Battery against a police officer involves causing injury to a law enforcement officer (or, in some states, attempting to or threatening to cause injury) . It is treated as a very serious crime. Many states have specific and harsh penalties that apply to battery against a police officer.
Assault or Battery?
Injuring or attempting to injure someone may be called a "battery" or an "assault," depending on how the state uses these terms. Traditionally, the crime of battery was committed if a person caused actual injury to another, and the crime of assault was committed if a person threatened or attempted to cause injury. Although some states still recognize separate crimes of assault and battery, most states use either the crime of assault (the injury is an assault; a threatened or attempted injury is attempted assault), or the crime of battery (the injury is a battery; a threatened or attempted injury is attempted battery).
The Name of the Crime
As explained, states have singled-out assaults (or batteries) against police officers for special treatment, but they don't always write separate laws for these situations. In states that do write separate laws, there is a stand-alone crime called "battery against a police officer;" other states will have a crime called "assault against a police officer." But some states have not written separate statutes for this situation--instead, prosecutors charge the general assault or battery crime, but if the defendant is convicted, he or she will face a stiffer penalty than usual. The name of the crime is not important; the type of behavior prohibited by the law is what is important.
Proving Battery Against a Police Officer
Generally, in order to convict a person of the crime of battery against an officer the prosecutor must show that the defendant:
- caused injury (or, in some states, threatened or attempted to cause injury)
- to a law enforcement officer
- who was performing official duties, and
- the defendant knew or had reason to know the victim was a law enforcement officer.
Injury and Serious Injury
In some states, the defendant must actually cause injury to the officer. The degree of injury required is usually pretty slight and a bruise or a cut will qualify. Causing serious injury to a police officer, such as a broken bone or a gunshot wound, is almost always a very serious crime, punishable by many years in prison.
Law Enforcement Officers
Under the laws in most states, police officer is defined broadly. Battery against an officer can be committed against a variety of law enforcement officials, such as:
- police officers, including transit officers and university police
- sheriffs officers, and
- correctional officers.
Sometimes, district attorneys, attorneys general, and state employees who enforce regulatory rules, such as building inspectors and wildlife and fisheries employees, are also protected.
In most states, the crime of battery against an officer can be committed only when the officer is performing official duties or acting as a police officer. The officer does not necessarily need to be on the clock as long as the officer is performing a job duty. Examples of official duties include making an arrest (even if the arrest is illegal), directing traffic, and conducting an investigation.
Knows or Has Reason to Know
In most states, in order for the crime of battery against an officer to be committed, the defendant must know or have reason to know that the victim is an officer and is performing the duties of an officer. For example, a defendant would have reason to know that a person is an officer if the officer was in uniform, was driving a marked car, or if the officer said, “I am a police officer.” The officer does not necessarily have to do or say any of these things, if other circumstances put the defendant on notice that the officer was an officer.
Punishment for Battery Against an Officer
Punishment varies greatly from state to state and depends in part on the circumstances of the crime.
Penalties may include:
- imprisonment or time in jail
- restitution (repayment) to the victim for any injuries suffered
- probation, or
- fines in the thousands of dollars.
Battery against an officer may be a misdemeanor (punishable by up to one year in jail) or a felony (punishable by one year or more in prison). The more serious the battery, the more harshly the crime is punished. If the officer sustains a serious injury, the defendant can expect to serve as much as five to 25 years in prison in most states.
If You Are Stopped By an Officer
If an officer stops you, do not resist arrest. Usually, a defendant does not have the right to resist arrest, even if the arrest is illegal. Comply with the officer’s orders, keep your hands visible at all times, and do not make any sudden movements. If you resist arrest, officers are allowed to use force against you, and any physical resistance may lead to a charge of battery against an officer.
Getting Legal Advice and Counsel
If you are charged with battery against an officer, you should contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Battery against an officer is a serious crime and conviction can result in probation, time in jail, or even a prison sentence, not to mention fines, and a criminal record. A local criminal defense attorney will know not only the laws in your particular state, but will also be able to tell you how your case is likely to be treated in court. An attorney will be able to help you navigate the court system and, hopefully, achieve the best outcome in your case.