Assault On a Public Official – California Penal Code 217.1(a)
The California crime of assaulting a public official is defined in Penal Code Section 217.1(a). This statute provides significantly harsher penalties than the common misdemeanor simple assault case.
Penal Code 217.1(a) is a “wobbler” offense that means a prosecutor can file the case as either a misdemeanor or felony crime, based on a variety of factors.
In California, these types of laws provide more protection to a specific group of individuals based on their type of employment.
Clearly, committing an assault against any person is a crime, but if the same assault was on a public official, then the case could possibly be filed as a felony offense.
Since public officials are government employees, an assault on them is thought of an assault on the on the government itself. Therefore, Penal Code 217.1(a) has provisions that allows for harsher penalties.
Public officials regularly make crucial policy decisions that are unpopular. This means it's not uncommon for a public official to be in a position where they are the target of:
- threats of violence, or
- actual physical attacks
In other words, public officials face a unique type of danger and California lawmaker's passed this separate statute to address the issue.
As stated, a conviction for PC 217.1(a) will typically carry severe penalties.
In order to provide readers useful information about the law of assault on a public official, our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers are providing a detailed review below.
Definition of Penal Code 217.1(a)
Assault on a public official is defined under California Penal Code 217.1(a):
- Any person who commits an assault upon the President or Vice President of the United States, Governor of a state, judge, commissioner, judicial officer, mayor, city council member, sheriff, district attorney, prosecutor, public defender, chief of police, peace officer, any juror in state or federal court, or their family in retaliation for, or to prevent the performance of their duties.
The term “assault” means an illegal attempt to commit a violent injury on someone and it's not necessary to cause an actual injury in order to be convicted of PC 217.1(a) assault on a public official.
As reviewed above, a “public official” is anyone employed by a state or federal government. However, the most common victims who are targeted include the following:
- Former or current California prosecutors and public defenders
- Members of the City Counsel
- District attorneys and Judges
- Mayors and county supervisors
- Sheriff or police officers
As you can see in the definition above, “public officials don't just include employees California government officials, but also officials employed by the United States government.
What Must the Prosecutor Prove for a Conviction?
To obtain a conviction for assault on a public official in violation of Penal Code 217.1(a), the prosecutor has to be able to prove certain factors, known as the elements of the crime, beyond any reasonable doubt:
- Defendant committed the crime of an assault
- The assault was committed on a public official or their immediate family
- The assault was committed in retaliation for, or to prevent performance of their duties
It's worth noting that you can't be guilty of PC 217.1(a), assault on a public official, unless the crime was committed in retaliation or to stop them from performing their assigned duties.
This means an assault on a public official that doesn't directly involve their employment would be covered under this law.
What are the Penalties?
The California PC 217.1(a) crime of assault on a public officer is another “wobbler” offense where the prosecutor has the discretion to file the case as either a misdemeanor or felony crime.
If convicted of a misdemeanor offense of assault on a public official, you are facing:
- Up to one year in county jail, and
- A fine up to $1,000.
If convicted of a felony case of assault on a public official, you are facing:
- 16 months, two or three years in jail, and
- A fine up to $10,000
- Formal felony probation.
If you are convicted of PC 664/187 attempted murder of a public official with the specific intent to prevent them from carrying out their duties, or revenge, you are facing a sentence of 15 years or life in a California state prison.
Also, since this would be a felony conviction, it will be considered a “strike” under California's three strikes law.
What are the Related California Offenses?
Penal Code 245(a)(1) – Assault with a deadly weapon
Penal Code 245(a)(2) – Assault with a firearm
Penal Code 245(a)(4) – Assault likely to produce great bodily injury
Penal Code 243(b) – Assault on police officer
Penal Code 243(d) – Battery causing serious bodily injury
How Can I Fight Assault on a Public Official Charges?
If you were accused of violating California Penal Code 217.1(a), our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers will review the details of the case in order to determine a strategy for a favorable outcome. Some of the common defenses include:
Depending on the circumstances, our lawyers might be able to make a reasonable argument you were acting in self-defense or defending another person.
However, it should be noted, we would have to show you were exposed to some type of immediate harm and that you reacted with a reasonable amount of force to defend yourself.
Lack of intent
Going back to the elements of the crime above, you can't be guilty of assault on a public official unless the prosecutor is able to prove the assault was motivated by revenge, or to prevent them from performing their official duties.
Perhaps we can make an argument there is insufficient evidence to prove intent.
Another possible defense includes making an argument that while you did make harsh gestures or language, you didn't make any attempt to harm them.
Our attorneys might be able to successfully negotiate with the prosecutor to get the charged reduced to a lesser offense or obtain a case dismissal through prefiling intervention.
Cron, Israels & Stark is a criminal defense law firm with a team of highly experienced lawyers. We are located at 11755 Wilshire Blvd, 15th Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90025. Contact our office for a free case consultation at (424) 372-3112.