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Assault on Police

Penal Code 241 PC - Assault on a Police Officer 

The crime of assaulting a police officer in California is covered under Penal Code 241 PC. This statute also covers the assault of any other peace officer, firefighter, or first responder carrying out their duties.

This law is the more serious form of traditional assault and battery. If convicted, the penalties are significantly higher. 

Penal Code 241 PC - Assault on a Police Officer 

Penal Code 241(c) PC 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 performing their duties, and the perpetrator committing the crime knows they were police officer, etc., then 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.

An assault or battery against a police officer or emergency personnel is considered a severe issue in California. Using or threatening violence against somebody is a crime under the state's assault and battery laws. 

But, when the same assault is committed against law enforcement officers or firefighters, you could be charged with violating Penal Code 241(c) and face harsher penalties.  

Prosecutors often use this statute in willful assault cases against police officers, sheriff deputies, and California Highway Patrol officers (CHP) performing their legal duties. Readers should note that unlawfully touching a police officer, even a slight touch done angrily, could result in criminal charges under this law.

The “touching " does not need to cause an injury. The term “willfully” in legal definitions means the act was on purpose instead of an accident. Our California criminal defense lawyers will examine this law in more detail below.

Penal Code 241 PC - Explained

In California, the crime of "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." 

Under Penal Code 241, when an assault is committed against a police officer, it's charged under a separate statute that includes stiffer legal penalties. As noted, no injuries must occur, and you don't have to contact the officer physically. Prosecutors only have to prove that you could commit violence and that you attempted to commit violence.

Penal Code 241 PC lists the types of officers and officials covered under this statute: 

  • Police officer,
  • Sheriff deputy,
  • California Highway Patrol,
  • Firefighter,
  • Paramedic,
  • Emergency medical technician,
  • Parking control officer,
  • Traffic officer,
  • Animal control officer,
  • Code enforcement officer,
  • Process server,
  • Search and rescue crew,
  • Lifeguard.

What are Some Examples of This Crime?

EXAMPLE 1: Robert observes a traffic officer writing a ticket for his illegally parked car. He tells them he will move it, but the officer places a ticket on the windshield anyway. Robert attempts to hit the officer with his fist but misses. Under this example, he could be charged with PC 241 assault on a police officer because he attempted violence against the parking officer.

EXAMPLE 2: Sarah participates in an unruly protest. Law enforcement arrives in riot gear and attempts to get the protestors off the street. She throws a rock at one of the officers, but it misses. She can be charged under PC 241 because throwing an object at police constitutes an assault, even if it does not strike them.

PC 241 assaulting a police officer is a misdemeanor offense that carries a maximum penalty of one year in county jail and up to $2000 in fines, which is double the maximum sentence for simple assault not involving an officer. Judges can impose summary probation instead of jail time if the case facts warrant it.

What Are the Related Crimes?

  • 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,
  • Penal Code 240 PC – assault,
  • Penal Code 242 PC – battery.

What Are the Legal Defenses for PC 241? 

To convict you of PC 241 assault on a police officer, prosecutors have to prove the elements of the crime, including:

  • You committed an act that could be considered an attempt to apply force or violence on somebody;
  • You could apply said force or violence;
  • The alleged victim was a police officer or other official covered under the law who was performing their duties and
  • You acted willfully.

Thus, most potential legal defenses will focus on proving that you did not violate one or more elements of the crime.

Legal Defenses for California Penal Code 241 PC

Perhaps we could argue that you had no intent to harm or even threaten the official, as the assault must be willful. Maybe we can say that you did not believe your actions could be interpreted as an assault and get the charges dropped.

Perhaps we can argue that your actions couldn't apply force or violence. For example, throwing an object that could not cause force or injury; therefore, you didn't assault them.

Maybe we can argue that you were unaware the alleged victim was a police or peace officer. For example, perhaps they were not in uniform, and it wasn't clear whether they were performing their duties.

Perhaps we can argue that you were acting in self-defense. This argument can be used in a situation when an officer used excessive force during an arrest or when you reasonably believed you were about to be harmed.

Perhaps we can negotiate with the prosecution prefiling to avoid the formal filing of criminal charges in the first place, called a “DA reject.” Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles, California. You can contact us for a case evaluation by phone or use the contact form.

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