Assault on a Police Officer

In order to secure a conviction in Washington, D.C. for Assault on a Police Officer (APO), the government must prove that:  (1) the complainant was a law enforcement officer working in D.C., (2) the defendant “assaulted” the officer,(3) the defendant did so voluntarily and on purpose, not by mistake or accident, and (4) the defendant did so while the officer as engaged in the performance of official duties, and (5) the defendant knew or had reason to believe that the complainant was an officer.

“Assault” is defined as either an attempted battery or an intent-to-frighten. The penalty for a conviction for misdemeanor APO is imprisonment for not more than 6 months and a fine of $1,000.  This offense is “jury-demandable” even as a misdemeanor.  In other words, it means you are entitled to have your case tried in front of a jury.   

If the government can also prove that the defendant caused significant bodily injury to the officer or that the defendant committed a violent act that created a grave risk of significant bodily injury, then the offense is punishable as a felony.  “Significant bodily injury is defined as an injury that requires hospitalization or immediate medical attention. Included within the protection of the statute is any active member of a D.C. police department (i.e., Metropolitan Police Department, Park Police, Capitol Police), any “reserve or designated civilian employee of the Metropolitan Police Department, any officer or member of the D.C. fire department, and any officer/employee of a D.C. penal or correctional institution, including juvenile facilities.

APO as a felony is punishable by imprisonment of up to 10 years and/or a fine of $25,000.  D.C. Crimes Code §22-405.

The assault on a police officer statute was amended substantially in 2016 through enactment of the Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results (NEAR) Act.  The new law was enacted in large part to correct the “overinclusiveness” of the prior statute.  For example, the former statute included actions — such as resisting, intimidating, obstructing, impeding, or interfering with a police officer — that are now part of a separate statute on resisting arrest.  As former D.C. Chief of Police Cathy Lanier described the former statute:  “The language is too broad, overly broad.  That allows for too many things to fit into that category.  Some of what’s included in that is not physical assault at all.”  

The other major change was to change the penalty for violating the statute from a maximum sentence of 180 days incarceration to 6 months.  Although this change does not sound like much at all, it allows the defendant who is charged with this offense to demand a jury trial.  

The first D.C. Court of Appeals opinion to interpret the new statute is Coleman v. United States, 194 A.3d 915 (D.C. 2018).  The opinion concluded, among other things, that the standard for asserting self-defense with respect to this offense is still whether or not the police officer used excessive force.  This is true even if the government charges the offense as simple assault to preclude the demand for a jury trial.  

Please contact Jamison Koehler at 202-549-2374 or jkoehler@koehlerlaw.net if you have been charged with APO in D.C.  Mr. Koehler has extensive experience representing clients who have been charged with this offense.