, battery on a peace officer is a serious crime and attract harsh penalties. In addition to the severe penalties, including jail time, the resultant criminal record will negatively impact your life. Considering the complexity and seriousness of the criminal charges, you should seek the services of a skilled and experienced criminal defense attorney. Our criminal defense attorneys at Long Beach Criminal Attorney have successfully defended many Long Beach residents accused of battery on a peace officer. Contact us at 562-308-7807 today.