Until recently, the District of Columbia’s Assault on a Police Officer (APO) statute was broadly applied to include, not only physical assault, but also resisting, opposing, impeding, intimidating, or interfering with a police officer. Raising your voice to an officer, wiggling while being handcuffed, or refusing to move because you believe the police stopped you unlawfully—these have all been reason enough to land you in legal trouble. Essentially, any behavior other than complete submission and silence could lead to an APO arrest.
An investigation conducted by WAMU 88.5 and the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University revealed that from 2012 to 2014 the District charged APO nearly three times as much as other cities with the same size population. It also revealed that approximately two-thirds of the people arrested for APO were not charged with another crime.
These findings lead to widespread debate about whether the police were lawfully stopping people and whether the APO charge was being overused. Fortunately, the debate led to some much-needed reform of DC’s APO statute. A few major changes to the statute include the creation of separate offenses for assault and resisting arrest, and the change in the statute’s language to allow for justification.
To convict someone for assaulting a police officer, the government must prove that the person did not have a justifiable excuse for doing so, like self-defense or accident. For example, a common scenario leading to an Assault on a Police Officer charge involves a person who accidentally bumps into or pushes a police officer while the officer is attempting to break up a fight. Before the new APO statute, there was no justification for any physical contact with a cop. Thankfully, the new law recognizes that accidents happen.
Similarly, to convict someone for resisting arrest, the government must prove that the person intentionally resisted and that the arrest was lawful. Before the new APO statute, it didn’t matter whether a police officer was lawfully arresting you—if you didn’t submit, the government could convict. Thanks to the new law’s check on police power, the government’s job is a little harder now.
Another big change to the APO statute is that a defendant facing an APO conviction may choose to have their case heard by a jury. Before the new law, a person charged with APO could only request a bench trial (trial before a judge). The law was changed, however, to include a jury option in order to ease the judge’s job of having to determine whether a police officer’s testimony is credible and to encourage prosecutors to exercise more discretion in terms of charging and plea offers.
All of these changes give individuals facing an Assault on a Police Officer charge an actual fighting chance to avoid conviction. In the unfortunate event that you are arrested for an APO within the District, it is important that you hire a skilled DC assault attorney who can use these new changes in the law to your advantage. Attorney Jay Mykytiuk can never guarantee the outcome of a case, he can guarantee you that he will stay up-to-date on the law in order to formulate the best defense for your case.
If you or someone you know has been charged with Assault on a Police Officer, contact attorney Jay Mykytiuk immediately for a full consultation.