Will Smith Oscars Slap: Was It Assault & Battery?

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Hi, I’m Danny Karon, your Lovable Lawyer here with your quick shot of legal wellness.

By now, we’ve all been hit over the head with the Will Smith and Chris Rock video. Everyone is talking about assault and battery. These terms describe two separate criminal legal concepts with distinct elements so let’s work them out together.

First, assault. Many states define assault as attempting to cause injury to someone. Contact is unnecessary for an assault and that’s the difference between an assault and a battery. The definition of battery varies by state but a typical definition is: the offensive or harmful touching of another person without their consent. Now, it might surprise you that criminal battery generally doesn’t require intent to harm. Battery can range anywhere from a slap in the face to minimal contact like spitting on someone.

So the question is, will the state of California prosecute Will Smith for his slap? Well, Chris Rock isn’t going to press charges and often, it’s difficult to prosecute without a complaining witness. But then, anyone in that auditorium could testify to what happened, right? They were all there. The simple answer is that California doesn’t believe there’s enough at stake to prosecute. So, that’s the criminal side of things.

But, what if Chris Rock wants to sue Will Smith civilly for money damages? The requirements for civil assault and battery resemble the criminal requirements. They’re very close. The thing is, Chris Rock’s injury didn’t result in any measurable damages as would have been the case had Will Smith, say, broken his nose. Now granted, Chris Rock could allege some pain and suffering, but he didn’t really have any. He laughed afterward and then went on with the show.

So, while Will Smith’s behavior might have triggered plenty of other consequences, criminal and civil liability simply aren’t among them. If you’d like to learn more about legal wellness, I invite you to join me at yourlovablelawyer.com. Until next time, I’m Danny Karon, your Lovable Lawyer.

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