An assault on an officer occurs when a defendant has committed an assault or an assault and battery against another person and that person is either a judge, a magistrate, a law enforcement officer, a correctional officer, a person employed by the Department of Corrections, a fire-fighter, an EMS person or emergency medical services personnel member. This list is pretty broad, and any of those people actually constitute an “officer” for purposes of assault on a law enforcement officer in Virginia.
The person charged must also have either known or had reason to know that the person he or she assaulted was one of those listed professions: a judge; a law enforcement officer; a corrections officer, et cetera.
And lastly, to make out this offense, the Commonwealth will have to show that the person who was assaulted was engaged in the performance of their duties as “a law enforcement officer” at the time that the defendant committed the assault.
For example, if you assault a police officer while clearly, he is off duty because you have a personal dispute with him, it may be an assault, but it will not be an assault on a law enforcement officer. But if you do so while he is arresting you, that would be.
So those are the elements of the offense that the Commonwealth must prove to prosecute someone for these offenses.
The people protected by this law are specifically spelled out in the Code section and that section includes judges; law enforcement officers (either police or deputies); correctional officers; people employed by the Department of Corrections; fire-fighters; EMS workers and even volunteer firefighters and volunteer life saving or EMS individuals.
Assault on an officer is actually charged more than you might think. It is most commonly charged in the course of an arrest when the conduct becomes more than just resisting arrest and turns into an assault on a law enforcement officer.
So if an officer is trying to lock someone up or put handcuffs on a person and the person flails their arms to prevent arrest that’s probably not assault on law enforcement officer, although it likely is resisting arrest.
But if that person turns around and pushes the officer in the chest, that would be an assault on a law enforcement officer. It is charged pretty frequently in Arlington because the police officer is the one who initiates charges and if they feel they have in any way been assaulted, they will not hesitate to include that charge when speaking to the magistrate.
It’s also obviously charged any time a defendant fights a police officer engages in a street fight with the police.
Sometimes it’s charged if the defendant starts kicking their legs as police attempt to handcuff them if their legs make contact with the officer, but this type of charge is harder to prove since the person is often acting with the intent to resist arrest, not assault the police.
It is sometimes charged for incidents that happen in jail between corrections officers and the inmates. That situation is often associated with a lot of frustration and emotion from a person who is being held in jail, and sometimes that frustration is taken out on the staff of the jail.
Every once in a while you will see it charged in a hospital setting where certain protected employees are working and are assaulted by patients, but I would say that is much rarer.