Inspired by certain events at the Oscars last night. What’s the deal with “not pressing charges” (as seems to be the case w.r.t. Chris Rock in this incident). Both theoretical and practically.
In theory is there any specific legal reason why you can’t someone for a crime where the victim survived but does not want to press charges, or some legal bar (besides not having a statement from the primary witness) that must be overcome to do so?
In practice, while I get not having the testimony of the victim is usually show stopper, in a case like this one where the crime and what led up to it is captured in perfect HD from several angles, with sound, and half of Hollywood witnessed the assault, surely the DA could get a pretty cast-iron case if they saw fit to prosecute?
In many cases, there is pretty low social value to having the state prosecute crimes when the victim doesn’t think it’s worth anyone’s time. We don’t have unlimited prosecutors or judges or courtrooms, so spending those resources on disputes where no one involved in the dispute thinks its worth it is usually just a big waste of time for everyone.
There is no legal requirement that a victim cooperate in an investigation in order for a prosecution to move forward. But prosecutors have limited resources, and if a victim is unwilling to cooperate and the crime is considered less serious, they are less likely to pursue the case. There is often an exception made in domestic violence cases given that abuse victims may refuse to cooperate out of justified fear of further abuse.
As for the current situation, sure millions saw it happen live but there are reasonable doubts that a defense could raise. Primarily, as has been mentioned in other threads, whether the incident was staged.
Though would that make a difference, legally speaking? Unless it was a very realistic stage slap (which seems unlikely to the point of being beyond reasonable doubt), you can’t generally consent to being assaulted can you? (I’m not sure how boxing and the like gets round this)
You can definitely consent to physical contact, even physical contact that leads to minor injury. As you point out there are all sorts of sports where players hit each other pretty hard, and those aren’t illegal. If this was staged then of course there was no crime.
This is one reason that video evidence of something that might seem really obvious is often not sufficient to prove a crime. Does the video show what it seemed to show, or was it acting?
I thought there was a distinction between consenting to play a violent sport that may result in injury (even something like Boxing where it definitely result in being punched) and just consenting to an assault? But IANAL (I may be remembering something in British law that makes this distinction?)
In tort law the two are called respectively assumption of risk and consent.
Regarding the OP, AFAIK the issue in criminal law (at least in many jurisdictions, dunno about the US) is that minor crimes can only be prosecuted if the victim wants that to happen. That is helpful for maintaining good relations and not needlessly escalating conflicts, besides saving the state costs for senseless prosecution. More serious crimes can be prosecuted regardless of the victim’s position.
“Pressing charges” doesn’t really mean anything specific. Generally, the process would go from Investigation - Arrest - Charging - Lots of Court Stuff. In this case, the LAPD stated Chris Rock did not want to file a police report:
“The incident involved one individual slapping another,” the LAPD said. “The individual involved has declined to file a police report. If the involved party desires a police report at a later date, LAPD will be available to complete an investigative report.”
Generally, if you want to make the police aware of a crime, you file a police report. In this sense, a victim/witness might be pressing (for a) charge - but this is just in the investigation phase. Ultimately, the prosecutor (District Attorney/DA) would decide whether to bring charges or not based on evidence and other factors noted above. Here, basically the LAPD is punting on the issue and there will be no investigation and that will be that (for now).
In situations where the police are already aware of a potential crime, as seems to be the case here, Chris Rock would decline to participate with the LAPD/DA at the outset (thus deciding not to investigate further).
Again though, it’s always up to the DA whether to bring a criminal charge or not. This is because the crime is against the State - Smith possibly violated a State criminal law and the DA enforces (or not) those criminal laws. A DA has wide discretion in enforcing criminal laws.
Sometimes, a case can’t be reasonably prosecuted without the cooperation of the victim. This is probably one of them. There are two cognizable common law crimes here - assault, which is basically words or action that threaten physical harm to a person (like taking a swing at a person) and battery, which is harmful or offensive contact with a person. (A quick google with no real research suggests these are basically the definitions that California uses).
In this case, without Rock’s testimony, the prosecutors won’t have evidence that Rock felt threatened by the swing. So, the assault case is somewhere between very weak and entirely unsubstantiated. Without Rock’s cooperation, the prosecutors won’t have evidence that Rock was offended by the contact. The prosecutors could try to prove harm from the slap. In a domestic violence case, for instance, it might be easy to prove that a victim had bruising, broken bones, and was so fearful of injury, they sought refuge outside their shared home. The jury can decide whether bruises and broken bones are harm under the law (no surprise - juries are willing to find that even when the victim doesn’t testify).
In this case, it’s unlikely that Rock had visible bruising or required medical attention. It would be hard for prosecutors to prove harm from the slap. Technically, Rock’s cooperation isn’t necessary to bring a case but without his cooperation, any sane prosecutor is going to ignore this incident.
IANAL… etc. There’s also the concept of “fighting words” which are likely to incite a response. (Like insulting a man’s wife by making a joke about a serious disfiguring medical condition). Fighting words are considered a form of provocation. They do not justify assault, but are likely to reduce the severity of the charges.
if the assault was only a slap, its hard to imagine lesser charges that still include assault. (Disturbing the peace?) It also suggests a conviction may be less likely.
So, not usually worth the prosecutor’s time, considering what the whole justice system costs to process something like this.
I don’t know of such a distinction, but there are many more cases than sports that involve actions that would be assault if not agreed to.
If you throw a pie in someone’s face without permission, that’s assault, but it’s not when a circus clown does it.
If you push someone into a pool without permission, that’s assault, but it’s not if they willingly climbed onto the dunk tank platform.
The entire ouvre of Jackass films includes a wide variety of things that are assault when done without participation but are neither sport nor assault when done for the purposes of making hilarious but sophomoric videos.
I guess it’s possible that it’s entirely prosecutorial discretion that doesn’t get these things charged as assault, but I expect that, like most crimes, there’s a mens rea element. If the “victim” has agreed to take part, there’s no criminal intention.
ETA: sub “battery” for “assault” above. I’m aware of the legal distinction.
There’s also a consideration of the degree of injury, Spots typically do not allow for life-threatening injury, although that is always a risk I suppose. I vaguely recall some incident in the NHL where one hockey player went beyond the bounds of what is typically tolerated in the sport, and criminal charges were either discussed or pressed. Almost every sport disallows “dirty” play. While certain forms of contact are permissible and part of the game, or tolerated (like fighting in some hockey leagues) there is a level of contact that is not permitted and so presumably the participants obviously do not consent to. When that level of contact is exceeded deliberately that would be assault and battery. If it were accidental - i.e. a tackle and one leg bent wrongly causing a break - there was no intent and it was strictly an accident not a crime.
But playing hockey for example does not implicitly allow another player to deliberately strike your body hard enough with their stick hard enough to break a bone, although doing so while flailing for the puck may be an accident. In that case, the trick is to prove the intent was to injure rather than to play the puck.
The problem I have with it is the appearance (hell, the fact) that privileged people are treated differently than everyone else. If it was any poster on this board, and a police officer saw the whole thing (verbal insulting words to a spouse, then the other spouse punches the person speaking) then every single one of us would have been handcuffed, booked, and had to post bail, likely on onerous conditions.
Yes, it could have been staged, but if it was a poster on this board instead of Will Smith, we would be told to make that argument to the judge. The evidence, even without Rock’s cooperation, is overwhelming. I mean, it was done live, on camera, in front of millions of people. They arrest almost everyone on far less evidence.
Some of the arguments—consent. That is a defense to an assault, but where is the evidence that Rock consented to this? He may have forgiven it after the fact, but that doesn’t equal consent. As such, it is wholly unlike being tackled in a football game where where I know that such contact will happen and explicitly consent to it. Comedians by their nature are shocking and I would love to hear an argument that an off color comedian has consented to be slapped.
Also the test for assault and battery is not whether he caused an offensive or harmful contact, but whether he intentionally either attempted (assault) or succeeded (battery) in making a touching that would be offensive or harmful to a reasonable person similarly situated as Rock. Again, if a prosecutor cannot prove that, then they should get a different job. Rock can say that he was “never scared” but that doesn’t absolve Smith of criminal liability.
The only possible defense was that it was all staged and if Rock wants to perjure himself or obstruct justice, I guess it is his choice to commit that crime, or if the police really find out it was staged, then at least their job was performed. I just think that in 2022, we as a society have gotten past the whole idea of punching someone because he offended your wife.
There was no way that was staged. Chris Rock can take a hit, but he shouldn’t have had to do so.
The “best” part of all this to me was how Will was laughing along until he looked at the face of his wife and then went all he-man. I wonder if the Smith children were watching? I wonder if they’re proud?
And the prosecutor would likely refuse to dismiss the case even if the victim asked them to, because “we have it on tape”. Make a favorable plea offer based on victim input? Sure. “Take an anger management class and then we’ll drop it to disorderly conduct.” But outright dismissal? Doubtful.
This oftentimes comes up in the domestic violence category. Sometimes, a neighbor calls the cops because they hear a bad argument. If there is evidence there is a battery, the police will make an arrest. The victim’s input may be useful, but unless it’s necessary it’s not going to dictate whether the case is prosecuted.
Now this I must respectfully disagree with: kinky people can consent to being bitten or whipped, for example.
Yeah this is why I think a DA might be tempted to give it try. But personally I think on the scale of misdeeds the privileged few get away with because they are rich and well connected, this is pretty low down there.