Should a Donald Trump Staffer be prosecuted for assault when he grabbed the arm of a reporter as she was yelling out a question?
I appeared on Happening now with host Jon Scott and co-guest Lis Wiehl. We discussed the case where a Trump staffer was charged with assault after grabbing the arm of a reporter who shouted a question at Trump in a very crowded and chaotic setting with throngs of people around.
Under the law it is harassment and a simple assault (battery) to unlawfully place your hands upon another person without their consent. Under New Jersey law, as well as most states, this is a violation of a minor nature if it is not sexual assault and/or bodily injury. There are no allegations here of such a contact.
As discussed in this and many other news appearances I do, prosecutors do not like to prosecute otherwise lawful citizens for minor offenses that occur in such environments. Here, the situation is aggressive both from a political standpoint and media standpoint. The normal rules of engagement and decorum are oftentimes violated, and this causes things of this nature to occur.
This is not to justify the actions of the staffer, but it does put those actions into context. When I was the Morris County Prosecutor, there were a number of times that reporters who wanted answers to questions actually grabbed me, or got so close to me in an aggressive fashion as to almost cause a problem. I was actually once knocked to the ground by a camera man that was pushing his way past other reporters (technically committing battery upon them) to speak to me. With the momentum of the situation, he actually knocked me down to the ground with his camera. I did not even think to charge that person, understanding it is a tense and aggressive environment.
And, it will be interesting if the staffer’s criminal defense lawyer argues that the staffer felt that the reporter presented a danger to either him or Trump. Self-defense and defense of others is often successful in circumstances such as this as you are allowed to defend yourself prior to being actually assaulted yourself. I am certain a similar argument will be advanced by the criminal defense lawyer.
I feel that too often we are using the criminal justice system to resolve cases that should be able to be resolved in other contexts, like an apology and/or use of civil courts. It overburdens an already burdened criminal justice system that is trying to investigate and try cases of murderers, rapists, gang members, and persons seriously injured, to name a few categories of crimes and cases in the system.
So yes, the staffer committed a violation of a minor law. But as a prosecutor, am I, given the environment this occurred in, going to prosecute, convict, and give a record to a person who has otherwise led a law-abiding life? This just seems counterproductive in this case. It will be interesting to see how the prosecution handles this. As a now NJ criminal defense lawyer myself, I predict it will be a “slap on the wrists” if anything at all.
© 2016 Robert (Bob) Bianchi, Esq.
Former head NJ County Prosecutor
Criminal Defense Attorney
NJ Supreme Court Certified Criminal Trial Attorney
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