"Other Offenses Against Public Justice"
(Penal Code Section 149)

Definition

It is a crime in California for public officers such as police to beat people without reason. Specifically, California Penal Code § 149 PC prohibits:

Every public officer who, under color of authority, without lawful necessity, assaults or beats any person[.]

In other words, public officers like cops have no license to physically touch or hurt anyone unless they have "lawful necessity." Examples of situations that may give public officers "lawful necessity" to batter or assault someone include:

  • The person starts assaulting the public officer, and the officer acts in self-defense;
  • The person starts assaulting someone else, and the officer acts in defense of the victim; or
  • The person is rioting during a protest, and the officer stops him/her before he/she can cause further damage or injuries

Public officers are held to a higher standard than civilians, so they face potentially higher penalties than civilians do for battery.

Defenses

There are various ways to fight 149 PC charges in California depending on the facts of the case. Three of the most typical defense strategies include the following:

  1. False allegations: Perhaps the officer was wrongfully accused by someone out of anger, revenge, or a plain misunderstanding. Just like people are frequently falsely accused of battery, so are cops. If the defense attorney can show that the defendant was a victim of false allegations, the charge may be dropped.
  2. Self-defense: Public officers are within their legal right to defend themselves if they face immediate bodily harm. If the defense attorney can show that the defendant was lawfully safeguarding his own physical safety or that of someone else, the case may be dismissed.
  3. Eye-witnesses or surveillance video: If the incident occurred in front of others or a surveillance camera, the defense attorney may be able to show that the allegations were unfounded. As long as the prosecution cannot prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the judge should dismiss the matter.

Other possible defenses include accident and mistaken identity. And as explained above, it is lawful for public officers to assault or batter a person if there is "lawful necessity."

Penalties

People convicted of violating California Penal Code 149 PC face a maximum punishment of:

  • $10,000, and/or
  • 1 year in county jail

Note that if the victim suffered bodily harm, the defendant may face charges for more serious charges such as battery causing serious bodily injury in California. This can carry up to four years in prison.

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