People get hurt during athletic contests. Sometimes, they get hurt badly. At that point, the injury may have some implications beyond the playing field. League supervisors want to prove that the game is safe, and they may look for someone to blame. That’s especially true if the injury involved something like a chop block in football or a flagrant foul in basketball. As a result, someone could press assault charges.
Legally, an ordinary assault is a harmful or offensive touching. Pretty much every tackle in football is harmful or offensive. So, if Wake County prosecutors bring assault charges, it would probably be aggravated assault. Legally, this offense is basically an assault plus a serious injury, or an assault which involved a dangerous weapon. A hockey stick could be considered a dangerous weapon.
In response to charges like these, a Raleigh criminal defense attorney could either argue lack of evidence or present an affirmative defense.
Lack of Intent
Intent is not really an element in misdemeanor assault cases. Prosecutors must only prove that the harmful or offensive touch, or the threat, was not accidental. To determine intent, or lack thereof, in a sports-related assault, North Carolina courts generally look at the following factors:
- In-Game Context: Was the player trying to obtain a tactical advantage in any way? In other words, was the player going for the ball and the other player was in the way?
- Clock Running: If the incident occurred during the course of play, it may have been a heat-of-battle thing. But if the incident occurred during a timeout, that’s a different story.
- Prior Verbal Altercation: Such an interaction goes to intent. If there was bad blood between the two players, it’s more likely that the harmful conduct was intentional.
- Injuries Sustained: This factor strongly suggests that only aggravated assault charges have any chance of holding up in court in this context. Injury is not an element of a misdemeanor assault charge.
North Caroline law doe not specifically define “serious injury.” But to most Wake County judges, a serious injury is one which could possibly merit medical attention beyond simple first aid.
The Assumption of the Risk Defense
This doctrine often comes up in civil claims, like dog bite injuries and swimming pool drownings. Signs like “Beware of Dog” and “No Lifeguard on Duty” could trigger the assumption of the risk defense, which is:
- The voluntary assumption of
- A known risk.
If the assault occurred inside the lines and while the clock was running, this doctrine might apply. If the incident happened in the parking lot before or after the game, this doctrine would probably not apply. These risks are not foreseeable. If an in-game fight turned into a bench-clearing brawl, that’s probably in a grey area.
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