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What’s the difference between an assault and an assault on a peace officer?

The offence of “assault peace officer” is just an assault, but against a peace officer (i.e. a police officer). The legal definition is the same as for assault, but the victim of the assault must have been a peace officer engaged in the execution of their duty.

A person is also deemed to have assaulted a peace officer if they assaulted someone:

(1) Acting to help a peace officer in the execution of their duty; or

(2) Lawfully executing a process against, or seizing, property (e.g. a bailiff).

The most common scenario where someone might end up accused of assaulting a peace officer is if they were resisting arrest. In such cases, the prosecutor might also charge the person with obstruction of a peace officer.

Generally speaking, anyone accused of committing a crime must have intended to commit the crime to be guilty of it. Therefore, someone accused of assaulting a peace officer won’t be guilty if they didn’t know the alleged victim was a peace officer. Instead, they can only be guilty of assault.

Is assaulting a peace officer a more serious crime than a simple assault?

Every case is different. A minor assault against a peace officer is less serious than a worse assault against a regular member of the public. However, all else being equal, the justice system treats assaulting a peace officer more seriously than assaulting most other people.

The courts view assaulting a peace officer as more serious because peace officers’ jobs are inherently risky. The justice system wants to minimize putting peace officers in harm’s way. Therefore, a judge is more likely to impose a harsher sentence for assaulting a peace officer to deter the public from doing so.

What about the force a peace officer uses to respond to an assault against them?

If someone assaults a peace officer, the officer is likely to respond with their own use of force. Sometimes, officers react with excessive force. An officer’s excessive response won’t undo an accused’s guilt for initially assaulting the officer. However, a judge might consider the officer’s excessive response to be a significant collateral consequence that persuades the judge to impose a lower sentence on the accused.

What are some defences to assaulting a peace officer?

Defences to ordinary assaults also apply to assaulting a peace officer. As we’ve seen, if the accused didn’t know the alleged victim was a peace officer in execution of their duty, then they can only be guilty of a simple assault. 

If the accused didn’t know that someone using force against them was a peace officer, they might be justified in defending themselves with a reasonable response. Obviously, the police aren’t always in uniform, and people don’t always hear them announce themselves.

If an accused assaulted a peace officer while resisting arrest, they might have a defence to the assault if the arrest was actually illegal. A peace officer is not allowed to arrest someone without reasonable and probable grounds to arrest them. Also, those grounds must exist at the time the officer makes the arrest. 

You can find some of the firm’s case results for assault peace officer HERE.

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