August 17, 2017

Supreme Court finds assaulted harbor patrol officer was not a peace officer

Seeing “no reason why the Legislature might have wanted to confer the status and ‘formidable power’ of a peace officer on public employees who have no necessary law enforcement duties,” the Supreme Court today reverses a conviction for assaulting a peace officer because the prosecution did not prove that the assaultee — a harbor patrol officer — was a peace officer under the relevant statutory definition.  The court’s 5-2 opinion by Justice Kathryn Werdegar, in People v. Pennington, finds that the Legislature has conferred peace-officer-per-se status on only the Attorney General and Department of Justice special agents and investigators and that the evidence was insufficient to establish the assaulted harbor patrol officer was a peace officer.

The court is unanimous in finding to be flawed the statutory interpretation by the Second District, Division Six, Court of Appeal and in agreeing with a 2008 opinion by the Second District’s Division Four.  But Justice Leondra Kruger (joined by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye) doesn’t agree that the evidence in this case was necessarily insufficient to meet the statutory definition of peace officer and would remand the case to the Court of Appeal to construe the definition under appropriate standards.

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