Penal Code 243b, 243c PC - Battery on a Peace Officer Laws
Although committing simple battery against any person is a crime in California under Penal Code 242 PC, the separate crime of battery against a peace officer or police officer while performing their duties comes with steeper penalties upon conviction.
This crime is codified in California's Penal Code 243b and 243c. Being convicted of committing battery against a peace officer can result in jail time of up to one year—and if the victim is injured, up to three years.
In cases where a battery is allegedly committed on any peace officer, the perpetrator will usually face criminal charges under these statutes. This crime is considered a more serious violent crime than a standard misdemeanor battery charge.
Prosecutors usually aggressively pursue a conviction and harsh legal penalties for this crime. Still, they must first prove you willfully offensively made physical contact and were engaged in their duties' performance.
Perhaps an argument could be made that the alleged “battery” was an accident or that they were not lawfully engaging in the performance of their duty at the time of the alleged assault.
In this article by our California criminal defense lawyers, we will examine these laws in greater detail below.
What Constitutes Battery on a Peace Officer?
Generally, battery is the offensive touching of another individual without consent. Under Penal Code 243b and c, it is a crime to willfully use force or violence against a peace officer, police officer, or other protected person while performing their duties.
This can include hitting, kicking, shoving, or even touching the officer in a harmful or offensive manner. The officer does not have to suffer injury for it to be considered a crime.
Even the slightest touch against the officer can constitute battery if done rudely, angrily, or offensively. Additionally, the illegal touching of the peace officer can be done indirectly—i.e., by causing another object or person to touch the officer.
This law doesn't just protect police officers; PC 243b and c include an extensive list of other protected officials, including:
- Doctors and nurses providing emergency medical treatment,
- Search and rescue members,
- Custodial officers,
- Custody assistant,
- Code enforcement officers,
- Private security guards,
- Process servers,
- Animal control officers,
- Probation department employees.
What Constitutes Performing Their Duties?
This crime only applies if the peace officer you allegedly assaulted was engaging in the performance of their duties at the time of the incident.
For example, suppose you were involved in an incident with an off-duty police officer where you allegedly struck them. In that case, they were not engaging in their regular duty as a police officer, and you can't be convicted under this code section but could face criminal charges under other laws. The related crimes include:
- Penal Code 148 PC resisting arrest,
- Penal Code 69 PC resisting an executive officer,
- Penal Code 149 PC - assault by a public officer,
- Penal Code 242(d) PC aggravated battery.
What Are Some Examples?
EXAMPLE 1: During an otherwise peaceful protest, Tom picks up a handful of dirt and throws it in a police officer's face. Tom has committed battery against a police officer by causing a separate object (i.e., dirt) to make offensive contact with the officer.
EXAMPLE 2: During a routine traffic stop, Roberta gets angry with the traffic cop because he is making her late for an event. Angry words are exchanged, but no physical contact is made. Roberta is not guilty of battery because she did not physically touch the officer.
EXAMPLE 3: When David and Irene approach the security desk of an office building to see their attorney, the security guard denies them entrance because neither of them has a valid ID. David stomps on the guard's foot to distract him so Irene can rush past security. David has committed battery against a peace officer.
What Are the Penalties for This Crime?
Simple battery against a civilian is a straight misdemeanor punishable by up to $2000 in fines and up to 6 months in county jail. However, the maximum jail time is increased when the battery is committed against a peace officer.
If you are convicted for violating Penal Code 243b and c, your sentence will depend on whether or not the officer was injured during the battery.
If the incident caused no injury, it is considered a misdemeanor offense punishable by up to one year in county jail and a fine not exceeding $2000.
However, if the officer or protected person suffered an injury requiring medical attention because of the battery, it is a "wobbler" offense.
This means that the prosecutor has the discretion to charge it as either a misdemeanor or a felony. If you're convicted of a felony, the jail time may be increased to three years, and the possible fine increases to $10,000.
What Are the Best Defenses?
If you have been charged with battery against a peace officer, do not despair. An experienced criminal defense attorney can implement numerous defenses to these charges. Some common defenses include:
- You acted in self-defense. If the attorney can demonstrate that your actions were in defense against police abuse or brutality or that you believed you were in imminent danger, the charges may be dismissed, or you may be acquitted;
- You didn't touch the officer. For a conviction, the prosecution must prove that you touched the officer in a harmful or offensive manner. If there is no evidence of this, the charges may be dropped;
- The contact was accidental. To convict you of battery, prosecutors must show that your actions against the officer were willful and intentional. If it can be shown that any contact between you and the officer was accidental and not done on purpose, then you cannot be convicted of battery;
- The official was not acting in an official capacity. Battery against a peace officer only applies when the officer in question is in the process of performing their duties in some way. If it can be shown that the officer was not engaged in their duties' performance, then the charges may be dismissed, although you may still be charged with simple battery.
If evidence can demonstrate that you were unaware that the target of the battery was a peace officer, then you can be convicted under Penal Code 243b or 243c.
Perhaps the police officer worked in plain clothes and failed to announce their status as peace officers. Maybe the alleged battery occurred in a crowded room or a chaotic outdoor situation where you had no reasonable way of knowing one person from the next.
Further, to commit battery, you must take deliberate action to make unprivileged contact with another person. Perhaps someone in a large crowd pushed you from behind, causing you to make contact with a law enforcement officer.
Perhaps we can argue you were acting in self-defense or were reasonably defending someone to prevent the use of an unlawful act of excessive force. Maybe the police officers are exaggerating the circumstances or even lying in their reports.
Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles, California. If you need help, contact us via phone or use the contact form.