While assault on anyone is a serious crime, in most states, assault on a police officer is considered to be a more serious crime
Assault is a crime that happens when someone physically harms or has the intention to harm another person. An actual injury does not necessarily need to be inflicted in order to be considered assault. Assault can occur when a victim fears that they are going to get hurt by someone else that is threatening them.
Many states have a separate law on their books if the victim of an assault is a police officer and the assault occurs while performing their official duties. The states that do not recognize such a separate law often treat the assault of a law enforcement officer as an aggravating factor to an assault charge. Aggravating factors make a crime more serious. Courts typically hand out harsher penalties and punishments for this type of assault.
It is the duty of police officers to keep peace and protect the public. The monetary penalties for assault are usually greater and jail time is more inevitable when the victim is a police officer. Several states extend the harsher sentences to defendants that assault, not just police officers, but other peacekeepers and/or first responders as well.
Individuals that work in other fields that may be considered peacekeepers and/or first responders can include:
- Emergency Room (ER) Doctors and Nurses;
- Lifeguards; and
- Forest Rangers.
The jobs of the individuals in these professions, frequently referred to as first responders, require them to assist others in an emergency, often life-threatening, situation. When someone assaults a police officer, or any other first responder, they are potentially creating a dangerous, or possibly more dangerous, situation.
The assault can disrupt the efforts of first responders to safely perform their job. It can also deter the efforts of first responders to assist in an emergency. A potential assault on a first responder can put the safety and welfare of the first responder, the perpetrator of the assault, as well as innocent bystanders in serious danger.
The penalties for assault of a police officer and first responders vary from state to state. Some jurisdictions treat the crime as a misdemeanor while other states pursue the crime as a felony.
Misdemeanors can carry a jail time of up to a year and felonies typically carry a minimum of one year or more behind bars. The penalties will depend on the state but can include: some sort of monetary fine, jail time, and/or restitution to the victim.
On occasion, a plea agreement may be proposed and entered into by the defendant and the court. The defendant may, for example, plead guilty to the charge and in turn be offered a lesser punishment. Ultimately, the court will decide whether to follow the agreement proposed by the attorneys and made between the defendant and the victim.
Circumstances exist where a defendant may have a valid defense to assault of a police officer. If the court finds that the defense is in fact warranted, this may in turn excuse the defendant’s assault or at least mitigate the punishment.
Factors that a court may consider as defenses or mitigating circumstances include:
- Knowledge: The defendant did not know that the victim was a police officer (or other first responder). If for example, the victim was not in uniform, the defendant may claim that they were unaware of the victim’s profession;
- Self-defense: The defendant felt that their life was threatened by the actions of the police officer;
- Age: The youthful age of the defendant may be taken into consideration by the court as a mitigating factor. If it can be shown that the defendant is not old enough to understand the gravity of the crime they committed, the court may lessen the punishment or dismiss the case;
- Disability: A defendant’s mental and or physical disability may also be considered as defenses or mitigating factors;
- No injury: An assault does not require an actual injury to occur. However, a court may consider lessening or dismissing charges if no injury actually occurred.
Factors that mitigate the crime may decrease the penalty. A mitigating factor is basically something that makes the crime less serious.
As noted above, an assault charge by itself is very serious. The outcome of an assault charge of a police officer, or any first responder, can be much more complicated.
If you or someone you know is accused of assaulting a police officer, it is important to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. A knowledgeable lawyer can assist you with the best outcome with regards to your case.