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Assault on a Public Official - California Penal Code 217.1(a)

Assault on a Public Official - California Penal Code 217.1(a) PC
PC 217.1 makes it a serious crime to assault a pubic official targeted for retaliation for, or to prevent them from performing their duties.

The crime of “assault on a public official” is described under California Penal Code 217.1(a), which imposes more serious penalties than a routine misdemeanor simple assault. In fact, PC 217.1(a) is a “wobbler” crime which means the prosecutor has the discretion to file the case as either a misdemeanor or felony offense.

California law gives more protection to a certain group of people and it depends of their type of employment. Obviously, committing assault on anyone is a crime, but when the assault is committed against a public official, the offense could be charged as a felony crime.  

Public officials are employees of the government and have a responsibility to execute their assigned duties. This means that an assault on a public official is considered an assault on the public and the government itself. Thus, Penal Code 217.1(a) allows for more severe penalties.

Since public officials have to routinely make important policy decisions as part of their duty, it means some of their decisions can be very unpopular. It also means they could find themselves a primary target for threats of violence and even physical attacks.

In response, California lawmaker's acknowledged this unique type of danger and passed a separate statute to address an assault on a public official. A violation of the violent crime of Penal Code 217.1(a) can result in severe penalties for anyone convicted.

To give readers a better understanding on assault on a public official laws, our California criminal defense attorneys are providing an overview below.

Defining PC 217.1(a) Assaulting a Public Official

California Penal Code 217.1(a) provides a definition for assault on a public official:

Anyone who commits any assault upon the President or Vice President of the United States, the Governor of any state, judge, commissioner, judicial officer, or any state holding elective office, mayor, city council member, county supervisor, sheriff, district attorney, prosecutor, public defender, chief of police, peace officer, any juror in any local, state, or federal court, or their immediate family in retaliation for, or to prevent the performance of their duties.

It should be noted that an “assault” is an unlawful attempt to commit a violent injury on another person when you have the ability to commit it. It's not required that you actually caused injury to another person to be found guilty of assault on a public official.

As stated in the definition above, a “public official” includes a wide range of people who are employed by the federal or state government, but the most common victims in California include:

  • Current or former prosecutors or public defenders
  • Judges, commissioners, or other bench officers
  • City Council members
  • County Supervisors
  • Sheriff or peace officers

It should be noted a public official under PC 217.1(a) includes not only California government officials, but also officials of the United States government.

What Must the Prosecutor Prove?

In order to be convicted of Penal Code 217.1(a), assault on a public official, the prosecutor must be able to prove all the elements of the crime, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant:

  • Committed an assault crime
  • Assault was against a public official or immediate family
  • Assault was committed in retaliation for, or to prevent performance of duties

The immediate family of public officials includes their spouse, children, parents, or other members of the family.

It's important to address that you can only be found guilty of Penal Code 217.1(a), assault on a public official, if you committed the act in retaliation or to stop them from performing their official duties. Any assault on a public official that is not connected to their employment would not fall under this statute.

Penalties for PC 217.1(a) Assault on a Public Official

As stated, Penal Code 217.1(a), assault on a public officer is a California “wobbler” crime that can be filed as either a misdemeanor or felony crime.

If you are convicted of a misdemeanor assault on a public official, the penalties include up to one year in county jail, a fine up to $1,000, and summary probation.

If you are convicted of a felony assault on a public official, the penalties include 16 months, two or three years in jail, a fine up to $10,000, and formal probation.

If convicted of attempted murder of a public official with intent to prevent them from carrying out their official duties, or as revenge, you could be sentenced to 15 years or life in a California state prison.  A felony conviction could also count as a “strike” under California's three strikes law.

Related California Offenses for Penal Code 217.1(a)

Penal Code 240 – Assault Penal Code 242 – Battery Penal Code 243(b) – Assault on a Police Officer Penal Code 243(d) – Battery Causing Serious Bodily Injury Penal Code 245(a)(1) – Assault with a Deadly Weapon Penal Code 245(a)(2) – Assault with a Firearm Penal Code 245(a)(4) – Assault Likely to Produce Great Bodily Injury

Defenses for Assault on a Public Official Charges

If you have been charged with assault on a public official in violation of California Penal Code 217.1(a), assaulting a public official, our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys can use various strategies against the charges in an effort to achieve the best possible outcome.

We need to first review all the details of the case in order to formulate a plan that could result in a factorable outcome. Let's review some common defenses below.

Self-Defense

We might be able to make an argument that you were acting in self-defense or defending someone else during the incident. This type of defense only applies where we can prove you were exposed to immediate danger and only reacted with reasonable force. Perhaps we can show you believed you were about to suffer an injury and was forced to defend yourself.

Lack of intent to prevent performing their duties

Recall in the elements of the crime above that you can only be found guilty of PC 217.1(a) if the prosecutor is able to prove you assaulted the public official with the motive of revenge or to prevent them from performing their duties. We might be able to argue there is insufficient evidence to prove this required factor.

Other potential defenses include showing that while you may have used harsh language or gestures, you never made an attempt to harm them. We might also be able to argue you didn't act willfully, didn't possess the ability to harm them, or you are the victim of a false allegation.

We might be able to negotiate with the prosecutor for reduced charges or even get the case dismissed through prefiling intervention.

Eisner Gorin LLP is a top-rated criminal defense law firm located at 1875 Century Park E #705, Los Angeles, CA 90067. We also have an office in the San Fernando Valley at 14401 Sylvan St #112 Van Nuys, CA 91401. Contact us for a confidential consultation at (310) 328-3776.

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