California law treats peace officer safety as a top priority. Penal Code § 241 PC makes it a crime to assault a police officer or other public safety first responders while performing their official duties. Doing so is a misdemeanor punishable by a sentence of up to one year in county jail and a fine of up to $2,000.00.
Note that the offense is often cited as 241 PC or 241 CPC as abbreviations for the California Penal Code.
An assault is when you commit (or attempt to commit) a violent injury upon another.
The statute reads that:
241(c). When an assault is committed against the person of a peace officer, firefighter, emergency medical technician, mobile intensive care paramedic, lifeguard, process server, traffic officer, code enforcement officer, animal control officer, or search and rescue member engaged in the performance of his or her duties, or a physician or nurse engaged in rendering emergency medical care outside a hospital, clinic, or other health care facility, and the person committing the offense knows or reasonably should know that the victim is a peace officer, firefighter, emergency medical technician, mobile intensive care paramedic, lifeguard, process server, traffic officer, code enforcement officer, animal control officer, or search and rescue member engaged in the performance of his or her duties, or a physician or nurse engaged in rendering emergency medical care, the assault is punishable by a fine not exceeding two thousand dollars ($2,000), or by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or by both the fine and imprisonment.
- throwing a rock at a cop.
- taking a swing at a policeman, while resisting arrest, but he ducks.
- spitting in the face of a public officer.
You can challenge an assault charge with a legal defense. Common defenses include:
- no assault,
- no officer, and/or
The offense is punishable by:
- custody in county jail for up to one year, and/or
- a maximum fine of $2,000.
A judge can award misdemeanor (or summary) probation in lieu of jail time.
Our California criminal defense attorneys will discuss the following in this article:
- 1. What is considered an assault on a police officer?
- 2. Are there legal defenses to Penal Code 241 c PC?
- 3. What are the penalties for assault on a police officer?
- 4. Are there immigration consequences?
- 5. Can I get a conviction expunged?
- 6. Does a conviction affect gun rights?
- 7. Are there related offenses?
1. What is considered an assault on a police officer?
A prosecutor must prove the following to convict you under Penal Code 241c:
- you did an act that by its nature would probably result in the application of force to a person,
- you did the act willfully,
- when you acted, a reasonable person in your shoes could realize that the act would probably result in the application of force to someone,
- when you acted, you had the ability to apply force to a person,
- when you acted, the person assaulted was lawfully performing their duties as a policeman, and
- when you acted, you knew that the person assaulted was a policeman.1
Note that, under this statute, you commit an act “willfully” when you do it:
- willingly, or
- on purpose.2
Questions often arise under this statute on the meaning of:
- application of force, and
- peace officer.
1.1. Application of force
- “application of force,” and
- “apply force”
mean to touch someone in a harmful or offensive manner. The slightest touching can be enough for an assault if it is done in a rude or angry way.3
Example: A law enforcement officer is trying to talk to Jerome about a recent crime in his neighborhood. Jerome is irate because he thinks the cop is trying to blame him of the offense. He starts yelling and then approaches the cop. Jerome points his finger into the cop’s chest and yells, “get out of my face.”
Here, Jerome could be guilty of assaulting a cop. His finger into the cop’s chest is enough for a “harmful touching.” Jerome was visibly angry, and he acted in a rude manner.
Note that for an assault to occur, a “touching” does not have to cause pain or injury of any kind.4
Also, a prosecutor does not have to prove any of the following for there to be an assault:
- you actually touched someone,
- you intended to use force against someone when you acted,
- the alleged victim was injured by the touching.5
Example: The police are called to a bar to break up a fight. Mike sees a cop talking to one of his friends. He wants to scare the cop away, so he throws a beer bottle in his direction. The bottle does not hit the cop and Mike never intended for it to hit him. He just wanted it to cause fear.
Here, Mike is guilty of assaulting a cop. There is no requirement that an actual “touching” occur. An attempted use of force is enough. The throwing of a bottle was an attempt to apply force. And, there is no requirement that a person caused serious bodily injury or intended to cause great bodily injury. And there is no requirement that a deadly weapon be used.
1.2. Other professionals included
241 PC is a form of aggravated assault in California. “Peace officer” is a broad term that includes police officers and:
- California Highway Patrol officers,
- emergency medical technician (EMT) or paramedic,
- process server,
- traffic officer,
- animal control officer,
- search and rescue member, or
- doctor or nurse providing emergency medical care.6
This means it is a violation of this section if you assault any of these professionals.
2. Are there legal defenses to Penal Code 241 c PC?
You can try to overcome an assault charge with a legal defense.
Three common defenses to these criminal charges are:
- no assault,
- no police officer, and/or
In any case, the district attorney has the burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
2.1. No assault
As discussed above, as assault is a specific act that involves the application of force. This means that it is always a defense to show that your acts did not amount to an “assault.” Perhaps, for example, you:
- shouted at a policeman, and
- never applied force or attempted to apply force.
2.2. No police officer
Recall that this statute only applies to peace officers. Therefore, it is a defense to say that:
- while you may have committed an assault on someone,
- that person was not a protected class under the statute.
Note, however, that you could still be found guilty under Penal Code 240 PC. This is California’s general assault law.
This defense applies when a police officer breaks the law and engages in excessive force or other police misconduct. In these situations, you can use self-defense to protect yourself.
This defense will work if you:
- believed that you were in “imminent danger,”
- believed that force was necessary to stop the danger, and
- used an appropriate level of force in defense.7
Note that in these situations, we may file a Pitchess motion to obtain the police officer’s personnel record. If we find that the officer has a documented history of misconduct, this can be used to support your case.
3. What are the penalties for assault on a police officer?
Assaulting a peace officer is a misdemeanor.
The offense is punishable by:
- custody in county jail for up to one year, and/or
- a maximum fine of $2,000.8
4. Are there immigration consequences?
A conviction of assault on a police officer does not impact your immigration status.
California law says that some criminal convictions will cause a non-citizen to be:
An example involves a conviction for an aggravated felony.
PC 241 c violations, though, do not have this effect.
5. Can I get a conviction expunged?
You can get an expungement if convicted of assaulting a peace officer.
This is true provided that you successfully complete:
- probation, or
- your jail term (whichever was imposed).
An expungement of a criminal record is favorable since it:
- removes many of the hardships,
- associated with a conviction.
6. Does a conviction affect gun rights?
A conviction under this statute does not impact your gun rights.
Some California crimes will cause you to lose your right to:
- own a gun, or
- possess a gun.
An example is any crime that is charged as a felony.
Assaulting a policeman, though, will not produce either of these results.
7. Are there related offenses?
There are three crimes related to assaulting a police officer charges. These are:
- battery on a police officer – PC 243,
- resisting arrest – PC 148, and
- resisting an executive officer – PC 69.
7.1. Battery on a police officer – PC 243
Penal Code 243 PC makes it a crime to:
- willfully and unlawfully touch a cop in a harmful manner, and
- do so while the cop is engaged in the performance of their duties.
Unlike Penal Code 241 c, there must be an actual touching for a crime under this statute.
7.2. Resisting arrest – PC 148
Penal Code 148 PC is the California statute that makes it a crime to:
- willfully resist or obstruct a policeman, or EMT, and
- do so in the performance of their official duties.
It is not a crime, though, if you are:
- acting in self-defense,
- to unlawful police aggression.
7.3. Resisting an executive officer – PC 69
Penal Code 69 PC is the California statute that makes it a crime to:
- try to prevent an executive official from performing their duties, or
- resist an executive official in the performance of their duties.
An executive official is defined as:
- a government official who may use their own discretion,
- in performing their duties.
For additional help…
For information on assault laws in Nevada or Colorado, please see our law offices’ articles on:
- CALCRIM No. 900 – Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions (2017 edition). Note that this statute only applies if the person was lawfully performing his duties. See People v. Gonzalez (1990) 51 Cal.3d 1179.
- See same. See also People v. Lara (1996) 44 Cal.App.4th 102.
- See same. See also People v. Myers (1998) 61 Cal.App.4th 328.
- See same.
- CALCRIM No. 900.
- California Penal Code Section 241 c PC. See also People v. Williams (Cal. App. 4th Dist., 2009), 170 Cal. App. 4th 587; Marlow v. City of Orange (9th Cir. Cal., 2008), 282 Fed. Appx. 575.
- CALCRIM No. 3470 – Right to Self-Defense or Defense of Another. Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions (2017 edition). See also People v. Humphrey (1996) 13 Cal.4th 1073.
- California Penal Code 241 c PC.