It is a nightmare scenario when a defendant is accused of having injured a police officer in the line of duty. Both the courts and probation office are reluctant to give defendants any benefit of doubt or leeway in such circumstances. The message is clear: You mess with public officials and the public will mess with you by way of aggravated sentencing guidelines. Although such cases are a true test of defense skills, it can certainly help to solidify some of the key aspects of criminal defense. Many trainer attorneys might benefit from handling such a case. The key ingredients of the crime are summarized in the provisions of 720 ILCS 5/12-3.05.
Understanding the Crime and its Ingredients
It helps to first understand the general crime of battery and then assess the aggravating features in as far as they relate to the current case. First of all, the defense team must take note of the important technicality that battery for these purposes excludes the discharge of a gun. That is an entirely separate crime with more serious consequences for the defendant if one of the victims was a police officer. In any case, there is a requirement that the defendant knowingly committed the constituent acts which include causing bodily harm or disfigurement. The harm clause also refers to permanent disability.
The legal definitions state that for the aggravated battery to be proved to this standard, the assailant must be aware or should have been aware that the victim fell into any of the key categories of personnel as follows:
- Law Enforcement Agent
- Correctional Facility Employee
- Department of Human Services Officer/ Probation Officer
- Community Policing Volunteer
- Private Security Officer
- Peace Officer
For the charge to stick, the victim must have been operating in the course of their duty. That means that off-duty officers are merely covered under the normal aggravated battery charges. The consequences of the assault must be such that the officer is prevented from undertaking his or her normal duties. Another alternative circumstance is if the person is assaulted in retaliation for performing official duties. Things can become quite complicated if and when the defendant claims self-defense. Juries are notorious for siding with law enforcement officers by default, even in the face of photographic/video evidence, so defense attorneys should prepare themselves for a big fight on this one.
Unique Status of the Offense
This type of offending is relatively rare in as far as it is entirely based on the status of the victim as opposed to merely focusing on the act and its impact. The prior-knowledge requirement for conviction is often met by way of uniform, badge or verbal introduction. Officers that are working undercover would ordinarily not be covered but there are instances in which it is clear that the defendant was well aware that they were police officers. In that case, the charge can be proved. It is therefore imperative for the defense attorney to explore the capacity within which the officer was operating at the time of the assault.
The sentencing guidelines for this offense are relatively wide, including Class 1-3 felonies, Class X, and other aggravating features. The most serious is Class X, which could attract a sentence of six to 30 years. The custody terms for the rest are as follows:
- Class 1: 4-15 Years
- Class 2: 3-7 Years
- Class 3: 2-5 Years
The fines can go as high as $25,000 depending on the circumstances. Moreover, convicted felons will have a permanent record, loss of voting rights as well as probation. Above all, the defense attorney will face a determined and hostile prosecutor in these cases. Get in touch with David Freidberg Attorney at Law right now at 312-560-7100 to get the legal assistance you need.
(image courtesy of Matthew Hamilton)