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Actions to Take After an Assault

By Patrick Rosenow

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Q:

I was assaulted at a boys’ rec baseball league game by a parent from the losing team. On  the way to the rest room after the game, the parent punched me before running off. There were witnesses to the attack, the police were called and a report was filed. What should I do if I want to press charges against the parent? How can I make sure the case is being pursued?

A:

When the parent punched you, he obviously offended you specifically, but he also offended the general social interest in law and order. There are two legal systems at work to address those two interests. Both involve the courts, but are separate in almost all other ways. That’s why there were such different outcomes in the O.J. Simpson criminal and civil cases. In the criminal trial, the people of California, as represented by the district attorney, sought to vindicate the state’s interest in protecting society as a whole from violence. In the civil case, the victims’ estates and families sought damages to make them whole for their loss. Although the stakes in a criminal case may be different, a civil case for an intentional assault is fundamentally the same as a civil case for a traffic accident or a slip and fall at the grocery store.

In a civil case, you decide if the case is worth pursuing in the courts. If you do, you call the shots, deciding what facts you will allege, what law applies and what damages you want. In most cases, that’s all done with the help of a lawyer, who will be paid out of any damages you win (so much for being made whole …). Other than making sure you follow the rules in suing the parent, the state doesn’t really care or have much of a say in what happens.

On the other hand, in a criminal case, even though you may still care a lot about what happens, you don’t have that much of a say. The district attorney will decide if, 1) what
happened is significant enough to spend the resources to prosecute, and 2) if the evidence is sufficient to obtain a conviction. About the most you can do is go to the DA and make sure he or she fully understands what happened and that you are ready to assist in any way you can.

If the police had not filed a report, you could go to the police and file a statement or report. Some states allow citizens to file private criminal complaints. Either way, though, it’s the DA’s call on whether or not to take the case to trial. If he
or she decides not to take the case, about the only thing you can do is to go to court and allege that the decision was based on some sort of unethical or unconstitutional grounds, but that’s almost impossible to do. Of course, you could always lead the effort to elect
a new DA next election, but while that might help the next official that gets sucker punched, it probably won’t do you any good.

If there were no injuries, the odds that the DA is going to want to take the time to prosecute your criminal case (or that a judge is going to want to hear it) are very
slim. That still leaves that civil option and you may be able to get punitive damages, even in the absence of any injuries. Nonetheless, keep in mind that the judge or jury that makes the decision will not be as personally invested in what happened, particularly if there were no injuries.

In any event, one thing you will certainly want to do is to have your association go to the league and ask that the parent be banned from attending games. That should be a no-brainer for everyone and as long as you have the witnesses to corroborate your allegations, they should do that for a number of games or the remainder of the season. That will help protect everyone!