Assault by Police Officer - California Penal Code PC 149

Posted by Raoul Severo | Oct 11, 2020 | 0 Comments

The topic of police brutality is something that took the world by storm, especially after the death of George Floyd. It is true that the men in blue are there to ‘serve and protect' the community, but there are unfortunate cases where they go beyond the lines of their duties and responsibility. When apprehending a suspect, for instance, they should appropriate their responses and actions based on the situation. It is not reasonable for a police officer to use a taser on a detained individual who is unarmed and cooperative. 

More so, every action and decision made by a police officer must be of lawful necessity. If they use excessive force against a civilian for no logical or acceptable reason, then it is a violation of California Penal Code PC 149. Under this subdivision, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant:

  • Is a public officer under color of authority;
  • Physically attacked another individual; and
  • Was not facing a situation wherein the action would be categorized as a lawful necessity.

Let's define the terms one by one. The phrase “under color of legal authority” is used in the US indicating that a person is claiming or implying the acts he or she is committing are related to and legitimized by his or her role as an agent of governmental power. Meanwhile, assault is an unlawful attempt, coupled with a present ability, to commit a violent injury on the person of another. Finally, lawful necessity indicates an appropriate and legal need for an officer to conduct his duty. 

Examples of this crime are:

  • A police officer approaches an African American individual casually sitting on the park bench. The cop begins to ask a series of questions despite the fact that the civilian in question did not behave or act suspiciously. The cop then asks for the man's ID, which the man refuses to give. A heated argument then ensues. Eventually, the cop attempts to throw a punch at the man's face but the civilian managed to dodge.
  • An 18-year-old boy is having a seizure at the mall. The boy's mom calls the attention of a cop roaming nearby. Since the boy is moving uncontrollably, the cop interprets this as a threat to public safety. The officer then responds by hitting the boy in an attempt to get his cooperation and stop moving around. 
  • An officer decides to show up in a gang-infested location and challenges anyone he sees to a fistfight. 

Meanwhile, there are many crimes related to PC 149, such as:

Penalties for Police Officers who Beat and Assault an Individual Without Lawful Necessity

Law enforcement officers, in general, are held to a much higher standard as compared to average citizens. That is because their primary responsibilities and priorities are to safeguard the community and enforce the laws. Hence, if they go against their pledge, they will face heavier consequences.

Assault by a police officer is a misdemeanor case, but the penalties, as stated, will be greater than the usual. A cop who is convicted guilty of unlawful assault to another individual will face:

  • A fine of not more than $10,000, and
  • A maximum county jail sentence of one year.

However, the penalties and fines can go way higher than as stated above. If the victim decides to pursue a personal injury lawsuit, these are the plausible consequences that may be added:

  • Not more than four years in prison
  • Compensating for medical expenses, lost wages, pain, suffering, etc.

Legal Defenses for Assault by Police Officer

There are several defenses that you can use if you are facing a lawsuit under PC 149. It is best to discuss with your lawyer in order to choose the best one according to the facts of your case. Nevertheless, here are the most common legal defenses used in court for an assault by police officer case:

  • The law enforcement official was facing potential danger or threat; hence, he/she acted out of self-defense;
  • The law enforcement official was responding with ‘lawful necessity' (i.e: the cop was trying to prevent an individual from participating in a riot and breaking people's property);
  • The law enforcement official was acting in defense of another person; and
  • The law enforcement official was falsely accused.

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