Penal Code § 217.1 PC defines the crime of assaulting a public official, which is when the assault occurs “in retaliation for or to prevent the performance of the victim’s official duties”. The charge can be filed as a misdemeanor or a felony and carries a maximum sentence of up to 3 years in jail time and a fine of up to $10,000.00.
- throwing a chair at a public defender.
- threatening to use pepper spray on a city council member.
- taking a swing at a government official.
People accused of a crime under this statute can challenge the accusation with a legal defense. A few common defenses include defendants showing that:
Assault on a public official is a wobbler offense. This means it can be prosecuted as either a misdemeanor or a felony. The misdemeanor penalty is up to one year in county jail. Felony assault is punishable by up to three years in jail.
Our California criminal defense attorneys will explain the following in this article:
- 1. How does California law define “assault on a public official”?
- 2. Are there defenses to Penal Code 217.1 PC?
- 3. What are the penalties?
- 4. Are there related offenses?
1. How does California law define “assault on a public official”?
A prosecutor must prove the following elements of the crime to successfully convict a defendant of assault against a public official:
- the accused committed an assault,
- the assault was committed against a “public official” or a member of a public official’s immediate family, and
- the defendant committed the assault either in retaliation for, or to prevent the performance of, the public official’s official duties.1
A simple assault means an unlawful attempt to commit a serious bodily injury or violent injury on someone else, when the person committing the assault has the present ability to do so.2 The person does not actually have to succeed in injuring the other person to be guilty of assault charges.
For purposes of this criminal law, a “public official” is defined as any of the following:
- the President or Vice President of the United States,
- the Governor of any U.S. state or territory,
- a federal, state, or local justice, present or former judge or juror,
- a commissioner, referee, or other subordinate judicial officer,
- the secretary or director of any executive agency (federal or state),
- a federal or state elected official,
- a mayor, city council member, county supervisors, sheriff, law enforcement officer, peace officer, or municipal chief of police,
- a current or former prosecutor or district attorney, or
- a current or former public defender.3
Further, the “immediate family member” of any of these officials includes their:
- parents, or
Note that people are only guilty of assaulting an official if they assaulted a public official either
- to retaliate for, or
- to prevent the performance of, his/her official duties.5
If the defendant assaulted a public official, but the assault had nothing to do with the official’s job, then the defendant is not guilty of this crime.
2. Are there defenses to Penal Code 217.1 PC?
Criminal defense lawyers can use a legal strategy to help clients contest charges under 217.1 PC. Three common strategies include showing that a defendant:
- did not act with criminal intent.
- did not commit an assault.
- acted in self-defense.
2.1. No criminal intent
Recall that people are only guilty under this code section if they assaulted a public official with the specific intent to either retaliate for, or to prevent the performance of, his/her official duties. This means it is always a defense for an accused to show that he/she did not act with this aim or purpose.
2.2. No assault
Recall, too, that people are only guilty under this law if they committed an assault. Further, “assault” carries a precise legal definition. Therefore, defendants can always use the defense that they never “assaulted” a public official.
Accused people can always raise the defense that they assaulted a public official out of the defense of themselves, someone else, or a person’s property. Self-defense is a valid legal defense if defendants can show that:
- they had a good faith belief that they, or someone else, was in imminent danger of physical harm or serious bodily injury,
- the use of force was necessary to stop the danger, and
- they used reasonable force under the circumstances.
3. What are the penalties?
A violation of this Penal Code 217.1(a) is a wobbler. A prosecutor can charge a wobbler as either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on:
- the defendant’s criminal history, and
- the facts of the case.
If charged as a misdemeanor, this offense is punishable by:
- custody in county jail (as opposed to state prison) for up to one year, and/or
- a maximum fine of $1,000.
A felony conviction under this law is punishable by:
- custody in jail for up to three years, and/or
- a maximum fine of $10,000.
4. Are there related offenses?
There are three crimes related to the assault on a public official. These are:
- assault with a deadly weapon – PC 245,
- battery – PC 242, and/or
- assault on a police officer – PC 241.
4.1. Assault with a deadly weapon – PC 245
Per Penal Code 245, assault with a deadly weapon is the crime where people:
- attack (or attempt to attack) another person, and
- do so with a deadly weapon or by means likely to cause great bodily injury.
“Assault” under this statute carries the same meaning as it does under PC 217.1.
4.2. Battery – PC 242
Per Penal Code 242, battery is the crime where people willfully and unlawfully use force or violence upon the person of another.
As with charges under PC 217.1, defendants can defend against charges under this statute by showing that they committed battery out of self-defense.
4.3. Assault on a police officer – PC 241
Under Penal Code 241, assault on a police officer is the crime where people assault a police officer or other public safety first responder while he/she is performing his/her official duties.
Unlike with charges under PC 217.1, charges of this crime are always filed as misdemeanors.
For additional help…
For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a criminal defense lawyer, we invite you to contact our law firm at the Shouse Law Group. Our attorneys provide both free consultations and legal advice you can trust.
Our lawyers also represent clients throughout California State, including those in Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Diego.
- California Penal Code 217.1 PC. The full language of the code section reads as follows: (a) Except as provided in subdivision (b), every person who commits any assault upon the President or Vice President of the United States, the Governor of any state or territory, any justice, judge, or former judge of any local, state, or federal court of record, any commissioner, referee, or other subordinate judicial officer of any court of record, the secretary or director of any executive agency or department of the United States or any state or territory, or any other official of the United States or any state or territory holding elective office, any mayor, city council member, county supervisor, sheriff, district attorney, prosecutor or assistant prosecutor of any local, state, or federal prosecutor’s office, a former prosecutor or assistant prosecutor of any local, state, or federal prosecutor’s office, public defender or assistant public defender of any local, state, or federal public defender’s office, a former public defender or assistant public defender of any local, state, or federal public defender’s office, the chief of police of any municipal police department, any peace officer, any juror in any local, state, or federal court of record, or the immediate family of any of these officials, in retaliation for or to prevent the performance of the victim’s official duties, shall be punished by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding one year or by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170.(b) Notwithstanding subdivision (a), every person who attempts to commit murder against any person listed in subdivision (a) in retaliation for or to prevent the performance of the victim’s official duties, shall be confined in the state prison for a term of 15 years to life. The provisions of Article 2.5 (commencing with Section 2930) of Chapter 7 of Title 1 of Part 3 shall apply to reduce any minimum term of 15 years in a state prison imposed pursuant to this section, but that person shall not otherwise be released on parole prior to that time.
(c) For the purposes of this section, the following words have the following meanings:
(1) “Immediate family” means spouse, child, stepchild, brother, stepbrother, sister, stepsister, mother, stepmother, father, or stepfather.
(2) “Peace officer” means any person specified in subdivision (a) of Section 830.1 or Section 830.5.
(Amended by Stats. 2011, Ch. 15, Sec. 285. (AB 109) Effective April 4, 2011. Operative October 1, 2011, by Sec. 636 of Ch. 15, as amended by Stats. 2011, Ch. 39, Sec. 68.)
- California Penal Code 240 PC.
- California Penal Code 217.1 PC.
- See same.
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