Utah Criminal Code 76-5-102.4: Assault Against Peace Officer Or A Military Service-Member In Uniform–Penalties
1. As used in this section:
a. “Assault” means the same as that term is defined in Section 76-5-102 .
b. Military service-member in uniform” means:
I. a member of any branch of the United States military who is wearing a uniform as authorized by the member’s branch of service; or
II. a member of the National Guard serving as provided in Section 39-1-5 or 39-1-9 .
c. Peace officer” means:
I. law enforcement officer certified under Section 53-13-103 ;
II. a correctional officer under Section 53-13-104 ;
III. a special function officer under Section 53-13-105 ; or
IV. a federal officer under Section 53-13-106 .
d. “Threat of violence” means the same as that term is defined in Section 76-5-107.
2. A person is guilty of a class A misdemeanor, except as provided in Subsections (3) and (4), who: commits an assault or threat of violence against a peace officer, with knowledge that the person is a peace officer, and when the peace officer is acting within the scope of authority as a peace officer; or commits an assault or threat of violence against a military service member in uniform when that service member is on orders and acting within the scope of authority granted to the military service member in uniform.
3. A person who violates Subsection (2) is guilty of a third degree felony if the person:
a. has been previously convicted of a class A misdemeanor or a felony violation of this section; or
b. the person causes substantial bodily injury.
4. A person who violates Subsection (2) is guilty of a second degree felony if the person uses:
a. a dangerous weapon as defined in Section 76-1-601 ; or
b. other means or force likely to produce death or serious bodily injury.
5. A person who violates this section shall serve, in jail or another correctional facility, a minimum of:
a. 90 consecutive days for a second offense; and
b. 180 consecutive days for each subsequent offense.
6. The court may suspend the imposition or execution of the sentence required under Subsection (5) if the court finds that the interests of justice would be best served by the suspension and the court makes specific findings concerning the disposition on the record.
7. This section does not affect or limit any individual’s constitutional right to the lawful expression of free speech, the right of assembly, or any other recognized rights secured by the Constitution or laws of Utah or by the Constitution or laws of the United States.
Battery Against a Peace Officer
Battery against a peace officer involves causing injury to a law enforcement officer (or, in some states, attempting to or threatening to cause injury) Battery against a peace 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 peace officer. 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 peace 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 peace 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 Peace 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.
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 peace officer, such as a broken bone or a gunshot wound, is almost always a very serious crime, punishable by many years in prison. Under the laws in most states, peace officer is defined broadly. Battery against an officer can be committed against a variety of law enforcement officials, such as:
• peace officers, including transit officers
• sheriff’s 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. Official Duties 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 peace 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. 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.
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.
Elements of the Crime
As with other crimes, the prosecution must prove certain elements in order to get a conviction for battery against an officer. These elements include the following (state laws may organize and word these elements differently):
• The accused willfully and unlawfully touched a peace officer in a way that was harmful or offensive;
• The victim was a peace officer performing their official duties when the accused acted; and
• The accused knew or reasonably should have known the victim was an on-duty peace officer.
Some jurisdictions require that the officer suffer actual injuries in order to get a conviction for battery against a peace officer. But other statutes only require proof of a threat or attempt of battery, or classify varying degrees of the offense. For example, Utah law imposes more serious charges with a possible prison sentence of up to three years when “an injury is inflicted” upon the victim. Generally, an injury as minor as a scrape or bruise is sufficient. But the infliction of “serious bodily injury” defined by Utah law to include things like broken bones, loss of consciousness, and serious disfigurement will most certainly result in a longer prison sentence upon conviction.
Peace Officers and Official Duties
Statutes that prohibit acts of battery committed against police officers typically refer to “peace officers” in general. Most states define peace officers to include search and rescue personnel, park rangers, prison guards, university campus police, and others whose job it is to maintain the public peace. State laws also may include service processors, ER doctors and nurses, firefighters, and even lifeguards in that category. Peace officers perform their “official duties” by carrying out a job duty, regardless of whether they are on the clock. For instance, an off-duty officer out with some friends who witnesses a crime in progress and intervenes by showing her badge and calling for back up is performing her official duties. It’s also important to understand that an officer making an illegal arrest is still performing his official duties with respect to the law. For example, punching a police officer for illegally harassing someone is still punishable as a crime under these laws.
Sentencing and Punishment
Charges and sentences for this crime vary quite a bit from one state to the next, but often include incarceration (and probation), in addition to steep fines and restitution to the victim. States without a standalone statute for battery against an officer typically provide for enhanced charges when a peace officer is the victim of assault or battery. For example, a second-degree misdemeanor charge for assault may be upgraded to a first-degree misdemeanor. Utah law imposes a minimum five-year prison term (and up to 30 years, plus 30 years probation and a $10,000 fine) for anyone convicted of aggravated battery (causing great bodily harm) of a law enforcement officer, classified as a first-degree felony. General battery (not causing great bodily harm) against an officer is charged as a third-degree felony in Utah, punishable by up to five years in prison, five years probation, and a $5,000 fine. The lightest sentence under this statute is six months to one year in county jail for assault against a peace officer, charged as a first-degree misdemeanor.
Why is it a More Serious Crime to Assault a Peace Officer?
It is the duty of peace 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 peace officer. Several states extend the harsher sentences to defendants that assault, not just peace 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 peace 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 peace 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 peace 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 peace 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 peace 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.
Getting Legal Advice and A Criminal Defense Lawyer
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.
Criminal Defense Lawyer
When you need legal help with a criminal case in Utah, please call Ascent Law LLC for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you.
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States
Telephone: (801) 676-5506