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Assault on a Law Enforcement Officer: Enhanced Penalties in Florida

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Florida law is harsh on those who harm or endanger law enforcement personnel. The law mandates stronger penalties for assault and battery against a wide range of officers and first responders, even including some private security staff.

In Florida, felonies and misdemeanors are categorized by degrees, determining the possible penalty range. If assault or battery involves law enforcement or other protected workers, the crimes are reclassified as more severe and punished accordingly.

However, as tragic high-profile cases have shown, officers can exaggerate or misrepresent facts for a legal advantage. Defendants facing charges like these need defense attorneys who understand the stakes in Florida law.

Penalties for Assault and Battery

Assault and battery are two crimes that are generally discussed together, since a battery often follows an assault within seconds. In brief terms, an assault is a threat of imminent violence, either by word or by action, from someone who appears ready to carry it out, causing fear in another person. A battery is an intentional, unwanted physical contact or an intentional act causing bodily harm to another.

In Florida, simple assault is a misdemeanor of the second degree, and simple battery is a misdemeanor of the first degree. The circumstances of the assault or battery, however, will elevate the charges. These include:

  • Aggravated assault (felony of the third degree)—when someone uses a deadly weapon without intent to kill or commits the assault during a felony
  • Assault during a “riot” (misdemeanor of the first degree)—a definition that the state is attempting to expand, potentially including peaceful protests
  • Aggravated battery (felony of the second degree)—when someone intentionally causes great bodily harm; attacks a person they knew or should have known was pregnant; or uses a deadly weapon
  • Felony battery (felony of the third degree)—when someone “intentionally touches or strikes” someone else against their will, causing great bodily harm
  • Battery during a riot (felony of the third degree)
  • Any battery committed by someone with a prior conviction of battery (felony of the third degree)

“Law Enforcement Officers and Other Specified Personnel”

State law reclassifies these crimes and increases the penalties if they were committed against a law enforcement officer or someone working as “specified personnel.” This includes people who work with law enforcement or in other public-facing first-response positions, such as:

  • Firefighters
  • Railroad special officers
  • Licensed private security officers
  • Law enforcement agency inspectors
  • Traffic and parking enforcement specialists
  • Blood alcohol analysts and breath test providers
  • Emergency medical care providers and hospital personnel

See Fla. Stat. § 784.07 for the complete list.

Committing assault or battery against anyone named in the statute raises the crime’s classification by one degree. For example, assault is raised from a second-degree to a first-degree misdemeanor. Battery is raised from a first-degree misdemeanor to a felony of the third degree.

The statute also mandates minimum prison sentences that cannot be suspended or deferred. These include:

  • Six months for battery “committed in furtherance of a riot or an aggravated riot”
  • Three years for aggravated assault, or for battery committed while in possession of a firearm or a “destructive device” (a bomb)
  • Five years for aggravated battery
  • Eight years for battery committed while in possession of a semiautomatic and its magazine or a machine gun

The offender is not eligible for early release before the minimum sentence is up, and they cannot reduce their sentence by working in prison.

What Can a Defendant Do?

This is a severe law, designed to brand the offender as irredeemable. Experienced criminal attorneys know that they must examine the client’s case point by point to determine whether the charges can hold up in court. To begin with, the attorney will review the circumstances of the arrest and, if there were any, the statements made to law enforcement. If they violated the defendant’s rights, it may be possible to have that evidence suppressed.

To convict a defendant, the state must prove that they violated the law as it is defined at every point. If the defendant is charged with assault, for example, the state must use the legal definition in Fla. Stat. § 784.011: an “intentional, unlawful threat by word or act to do violence to the person of another, coupled with an apparent ability to do so, and doing some act which creates a well-founded fear in such other person that such violence is imminent.” Was the threat intentional? Was it, in fact, a threat to do violence? Did the defendant have that ability? Was the other person’s fear “well-founded”? And if the charge involves a “riot,” is that true, or is the state overreaching?

What is more, if the charge involves a person named in § 784.07, the state has to show that the defendant “knowingly and willfully” attacked the person “while … engaged in the lawful performance of his or her duties.” Did the defendant know? Could they have? And was the person on the job or not?

Every case presents dozens of questions like this. And every defendant deserves a dedicated criminal defense attorney who will work as hard as possible to investigate their situation. A defense attorney will negotiate with the prosecutor to reduce the charges; if they are clearly unjust, the attorney may even be able to have them dismissed.

At the Defense Group, we want to help you get through this. If you or someone you care for is facing charges in Florida, call us today at 407-743-8430 or contact us online to schedule a free case review in our Orlando or Tavares offices.

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