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Assault on a Police Officer

Penal Code 241 PC - Assault on a Police Officer Law

Assaulting anyone is a crime in California, but the penalties are significantly higher when the assault is committed against a police officer, any other peace officer, or first responder carrying out their duties.

If you are accused of assaulting a police officer or peace officer under Penal Code 241 PC, you could face up to a year in jail and significant fines if convicted.

Penal Code 241 PC - Assault on a Police Officer
Penal Code 241 PC makes it a crime to assault a police officer while performing their duties.

PC 241(c) says: “When an assault is committed against a peace officer, firefighter, emergency medical technician, paramedic, process server, traffic officer, code enforcement officer, animal control officer…. engaged in the performance their duties….and the person committing the offense knows they were police officer, etc., the assault is punishable by a fine up to $2,000 or up to one year in county jail, or by both the fine and imprisonment.”

In other words, any assault or battery against a police officer or emergency personnel is a serious issue. If you willfully use or threaten violence against someone, it's a crime under assault and battery laws. When you assault law enforcement officers or firefighters violating Penal Code 241(c), you will typically face harsh penalties if convicted.

PC 241(c) is commonly used by prosecutors in willful assault cases against law enforcement officers, sheriff deputies, and California Highway Patrol officers (CHP) who were engaged in performing their duties.

Unlawfully touching a police officer offensively could include the slightest touch if done rudely or angrily. The touching does not have to cause any pain or injury.  The term “willfully” means it was on purpose. Our California criminal defense attorneys will review this law further below.

Penal Code 241 Explained

Under California law, "assault" is defined in Penal Code 240 as "an unlawful attempt, coupled with a present ability, to commit a violent injury on the person of another."

But under Penal Code 241 PC, when the assault is committed against a police officer or other peace officer, it is a separate crime accompanied by steeper penalties than simple assault.

As noted, the victim does not have to be injured for it to be a crime, nor is it even necessary for you to make physical contact. Prosecutors only need to prove that you could commit violence or that you attempted to commit violence.

PC 241 lists the types of officials and officers covered by this law. You could be charged with assault against a peace officer if you assault (or attempt to assault) any of the following:

  • Police officer,
  • Sheriff deputy,
  • California Highway Patrol,
  • Parking control officer,
  • Traffic officer,
  • Firefighter,
  • Paramedic/EMT,
  • Animal control officer,
  • Code enforcement officer,
  • Process server,
  • Search and rescue crew,
  • Lifeguard,
  • Doctor or nurse rendering emergency care outside a hospital.

What Are Some Examples?

EXAMPLE 1: Timothy sees a parking officer writing a ticket for his illegally parked car. He tries to tell the officer he will move the vehicle, but the officer continues writing the ticket. Angered, Timothy takes a swing at the officer and misses.

Penalties for Assaulting a Police Officer in California
Assaulting a police officer in California is normally charged as a misdemeanor offense.

Timothy can be charged with assault on a police officer because he attempted violence against the parking officer.

EXAMPLE 2: The same scenario as Example 1, except Timothy, gets into a heated exchange with the parking officer but does not take a swing at him. Timothy is not guilty under PC 241 because his actions were only verbal, and he did not attempt violence.

EXAMPLE 3: Daisy is participating in a protest bordering on becoming un-peaceful. The police come on the scene in riot gear, attempting to get the protestors to clear the streets and move back into the park grounds for their protest. Daisy throws a glass bottle at one of the officers.

Daisy can be charged under PC 241 because throwing an object at police constitutes an assault, even if the thing misses.

What Are the Penalties for Assaulting a Police Officer?

Assaulting a police officer or other covered official under PC 241 is a misdemeanor offense. If you are convicted, you face a maximum penalty of one year in county jail and up to $2000 in fines. This is effectively double the maximum sentence for simple assault not involving an officer.

Judges can take specific circumstances into account, as well as your prior offenses. As such, the judge may opt to impose summary probation instead of jail time if the facts of the case warrant it.

What Are the Related California Crimes?

  • Penal Code 240 PC – assault,
  • Penal Code 242 PC – battery,
  • Penal Code 243(b) PC – battery on a police officer (misdemeanor),
  • Penal Code 243(c) PC – battery on a peace officer (wobbler),
  • Penal Code 243(d) PC – battery on a police officer (serious injury),
  • Penal Code 148(b PC – resisting arrest,
  • Penal Code 69 PC – resisting an executive officer,
  • Penal Code 217.1 PC – assault on a public official.

What Are Some Common Defenses?

To procure a conviction under PC 241, prosecutors must be able to demonstrate the following:

  • You committed an act that could reasonably be interpreted as an attempt to apply force or violence to someone;
  • You could apply said force or violence;
  • The alleged victim was a police officer or other first responder attempting to carry out their duties (and you knew this to be true); and
  • You acted willfully.

Thus, most defenses to the crime of assault on a police officer/peace officer will address one or more of these facts, which are discussed below.

Perhaps we can argue that you had no intent to harm or even threaten the official. The assault must be done willfully. If your attorney can present arguments that you did not believe your actions could be interpreted as an assault, they may be able to get the charges dropped.

Defenses for Assault on a Police Officer Charges
Contact our office to review the legal options.

Perhaps your actions couldn't apply force or violence. For example, if you threw a piece of wadded paper at an officer (as opposed to a heavier object), that paper can't cause force or injury; therefore, you didn't assault them.

Perhaps we can argue that you were unaware the alleged victim was a police or peace officer. For example, the person was not in uniform, and it wasn't obvious they were carrying out their duties. This argument may often be used to downgrade the charge to simple assault.

Maybe you were acting in self-defense. This argument can be raised when an officer used excessive force during an arrest or when you reasonably believed you were about to be harmed.

A conviction can have serious consequences if you have been accused of assaulting a police officer. Contact us to examine the details and legal options.

Perhaps we can negotiate with the prosecution prefiling and avoid filing formal criminal charges (DA reject). Eisner Gorin LLP is located in Los Angeles, and you can contact us for a case review via phone or fill out the contact form.

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