Battery of Law Enforcement Officer

Can I Use Self-Defense If I’m Charged With Battery of a Law Enforcement Officer?

You could claim self-defense to convince a judge or jury you’re not guilty of the crime of battery against a law enforcement officer. You’ll need evidence to support your claim and an effective lawyer representing you to argue the law and tell your story.

Attorney Michael Panella defends clients against battery charges, including those involving law enforcement officers. You can discuss what happened and your legal options with him. Get your defense started by calling the Panella Law Firm at 407-233-1822 today.

You may be in this situation if a plainclothes officer approaches you, doesn’t identify themselves, and threatens or strikes you. It can also come up if officers improperly serve a search warrant on your home and fail to identify themselves.

To be successful, you’ll need to show the officer made serious mistakes and you reasonably believed you had to defend yourself or your property. You’ll need to show you didn’t hit the officer to avoid being arrested or searched. You feared for your safety or felt you needed to defend your home against a threat.

What Type of Defense is Self-Defense?

Self-defense is an affirmative defense. You’re not claiming someone else was involved, or you just spoke to the officer. You’re admitting you struck the officer, but your actions are legally justified, so you should be found not guilty.

Often criminal defense cases are built on chipping away at the prosecution’s case. They have the burden of proving that you committed the alleged crime beyond a reasonable doubt. If there are enough problems with a case, you give the judge or jury grounds to reasonably doubt the prosecution’s case. This is a different, all-or-nothing defense. You admit to hitting the officer, but you were justified in doing so.

What is Battery of a Law Enforcement Officer?

Under Florida law, a battery is intentionally touching or striking another person against their will or intentionally causing bodily harm. If the other person is a law enforcement officer, the crime goes from a first-degree misdemeanor to a third-degree felony.

A first-degree misdemeanor carries a prison term of up to a year and a $1,000 fine. A third-degree felony could result in up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. The crime carries a minimum sentence of six months’ imprisonment.

A law enforcement officer could be many people beyond a local or state police officer. They could be a correctional or probation officer, a federal law enforcement officer, or someone working in law enforcement for the state’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission or the Department of Environmental Protection.

What is Self-Defense Under Florida Law?

Florida statute states you’re justified in using or threatening to use force (but not deadly force) against someone:

  • When and to the degree you reasonably believe it’s needed to defend yourself or another
  • Against the imminent use of unlawful force
  • If you follow the law, you don’t have a duty to retreat before using or threatening to use such force

You’re justified in using or threatening to use deadly force if:

  • You reasonably believe using or threatening to use this force is needed to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to yourself or another, or
  • To prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony

When defending your property, you’re justified in using or threatening to use force (except deadly force) against another:

  • When and to the extent you reasonably believe it’s necessary to prevent or terminate the other’s trespass on, or the tortious or criminal interference with
  • Real property that’s lawfully in your or an immediate family member’s possession or you’re in a property you’re under a legal duty to protect
  • If you follow the law, you don’t have a duty to retreat before using or threatening to use force

Using or threatening to use deadly force to defend property is allowed if:

  • You reasonably believe using or threatening to use it is needed to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to yourself or another, or
  • To prevent a forcible felony’s imminent commission

You enjoy this right if you:

  • Follow the law
  • Are not involved in criminal activity
  • Are in a place where you have a right to be

Generally, Florida has very strong self-defense laws, but the situation must match the requirements to use them.

Does Using Self-Defense Change if the Other Person’s a Law Enforcement Officer?

Generally, if you justifiably use or threaten to use force as allowed under the law you’re immune from criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits. That’s not the case if the other person:

  • Is a law enforcement officer
  • Acting in the performance of their official duties
  • They identified themselves according to law, or
  • You knew or reasonably should have known the person was a law enforcement officer

You’re not justified in using or threatening to use force to resist an arrest or the execution of a legal duty by a law enforcement officer if:

  • The officer acted in good faith
  • You know they are, or the person reasonably appears to be, a law enforcement officer

A law enforcement officer is not justified in using force if the arrest or executing a legal duty is unlawful and the officer knows it’s unlawful.

Using or threatening to use force in defending property is not allowed if the other person is a law enforcement officer:

  • Who enters or tries to enter the dwelling or residence
  • In the performance of their official duties
  • Who identifies themself according to applicable law, or
  • You knew or reasonably should have known they were a law enforcement officer

Whether self-defense would help you depends on the quality and quantity of evidence the officer was performing their official duties, identified themselves, or whether you know or reasonably should’ve known they were an officer.

How Might This Play Out in a Case?

Every criminal defense case is based on the facts. We learn them when we interview you, talk to witnesses, look at the crime scene, and review evidence obtained by the police and prosecution. You must have evidence supporting your defense to use it.

The law helps you because if you claim self-defense, the prosecution has the burden to show by “clear and convincing evidence” your conduct was not justified. That, overall, makes the prosecution disputing your defense an uphill climb. How steep that hill will be depends on the evidence.

It’s safe to assume the officer will claim they were carrying out their duties, identified themselves to you, or the situation was such that, if you didn’t know their identity, you reasonably should have known. If the officer was in uniform that tells you who they are. They may carry a video recording device which, if turned on, should clarify the situation. If other officers were present, they would probably offer supporting testimony.

If you or a companion recorded the encounter on a smartphone, that should be very helpful to determine what happened. If they don’t contradict each other, Witness accounts may also help your case. If officers were executing a search warrant, security cameras at your home could also aid your case.

If a plainclothes or undercover officer was involved, they’re not in uniform so their appearance won’t make their identity clear to you. If they start waving a firearm and claiming they’re an officer, it may or may not be reasonable for you to believe them. If they also show a badge, it makes the prosecution’s case easier.

Nightmare Scenarios – Innocent People Defending Loved Ones Against Officers

Michael Panella successfully defended John DeRossett, a Port St. John resident, against attempted murder charges. DeRossett’s niece was arrested by Brevard County sheriff’s deputies as part of a prostitution sting in 2015. After hearing his niece scream during the arrest, DeRossett came out of the home with a firearm. Not knowing the men were law enforcement officers, he shot at them, seriously wounding one. DeRossett was also shot and injured.

During trial proceedings in 2018, the court ruled he didn’t qualify for immunity from prosecution under Florida’s “stand your ground” law. Michael Panella appealed and won the case when the 5th District Court of Appeal dismissed the case the following year. The appeals court ruled prosecutors hadn’t met their burden of proof and stated DeRossett was immune from prosecution.

Breonna Taylor, a Louisville, Kentucky resident, was 26 in 2020 when she was killed by police officers executing a search warrant on her apartment in the middle of the night. Police claimed they believed illegal drugs were stored in her apartment. They had a “no knock” search warrant allowing them to enter without announcing themselves. None of the officers used recording devices at the time.

The officers claimed they identified themselves before breaking down the door. Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, was with her at the time. He denied they did so. Walker said he feared it was Taylor’s former boyfriend breaking into the apartment and fired a shot from his pistol towards the door. It struck one of the officers in the leg.

The officers responded with multiple shots, five of which struck Taylor, fatally wounding her. A grand jury investigated what happened, resulting in wanton endangerment charges against one of the officers. He was later acquitted. All the officers were fired from their jobs. No drugs were found in the apartment.

A New York Times article on the incident stated:

“A New York Times examination of video footage from the scene, witness accounts, statements by the police officers and forensics reports showed that the raid was compromised by poor planning and reckless execution. It found that the only support for a grand jury’s conclusion that the officers had announced themselves before bursting into Ms. Taylor’s apartment — beyond the assertions of the officers themselves — was the account of a single witness who had given inconsistent statements.”

“No knock” warrants are not permitted in Florida. Officers must identify themselves before entering a home, though a criminal could claim they’re an officer to gain access to your home. As in Taylor’s case, if the search is done at night while you’re asleep, you may only hear them breaking your door down.

Under state law, you can’t use or threaten to use force to protect property, yourself, or others against a law enforcement officer who identifies themself or you knew or reasonably should have known they were a law enforcement officer.

Whether self-defense would work for you would be based on the evidence of the situation and whether a judge or jury would find:

  • The officer wasn’t performing their official duties
  • The officer didn’t identify themself, or
  • It was not reasonable to believe those involved were law enforcement officers

Taylor was charged with assault and attempted murder but a judge later dismissed the charges, according to CBS News. Walker claimed he acted in self-defense, and he tried to defend Taylor when police entered the apartment.

Hire Michael Panella, a Defense Lawyer You Can Trust

Being arrested for the battery of a law enforcement officer doesn’t mean you’ll be convicted or serve time in prison. The prosecution has the burden of proving your self-defense claim isn’t valid, and you committed the crime.

The earlier the Panella Law Firm gets involved, the faster we can start investigating your arrest. Our defense strategy may result in charges being dismissed or a plea bargain agreement that keeps you out of jail. Call the Panella Law Firm at 407-233-1822 or fill out our contact form to schedule your free consultation.

Attorney Mike Panella

For Mike Panella, the concept of zealous advocacy developed at an early age – fueled by what he perceived to be an unjust resolution in a personal family legal matter. Mr. Panella would later attribute his passion to defend the rights of those who stand accused to those inequities in the legal system he observed, and considered unjust. Before opening Panella Law Firm, Mr. Panella served as an Assistant Public Defender for Florida’s 18th Judicial Circuit Public Defender’s Office and worked hundreds of cases in both Brevard and Seminole Counties. Mr. Panella was undefeated at trial. [ Attorney Bio ]

Contact Attorney Michael Panella

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