The main service rendered by our law firm (Vista Criminal Attorney) is to represent clients across the North County region in various instances of criminal cases. We operate out of Vista, CA with a goal of advising corporations or individuals about their constitutional rights and mandates. Our expertise areas include fraud crimes, assault and battery, drug crimes and domestic violence among others. Our criminal attorneys are also versed in assault cases involving public officials.

What is “Assault on a Public Official” Under California Laws?

Penal Code 217.1 of the California laws highlights the conditions of an assault on a public officer and the related penalties. For you to be prosecuted, you must have committed an assault against an individual working as a public official or the immediate family member of the public official. You'll be charged based on the fact that your actions prevented the victim from carrying out his/her official duties.

Assault is an illegal attempt to inflict violent injury on a person when you’re on his/her presence. You’ll still be charged for assault whether you managed to injure the victim or not. An example of such a case can involve an offender throwing a stone at a victim with the intention of causing injury. The offender will be convicted under PC 217.1 if the attempt was made on a public official or public official’s immediate family.

A motive in a PC 217.1 case can refer to retaliation or actions aimed at preventing a public official to conduct official duties. You won’t be prosecuted if your actions had nothing to do with the victim’s job. Instead, the prosecutor may charge you for an “assault with a dangerous weapon” or a “regular assault” crime.

Who Qualifies as a “Public Official” Under Penal Code 217.1?

PC 217.1 defines a public official as an individual serving as a US President, US Vice President or Governor of a US territory or state. The term also applies to former or present judges at local, state or federal jurisdictions, subordinate judicial staff or director/secretary of a federal/state executive agency. A state/federal elected official, a current/former prosecutor, current/former public defender, police chief, peace officer, sheriff, county supervisor, city council member, and mayor also qualify as public officials.

Assault vs. Battery

Penal Code 240, which is California's assault law, defines assault as the attempt of committing a violent injury on a person. A case only qualifies as an assault if you were likely to use force on an individual or you acted willfully. You may be charged if you had the physical and mental ability to inflict force on someone else. "Assault" and "battery" differ since assault involves attempting to apply force on a person, while battery entails applying force on a person.

Penal Code 242 asserts that battery as the act of inflicting violence or force on a person. Battery involves any form of physical contact while assault doesn’t. Assault is also like an attempted battery while a battery is like an executed assault. Battery crimes attract more severe punishments than assault ones.

What are the Penalties for Assaulting a Public Official?

Assault crimes against public officials are punishable as wobblers under PC 217.1(a). Prosecutors usually charge wobblers as either felonies or misdemeanors. Potential penalties for a PC 217.1 misdemeanor include misdemeanor probation, at least one year serving time in county jail or a fine, not more than $1,000. Punitive measures for a PC 217.1 felony include felony probation, serving time in a county jail under a state realignment program for sixteen months, two years or three years and a fine not more than $10,000.

Consequences of PC 217.1 Charges on Your Life

Your criminal record will change once you’re convicted for committing assault against a public official or a relative of the public official. You may find it difficult to work with companies that conduct thorough background checks on job candidates. Your assault conviction can prevent you from qualifying for different kinds of jobs. You even risk losing your current job or missing out on job promotion opportunities.

Your neighbors, relatives, friends or workmates may have different perspectives about you after being informed on your criminal conviction. Your hope is to be set free and receive the same love, respect, and support you used to get from your loved ones. Legal advice provided by your lawyer can help give you peace of mind with or without the support from your loved ones.

What Determines PC 217.1 Cases that Proceed to Trial?

Most assault cases in California proceed to trial when certain factors are met. For instance, the prosecution team may have adequate evidence to prove your assault charges. The case can also go to trial if you refuse to accept the charges filed against you. The judge usually weighs your lawyer’s defenses against the prosecutor’s allegations to establish whether the case will be resolved at the pre-trial stage.

Your case qualifies for dismissal if the court rejects critical evidence against you. The termination may happen when the prosecutor’s evidence is inadequate to find you guilty of a PC 217.1 offense. A case also qualifies for dismissal when evidence that is presented to court manages to weaken the case.

Plea agreements in criminal cases such as assault cases allow offenders to agree, deny or do both concerning their charges. A plea bargaining helps you resolve your situation and prevent you from facing serious charges/penalties only if you plead guilty. "Pleading guilty," in this case, means that you're accepting the outcomes of your criminal act.

Can the Victim File a Civil Lawsuit for the Assault?

California laws entitle assault victims compensation in the form of lost wages or medical bills. The public official or a relative to the official may file a civil lawsuit against you demanding compensation. The lawsuit will be processed whether you were found guilty or not guilty of committing a PC 217.1 offense. You may need another lawyer to help you battle the civil charges.

Civil cases require plaintiffs to prove that they suffered damages or that the offender was morally/legally obligated to ensure their safety. They should also give facts that the offender acted out of intention, recklessness or negligence. You civil lawyer can employ the same legal defenses used to fight your PC 217.1 charges in the civil lawsuit.

How Does the Prosecution Team Prove that You Assaulted a Public Official?

Prosecutors have the duty of proving elements of a PC 217.1 crime before charging you. They need to prove that the assault victim was a public official conducting his/her duties or immediate relative of a public official. They should also give facts/evidence showing that you acted willfully and illegally. Here are some of the points they may use to build your case.

Public Official or Immediate Relative of a Public Official

The prosecution team will develop their case by referring to Penal Code 217.1(a), which lists all the individuals that qualify as public officials. Expect them to read out the victim’s title and job responsibilities to confirm his/her employment in the US local, state or federal government. They can also present evidence such as personal identification documents to show the relationship between a victim and a public official.

Performing His/Her Official Duties

Duties of a public official such as a city council member may include exercising a city’s powers, formulating policies and supervising administrative offices. Public officials can be hired to serve in a local, state or federal jurisdiction while their roles and responsibilities are outlined in state or federal laws. Prosecutors refer to these laws to prove a victim’s official duties. They also use evidence such as audio recording, video footage or contracts indicating that the victim was performing public duties at the time of the attempted assault.

Retaliation Against the Duties of the Public Official

Penal Code 217.1(b) highlights that retaliation is one of the elements used to build an “assault on a public official” case. Retaliation is the act of hurting or doing something harmful to a person because you believe he/she offended you. An example may involve a government employee committing a PC 217.1 offense by assuming that the public official had something to do with his/her demotion.

The Actual Assault

For an assault to qualify as battery, the act should involve offensive or forcible touching. The offender can also use an object to commit the crime. Prosecutors may rely on witness statements to prove that you attempted or succeeded at committing a PC 217.1 offense.

Testimonies from the Victim or Witnesses

The plaintiff and other individuals with knowledge about an alleged crime are entitled to testifying in criminal proceedings. The California court system can’t function without the involvement of witnesses and actual victims. The Evidence Code also requires these individuals to be cooperative and truthful while giving their testimonies. They may experience feelings of anger, fear, frustration or confusion depending on the case.

Expect the prosecutor to ask the assault victim to testify against you in front of the court. The prosecutor may also invite testimonies from witnesses to strengthen the allegations posed against you. Some of the witnesses may be people that are familiar to you. Either way, you’ll be expected to be calm when the testimonies are being given.

Legal Defenses Suited for PC 217.1 Cases

One requirement for fighting assault charges in California is legal representation. Criminal lawyers have various skills sets that are valuable to your PC 217.1 case. They develop defenses based on their past experiences and the circumstances surrounding your case. Some of the common arguments for an assault crime against a public official are as follows:

False Accusations

Claiming that you were wrongly accused may help you fight your PC 217.1 charges. Your attorney should explain to the court that the victim accused you out of revenge desire, jealousy or anger. False accusations may also be as a result of mistaken identity. In this case, you have a reasonable belief that the actual offender got away at the time of your arrest.

Self Defense

Public officials encounter different work conflicts that require sober approaches.  Some conflicts result in both parties engaging in fist fights or verbal exchanges. You may be arrested for assaulting a public official even when you're confident that your actions were out of self-defense. Your lawyer can convince the prosecutors to drop the charges by explaining the events that occurred at the crime scene.

Your lawyer could negotiate for fair sentencing if you acted in someone else's defense. For this argument to suffice, you must have a reasonable belief that the other person was at risk of violent injury. This defense may also work if you believed that using a significant amount of force, was the only means to get the person out of danger.

You Didn’t Intend to Retaliate or Obstruct the Performance of Official Duties

Penal Code 217.1(a) considers acts such as retaliating against a public official or obstructing the officer's performance at work as assault crimes. Your case wouldn't go to trial if you didn't intend to retaliate or hinder any work. However, you risk facing regular battery charges under PC 242 if you assaulted the official for other reasons.

No Visible Ability to Cause Violent Injury

Such a defense may work if the assault victim appeared stronger, larger or younger than you. Your lawyer can explain to the court that you had no apparent ability to assault the individual or relatives of the individual. This defense approach can work by asserting that the public official had armed security guards around him/her. With this kind of security, it may be impossible for you to retaliate or obstruct the performance of public duties.

The Official Wasn’t Performing Public Duties

You're at risk of prosecution if you assaulted a public official who was conducting public duties. Your attorney may help you fight these charges by proving that the official wasn't at work at the time of the crime. For instance, your lawyer can obtain and use footage showing the victim in another town at the time of the alleged crime. Proving that the official was conducting personal tasks can help battle your case.

Offenses Similar to PC 217.1 Charges

Battery charges are prosecuted under different Penal Codes of the California laws. PC 217.1 offenders also risk facing additional battery charges depending on the intensity of their crimes. Here are some of the offenses they may have on their criminal records.

Battery Causing Serious Injury

Inflicting bodily injury on a person is a crime punished under Penal Code 243(d). The offense may involve battering and causing bodily harm on a peace officer, public official or civilian. PC 243(d) considers such a crime as a wobble (prosecuted as either a felony or misdemeanor). Penalties include a two, three or four-year sentence in prison.

Regular Battery

Battery, which qualifies as a misdemeanor under PC 242 is the act of unlawfully or willfully touching someone else. Punitive measures include payment of a fine not more than $2,000 or serving a six-month or lesser sentence in county jail. Prosecutors may reduce your "battery on a peace officer" or "assault on a public official" charges to a simple battery if you enter a plea bargain.

Assault with Various Means of Force

Assaulting someone else using different means or force or weapons such as a knife or gun is punishable under Penal Code 245(a)(1) as a wobbler. You’ll also be charged for a PC 245(a)(1) offense if your goal was to inflict great bodily injury on the person. Penalties for the misdemeanor charge include a one-year county jail sentence. For a felony charge, your prison sentence will take two, three or four years to complete.

Resisting Arrest

Most PC 217.1 offenders resist arrest after being caught assaulting or attempting to assault a public official. In this case, they get prosecuted under both PC 217.1 and PC 148(a)(1). Penal Code 148(a)(1) highlights the guidelines for prosecuting offenders that resist arrest. You may be asked to pay a maximum fine of $1,000 or serve for up to one year in a county detention center.

Disturbing Another People’s Peace

Penal Code 415 highlights that it’s illegal to fight a person or exchange offensive words with a person in public. Making unreasonable noise with the intent of disturbing others also qualifies as a PC 415 crime. Such a crime is regarded as a low-level misdemeanor with penalties including a 90-day jail sentence. The case can also be handled as an infraction.

How to Have Your Assault Case Handled by a Competent Attorney Near Me

Battling charges filed against you by a public official can be overwhelming without a lawyer’s help. Hiring a competent attorney should be among your top priorities once arrested as a PC 217.1 offender. The criminal process for assault cases involving public officials is complicated.  Expect the victims to try to maintain their reputation while ensuring that you’re punished for your offense.

Our attorneys understand the kind of pressure defendants go through when being criminally prosecuted. At Vista Criminal Attorney, we pride ourselves for meeting our clients’ legal representation needs through our Vista-based office. Our law firm is well known across North County for maintaining healthy relationships with clients and successful handling all cases. Call us for legal assistance on your case at 790-691-1551.