The Court of Appeals in Coleman v. U.S. decided on October 11, 2018, affirmed simple assault convictions against the police officers as well as affirming the trial’s court denial of the self-defense claim.
Coleman was questioned by the police officers during a routine traffic stop regarding his tinted car windows. The stop escalated and Coleman both resisted arrest, and assaulted the police officers. He was charged with APO, Assault on Police Officer.
The government at trial dropped the Assault on Police Officers (APO) charges to Simple Assault to eliminate the jury demandable offense to non-jury bench trial, which they typically do.
On appeal Coleman argued that: 1) the NEAR act passed in 2017 prevented the government from dropping the charges to a non-jury demandable offense; and 2) Denial of the self-defense instructions was erroneous by the trial court and that defendant should have been able to proceed under self- defense claim.
The NEAR Act among other things created: “separate offenses for ‘assault on a police officer’ and ‘resisting arrest,’” and increased the penalties for resisting arrest and misdemeanor APO to make them jury demandable.
Thus on appeal Coleman argued that the NEAR Act intended to limit the prosecutorial discretion by requiring an APO charge when the victim is a police officer hence conferring a jury demandable right.
The Court of Appeals held that neither the plain language of the Act nor the legislative history of the NEAR Act limits the ability of the government to lower charges to avoid jury trial or to invoke a self defense claim when none was allowed particularly when the complaining witnesses are police officers.
The prosecutors are granted a broad discretion in charging decisions and the NEAR Act was not intended to affect the breadth of that discretion.
Moreover, the Court has held consistently that there is a limited right of self-defense when a citizen is engaged with a police officer. That is, it is well recognized and established in this jurisdiction that the use of self-defense is unavailable against a police officer unless “excessive force [is used] in carrying out official duties.
The Court further held that even in jurisdictions where there is no differentiating between police officers and civilians on assault charges, defendants are entitled only to limited self- defense arguments when the victim is a police officer.
There was no evidence of excessive use of force and thus the Court also affirmed the trial court’s denial of the self-defense claim.
For more information on the DC Assault Statute and its variations in the District, please refer to our Washington DC Assault Lawyer page.