The law has made certain provisions to safeguard specific individuals. These people include children, the elderly, and groups of individuals that carry out certain public jobs. Generally, Assault is a crime under the law; however, when an individual assaults a public officer, the crime carries stiffer penalties, as found in PEN 217. The statute allows for the creation of a separate crime as opposed to the one of standard assaults. 

The state of California understands that public officials are exposed to a lot of danger while carrying out their official duties, which may not be favorable to some people. If facing charges of Assaulting a Public Official, a conviction can result in serious penalties for the offender. One needs a criminal defense lawyer to fight the allegations on their behalf and avoid other consequences that will come with a conviction. At Law Offices of Jonathan Franklin in Los Angeles, we are an experienced criminal defense team that can help you fight the allegations.

Understanding What Constitutes an Assault According to PEN 217 – Public Official

As earlier stated, the laws that protect and govern assault against public officials are found under PEN 217. Under the statute, a person can only be accused of Assaulting a Public Officer if they did that to get back at them or prevent them from doing their duty.

Assault is the attempt to do something that will lead to a violent injury. However, it is different from Battery where the application of real force is used. For a person to be convicted of this crime, the prosecutor must prove the individual’s behavior contained certain facts. These elements or facts include:

  • The person willingly intended to behave in that manner.
  • The person could have applied force while carrying out the act.
  • The deed an individual intended to carry out might have lead to the application of force.
  • The public official had reasonably believed the individual’s actions would have led to the application of force.

Supposing you are charged with this offense, the prosecutor must prove that you had knowledge the person was a public officer, and despite this knowledge, you still assaulted them. In California, individuals that are protected by this law include:

  • The president of the United States and his deputy.
  • Prosecutors, currently serving or retired.
  • All state, federal or local judges that are currently serving as well as retired.
  • Jurors whether of the state or federal.
  • Any official from the state or federal government as well as elected local government officials.
  • Any member of the council that serves in a municipality, the mayor, police and peace officers, county supervisors, the chief of police or the sheriff.
  • Retired or active public defenders.
  • A federal or state executive agency’s secretary or director.
  • The governor of a state in the United States.
  • Commissioners, referees or any judicial officers.
  • Close members of the family of these public officials listed above. The members include siblings, grandchildren, step-parents and children, children parents and spouses.

Differentiating Assault on a Public Officer and Simple Assault

Simple Assault charges in California are prosecuted as misdemeanors while Assault directed at a public officer can result in felony prosecutions. According to the law in California, committing an assault towards a public officer includes doing the following:

  • That you carried out the assault act.
  • That the assault was directed at a public official, and or their family member.
  • The act was carried out to retaliate or hinder the official against carrying out their duties.

For you to be charged with this offense and convicted, you don’t have to have caused an injury. The mere attempt to cause an injury is the basis of this charge. The circumstances that lead to Assault Against a Public Official are the day to day circumstances you may find yourself in. Some of these include:

  • If you have stayed in a certain neighborhood and certain changes are being introduced that you do not agree with. You go for a city council meeting with a pepper spray with the intention of spraying a member of the city council in protest. If you attempt to spray them regardless of whether you were successful or not, you can face charges of assaulting a public officer.
  • Another example would be that you are accused of some criminal charges and assigned a public defender. Because you are not happy with how they are defending you, you throw something at them. Even when the act does not result in an injury, you will face prosecution for the offense.

Regardless of whether your actions resulted in injuries or not, the basis of these charges is whether your actions were in retaliation or prevention of the officer from doing their job. However, if your actions were not intended for this, you cannot be found guilty of this offense.

For instance, if in a bar an argument ensures and you try to hit the other person. Other patrons may stop you from completing the act. It is later established the individual is a member of the local council, in such a case, you did not know he or she was a public official are not guilty of the offense. However, the person is free to press charges against you on simple assault, which is a misdemeanor offense.

California Laws and Public Official Assault Charges

Whether there was an actual application of force or a threat to use force was implied, the law takes it seriously. California has provided several statutes that protect individuals whether public officials or citizens from Assault. These include:

  • PEN 217 – this law protects public officials and their families against Assault. An individual can perform the Assault against the official directly or go after their family member in retaliation.
  • PEN 241 – this law protects law enforcement officials such as the police, firefighters, lifeguards, emergency technicians, animal control staff, parking officers, traffic officers, and any other officers with the duty of public protection.

When you are charged with assaulting law enforcement officers or public officers, you will be charged for violations of PEN 241c and PEN 217. The statute under PEN 217 carries harsher penalties than those of PEN 240.

If faced with these allegations, your interest should be to hire a defense attorney. Many public officers often take things said by members of the public personally and can raise charges against you. When they feel their authority is under threat even when that is not the case, they can falsely accuse you and get wrongly convicted. A criminal defense lawyer will help you develop a defense against these allegations that may lead to lesser charges or a dismissal of the case.

Penalties for PEN 217 Violations

Violations on PEN 217 are wobbler offenses. A wobbler offense in California means the accused can face either a felony or misdemeanor charges for the offense they are accused of committing. When the charges on PEN 217 violations are brought against you, the prosecutor decides on how the charges will be prosecuted. The factors that help in their decision include the criminal record of the defendant or the circumstances of the offense.

If a prosecutor finds the act to have been a severe one, they may bring felony charges against you, and also if you possess a criminal record. An experienced criminal attorney can help you fight these allegations by applying various defense strategies. A lawyer can try and show the court that your behavior was not significant enough to result in felony charges but misdemeanor charges. The penalties for a misdemeanor conviction, in this case, are less strict as compared to those of a felony conviction.

A misdemeanor conviction for PEN 217 violations penalties may include a one-year county jail sentence, and payment of fines not exceeding $1,000. A felony conviction, on the other hand, may lead to a county jail sentence of between sixteen months and three years. Additionally, a fine not exceeding $10,000 may be charged as well.

Depending on the circumstances of the case, a judge can sentence the defendant to a felony or federal probation. This can last between three and five years. Should a defendant be sentenced to probation, they would be required to regularly report to their probation officers through the sentence. Sometimes, a defendant may be ordered to pay restitution to the victim in addition to jail time.

Should you violate the terms of your probation, a judge has the authority to revoke it and instead stay the jail sentence to its full term.

Possible Legal Defenses

Facing charges of Assaulting a Public Official is not an automatic conviction. With a criminal defense lawyer, you can work on your defense that may result in dismissal of the charges or a reduction.

The prosecutor has the burden to prove that you had the ability to cause injuries to the alleged victim. Sometimes a person can use harsh words or wild gestures if involved in an altercation with an officer. Other times, one can be so angry that they try to injure the officer as they are desperate to get their point understood.

However, during the altercation, you may have lacked the ability to cause harm or injuries. Because of this aspect, you should not be accused of Assault. Should the alleged victim have been bigger, younger or stronger than you, your lawyer can take advantage of this fact and argue that it is impossible for you to assault them. Your lawyer, in this case, may seek to have you prosecuted on lesser charges like disturbing the peace under PEN415.

Your lawyer can also argue that you did not commit the act in retaliation or in the prevention of the officer’s duties. The prosecutor must be able to prove that you acted with these intentions and produce a witness on the same. If the prosecutor is unable to prove these facts, you cannot be prosecuted with PEN 217 violations, but instead, you may face less severe charges of Simple Assault.

Your lawyer can also argue that you acted in self-defense. Many public officials believe that their colleagues would not break the law or do wrong. However, many defendants are accused of assaulting public officers when they acted in a manner to protect themselves. During the carrying out of their duties, officials can get angry, aggressive or frustrated against a member of the public.

If you believe the official wanted to cause you harm and felt that you were threatened, you have a right to self-defense. Your lawyer can argue that you felt threatened by the official and you responded with reasonable force to protect yourself.

Your lawyer can also argue that you were not aware of the alleged victim was a public officer. This is an important element to get a conviction for PEN 217 violations. A prosecutor must prove that you knew the alleged victim was a public officer performing their duties. Some of the proof a person was public official carrying on their official duties include:

  • The alleged victim wore distinct clothing or uniform according to their office or had documented identification that they used to verify their status.
  • The alleged victim was operating a vehicle used in official duty like an ambulance, a fire engine or a police car, among others.
  • If they had handcuffs and attempted to use them on you may be an indication they were law enforcement officers.
  • If the alleged victim was carrying out official duties like trying to put out a fire, issuing a ticket, or any other public official activities.

If the defendant was not clear who the alleged victim was because they lacked any of the indicators discussed above, they cannot be guilty of PEN 217 violations. However, Simple Assault charges can be brought against the defendant that will need defense strategies as well.

Related Offenses to PEN 217 Violations

There are other offenses that can be charged alongside or instead of PEN 217 violations. These include:

  • PEN 245 – this is Aggravated Assault where the perpetrator used a weapon or a gun in an attempt to assault the victim.
  • PEN 245a1 – this is where the perpetrator assaults by use of a deadly weapon and causes injuries to the victim.
  • PEN 148a1 – this is where a defendant uses violence or threatens to use violence when resisting an arrest.

Finding an Attorney Near Me

Accusations of Assaulting a Public Official are serious and lead to harsh penalties. If facing these allegations, you will need an experienced criminal lawyer to defend you against them. The Law Offices of Jonathan Franklin in Los Angeles will help you formulate a strong defense against these allegations. Call our office at 310-273-9600, and let us fight them for you.