As a criminal defense attorney practicing in Orange County, California for more than 20 years, I have represented many individuals charged with battery, as well as battery on a peace officer. The legal definition of battery is: “Any willful and unlawful use of force of violence upon the person of another.” We often hear the term “battery” in conjunction with the term “assault”. However, they have different meanings.
In California, “Assault” is defined as an intentional attempt to physically injure another or a menacing or threatening act or statement that causes the other person to believe they are about to be attacked. So notice that I said “intentional attempt”. You do not have to have had actual physical contact with another person to be charged with assault. Just the threat of physical harm can get you arrested if that person believes that you are serious. A failed attempt to hit, kick or strike someone is also considered an assault because you had intent to hit but missed. Unlike “Assault”, “Battery” requires some form of physical contact. A conviction for battery could result in a fine of $2,000.00 or jail time up to six months, or both.
When we talk about battery on a police officer, the charge becomes much more serious. Police Officers fall within a protected class, which, including peace officers includes custodial officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, lifeguards, security officers, and others who fall within this “protected class”. If convicted of battery on a peace officer, the penalties can include State prison for up to three years.
Battery on a Peace Officer is a wobbler meaning it can be filed as either a felony or a misdemeanor. The circumstances surrounding the battery will determine how the case is filed. When a battery is committed against a peace officer who is engaged in the performance of his or her duty, the fine can be up to $10,000.00, county jail up to one year, or up to three years in State prison.
Battery on a police officer is something that gets charged a lot in California. Unfortunately, what may have started out as a simple stop or even a simple arrest escalates and turns into an additional charge of battery on a peace officer. Here is an example of how a simple stop, or attempted questioning by a peace officer could escalate into a battery charge: Let’s say a young man is walking down the street and a police officer pulls up along side and asks him to stop because he wants to ask him some questions. The young man, knowing he has marijuana in his pocket, runs in an attempt to get away. He is chased by the officers, tackled to the ground and handcuffed. During the tackle, the young man resists and it turns into a scuffle. If during that scuffle, the police officer is hit, kicked, spit on, or in any way physically touched by the young man, it then becomes battery on a police officer. So while the young man initially had no intention of hitting the peace officer or in any way harming him, the police officer may say that he resisted and in doing so, in an attempt to get away, committed battery upon him.
Other common situations where battery on a peace officer often occurs is where there are big crowds of people like concerts and sporting events. These are situations where people are often arrested and charged by mistake. When police go into a crowd to break up fighting and enforce crowd control, police officers often get spit on, hit, kicked, pushed, etc. Often times officers will arrest those closest to them assuming they are the individual(s) who committed the battery on them. This is common in that at these types of venues, people are typically of the same age range and dressed similarly and so mistaken identity is very common. Mistaken identity is a typical, and very good defense in these types of situations.
Another good defense is that the battery was an accident. In the same scenario as above, when officers go into a crowd, if someone is grabbed by a police officer from behind, the individual has no idea who is grabbing them and throws their arms up or back in an attempt to get the person off. If the officer is hit, the individual could be charged with battery on a peace officer. The defense is of course that it was an accident and there was no intent to hit the officer.
While I believe that there are good, honest police officers, unfortunately there are those officers that are not trustworthy and who will lie or exaggerate circumstances in order to make their case. Because I know this to be true, there are situations where I may make a motion to the court to order the police department to turn over a copy of that particular police officer’s personnel records. These records can reveal information that the officer has had several complaints of excessive force or lying and/or exaggerating the truth. When a police officer gets up on the witness stand, in his uniform, and gives a statement about what happened, it is human nature to believe the officer. So if I believe that a particular officer is lying or exaggeration the truth, getting a copy of his personnel file becomes very important.
In situations where the evidence is clear and none of the above-discussed defenses are going to help, it is very important that the Court and District Attorney get to know the person behind the battery charge. Helping the Court and District Attorney get to know the good, important things about that person can help when it comes to negotiating a plea deal.
Anyone who has been arrested for Assault on a Peace Officer should consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney. There are defenses and a good attorney will look very closely at the evidence to get the best possible outcome.