The charge and crime of battery in California is a serious offense, though it does not always align with our initial thoughts of it. We may think of battery and immediately hear the word “assault” – which can sometimes sound worse or more significant than battery in and of itself. Or, we may imagine that someone who has committed battery has fought and injured another person.
In California, battery is typically tried and prosecuted as a misdemeanor crime, which means it comes with less harsh penalties and punishments than a felony crime. But, battery can carry stiffer punishment depending on the extent of the force used (and the injuries sustained) as well as who the victim of the alleged batterer was. For instance, the charge of battery on a peace officer is a more severe form of standard (or simple) battery because of the victim: a peace officer, which can include police officers as well as other members acting from a position of safety in order to protect the community.
We are Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer and we help defend people across Los Angeles and the wider southern California region who are accused of battery crimes. We have defended and beat many cases of battery, including battery on a peace officer. Because battery can be a complicated topic to understand, we wrote this guide to provide a brief understanding of the legal side of battery: what it is and what it is not, how one proves or defends against it, and punishment and penalties for a conviction.
Please know that this information is intended to be educational only. If you or a loved one are formally charged with a battery crime, speaking with a lawyer is the only way to ensure your full understanding of the situation, including your legal rights and responsibilities and potential paths to defending yourself from a guilty verdict. This article should not be used as legal advice when deciding your plan of action for a battery case.
Understanding Battery in California
The State of California uses the term “battery” to describe any force or violence by one person towards another person that is both intentional and illegal. However, the crime of battery is actually designated into three types, depending both on the severity of the force as well as the victim who was subject to the battery:
- Battery, illicit per California Penal Code 242, which is also known as simple battery. This crime of battery is considered the lightest or least offensive of the three types.
- Battery on a peace officer, which is made illegal by California Penal Code 243(b) and 243(c).
- Battery with intent to cause bodily harm, which is made illegal by California Penal Code 242(d).
This article focuses on the crime of battery on a peace officer.
Battery on A Peace Officer in California
If simple battery is the illegal use of bodily or external force or violence by one person towards or onto another person, then battery on a peace officer includes any battery that occurs to any person who is a peace officer (see below for definition).
This crime is considered a “wobbler” crime, which means it may be prosecuted as either a misdemeanor (less severe) or a felony (more severe). Punishment varies depending on the crime conviction.
Who is Considered A Peace Officer?
A peace officer is not only a synonym for a police officer; instead, a peace officer is an umbrella term which refers to any people so defined by the Penal Code. If you are alleged to have committed battery against any one of the following people, you will be tried on and perhaps convicted of battery on a peace officer.
California state law includes the following people as a peace officer:
- Peace officers (including police officers, cops, sheriffs, state patrols, etc.)
- Custodial officers and assistants (including probational officers and related local, county, or state officials)
- Emergency medical technicians (also known as EMTs or paramedics)
- Search and rescue officers or members
- Security officers
- Traffic officers
- Code enforcement officers
- Animal control officers
- Doctors and nurses who are providing medical care on an emergency basis
A peace officer is considered a peace officer under this law as long as the officer was acting within his or her duties and responsibilities, regardless of whether he is on duty or off duty and regardless of whether the officer is in official uniform at the time of the event. California law also protects peace officers who may also be employed in any private or part-time capacity beyond their peace officer duties.
For instance, if a doctor is enjoying his weekend off but is at a public event and someone needs medical assistance, the doctor is acting as an EMT or doctor in an emergency, so he is deemed a peace officer.
Importantly, the law states that in order for this crime to be valid, the alleged battered must have reasonably known the victim in question was a peace officer and that you held that knowledge at the time of the incident and did not acquire it after the incident.
This means that if you happened to shove a person in front of you at a concert, and the victim was an off-duty firefighter but was not acting in that capacity (instead was merely watching the concert), then a charge of battery on a peace officer is not valid.
What Does Battery Have to Do with Assault?
The phrase “assault and battery” is a common one in our lexicon, and we often think that the term simply describes one crime. In fact, California law recognizes a difference between assault and battery:
- Assault is any illegal or illicit attempt to violently or forcibly injure another person.
- Battery is any illegal or illicit actual touching or contact of another person and such action was intended to be violent or forced.
It is possible for one crime to occur without the other crime. For instance, assault can easily occur without battery: a person may try to hit or injure another person, but the person subject to the attempt may have stepped out of the way or otherwise avoided the actual touching. But, if the person attempted and then actually touched or made contact with the other person, the person could be charged with both assault and battery crimes.
Proving A Charge of Peace Officer Battery in California
In order for the prosecuting lawyer to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the following conditions must be met (known as the elements of the crime):
- The alleged victim was a peace officer who was performing his or her duties at the time of the event, even if off-duty or out of uniform.
- The alleged batterer touched or contacted the victim with intent and in offensive or harmful manner that is deemed illegal.
- The alleged batterer reasonably knew – at the time of the event – that the alleged victim was indeed a peace officer.
Ways to Defend Against Battery on A Peace Officer
Mounting a strong defense against a charge of peace officer battery seems difficult, as if the odds are already stacked against you. It can feel that the entire justice system is built on protecting police officers, firefighters, and other protectors of safety. But it is important to recognize that the California courts aim to find the right decision, especially if it means decide you are not guilty in your case.
As soon as you suspect you may be charged with battery on a cop or other peace officer, you should find a lawyer you believe has the best effort and strategy for your defense. A lawyer who specializes in criminal defenses, especially those against peace officers, may be most suited for your case. As always, once you secure a lawyer you are confident in, you should candidly speak about the incident in question. Even if details feel small or unimportant, they may aid in your attorney’s ability to develop a strong defense strategy for your case.
Some common defense strategies for a charge of battery on a peace officer include:
- Self-defense. The State of California recognizes the right of each individual to protect himself or herself against the violence of others. If you reasonably believed that the peace officer in question intended you harm and was going to act inappropriately to incite harm, you may reserve the right to act pre-emptively in order to protect yourself.
- Defense of others. Similar to the right to self-defense, California also recognizes the right of an individual to aid in the defense of others if it is reasonable to expect or believe that the peace officer in question intended harm towards another person and seemed to move to act on that intention. In such a situation, you may be able to argue that you intervened pre-emptively to prevent harm towards the other individual(s).
- No intention to cause harm. If your defense lawyer can cast doubt on your intention to cause harm, the jury or judge may side in your favor. For instance, if you
- Whether you are a victim of wrong place, wrong time or the events simply didn’t occur as portrayed, your defense lawyer can argue your innocence. Additional support such as eyewitness accounts, evidence, and circumstances may further support this.
Punishment for Battery on A Peace Officer
In general, if you are accused of (charged with) battery on a peace officer, the crime is tried and prosecuted as a misdemeanor crime in California. In contrast to a felony, which is a more severe crime with harsher punishment. If a court or jury convicts you (determines you guilty) of peace officer battery, California law stipulates the following punishment:
- Serving in a county jail (not state prison) for time up to 1 year
- Paying a fine of up to $2,000
- Any combination of above jail time and fine
If, however, you are accused peace officer battery and that battery results in the victim needing medical treatment, the crime may be tried as a felony. If you are deemed guilty of a felony crime, the punishment increases to the following:
- Serving time in a county jail (not state prison) for a term of 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years
- Paying a fine of up to $10,000
- Any combination of above jail time and fine
This distinction between misdemeanor and felony is vital because of the long-term effects of the crime on your record. Once you meet the requirements of your misdemeanor, the crime stays on your record and may have some bearing on your life.
If, however, your crime was determined to be a felony, you may have much more severe long-term effects to cope with, even after you’ve fulfilled the requirements of your felony. For instance, convicted felons are typically required to disclose their felon status to potential employers, which makes it very difficult to obtain (or even maintain) gainful employment. Housing and banking options may be limited as a result of your felon status. Additionally, convicted felons are stripped of certain rights, such as the right to vote and the right to hold, own, or use legal firearms and ammunition.
Fact Checking Peace Officer Battery in California
There is only one type of battery crime in California. False. The State of California recognizes three different types of battery, in order of severity of punishment from least to most: battery (also known as simple battery), battery on a peace officer, and battery with intent to cause bodily harm. Simple battery has to do with the inappropriate, illegal, and unwanted touch or contact by one person onto another person, and such action must be deemed both intentional and offensive or somehow harmful. When such battery occurs to a peace or police officer (as defined by California law), the crime of simple battery is elevated to the crime of battery on a peace officer.
Peace officers can include police officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics, and others. True. The State of California considers many types of people working in a capacity of safety to fall under the category of “peace officer”, so anything defined as simple battery can be increased to the crime of battery of a peace officer. Peace officers can include anyone who works in that official capacity, both part- or full-time, including lifeguards, parole or probation officers, and even animal control officers. Importantly, for a charge of battery on a peace officer to be valid, the alleged victim (peace officer) must be performing an action in that peace-keeping capacity, even if he or she is off-duty or wearing plainclothes.
The alleged batterer must have reasonably known that the alleged victim was acting as a peace officer at the time of the event in order for the crime of battery on a peace officer to be valid. True. If the peace officer in question is working off-duty, such as a doctor who is watching a baseball game, but then responds to a call for help, the doctor is working as an EMT (peace officer). If the alleged batterer illegally touches or makes contact with the doctor as she is performing her duties, we can assume that the battered could reasonably know the doctor was indeed functioning as a peace officer. If, however, the battered simply shoved the doctor standing next to him, who was watching the baseball game and not providing emergency medical service, then the alleged batterer may not reasonably know the person is a peace officer.
Battery on a peace officer is always a misdemeanor crime. False. In most cases, battery on a peace officer is indeed tried and punished as a misdemeanor. If, however, your case involves the peace officer in question requiring medical treatment after the battery, then you may be tried for either a misdemeanor or felony crime per the prosecuting team’s decision. In the case of a felony conviction, your punishment is stiffer and will likely have long-term negative impact on your life.
A charge of battery on a peace officer is the same as a guilty decision (conviction). False. A charge of any kind is only that: a charge or a formal accusation. When someone formally charges another person with a crime, that does not make the person guilty of the crime. Instead, it initiates the legal process wherein a prosecuting lawyer attempts to get a jury or court to determine the person guilty, while the defense lawyer attempts to get a jury or court to determine the person not guilty.
Hiring the Right Battery on a Peace Officer Near Me
Have you been charged with peace officer battery? Do you believe someone will bring accusation against you? If so, retain a lawyer as soon as possible. At Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer, we’ll help you understand the legal implications of battery on a peace officer and create a strong defense strategy suited to the specifics of your situation. We have defended many cases of battery in the Los Angeles region. Ready to get started protecting your reputation? Call our Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer today at 310-502-1314.