The scales are empty but they are already tipped.
By now I'm sure you've heard that Delone Carter, the star running back on the Syracuse University football team, has been charged with Assault. What does that mean? How does the process move forward from here? What are the possible outcomes? I'm here to answer all your legal questions. Brian could too, but I vetoed him since I have a few years experience over him.
DC3 was charged with Assault in the third degree, a class A misdemeanor in New York. That carries a maximum sentence of one year in jail, $1000 fine, and state-mandated surcharges (hey, NY is struggling, and tries to make money through criminal activity). Sentencing authority is ultimately in the hands of the judge, who could give less or no jail, less or no fine, three years of probation, or a conditional discharge. In New York, a person is guilty of assault in the third degree when, with intent to cause physical injury to another person, he causes such injury to such person or to a third person. There are also other subsections of assault dealing with different levels of intent (i.e. recklessly causing physical injury, or using a deadly weapon or deadly instrument to criminally negligently cause physical injury) but based on what I've read, those don't apply to DC3.
So, let's break this down. "Intent to cause physical injury." Intent is, simply, one's conscious objective. In other words, if you're standing face to face with someone, bring a fist back, and throw it forward toward the other person's face, you're acting with intent. Physical injury could be swelling, substantial pain, etc. Something more than an inconvenient slap across the face, but less than disfigurement, loss of limb, etc. Information released by the Syracuse police accuses Carter of swinging one punch to the complaining witness (I use that instead of victim, because victim implies that this actually happened and does not accurately preserve Carter's presumption of innocence) who fell to the ground and hit his head. He was treated for facial injuries.
Depending on the severity of the injuries, it would seem as though, if true, Carter is in a bind. But, what possible defenses might he have? Probably the most common defense (beyond "I wasn't there" or "I was there but didn't do it") would be the defense of justification, more commonly known as self-defense. This is a simple theory that you can use physical force upon another person if you reasonably believe it is necessary to protect yourself from what you reasonably believe to be the use or imminent use of physical force by that individual. Yeah, that's pretty loaded, I know. But it's good, because it gives him a lot of leeway for argument. The facts seem to indicate that this whole incident began with Carter riding by in a car and that car being hit by a snowball thrown from a group of students outside Kimmel Food Court. According to Carter's lawyer, when a couple players got out of the car, one of them was hit by another snowball and threw a punch. Assuming this person was Carter, he could very easily argue that he had been attacked by snowballs and that, because of the group of people and their not letting down on throwing snowballs, he reasonably believed he needed to use physical force to protect himself. My first jury trial as a public defender was an assault case where we used a justification defense, and we won; juries can identify with the justification defense better than probably any other defense.
Carter's attorney also indicates that he had prior conversations with the detectives at the Syracuse Police Department concerning this incident and had made known to them in no uncertain terms that he was representing Carter and did not want them speaking to Carter. If this is the case, then his warrantless detention and questioning by detectives could be cause for concern. Any statements taken by Carter -- oral or written -- could be suppressed from being presented at trial, having been taken from him in violation of his right to counsel (protected by both the NY Constitution and the US Constitution). However, my guess is that, like in most other cases, there would be enough evidence for the prosecution to go forward, even in the absence of an admissible statement by Carter.
Reports indicate that Carter was given an appearance ticket and released. This means that he must appear in Court on the date and time on his ticket, for a formal arraignment on the charge. At the arraignment, he could be forced to post bail or released on his own recognizance (which means he doesn't post bail and promises to make it back to all future court appearances). Given his status as a student with strong ties to the area, I would assume he'd get the ROR.
From there, his attorney would file motions with the Court and demands for discovery from the prosecutor (information about the crime and evidence gathered). His attorney would also negotiate with the District Attorney's Office on possible dispositions of the matter. Here are all the possible dispositions I can think of:
Proceed to a jury trial (in this case, a jury of six)
Proceed to a bench trial (where the judge acts as judge and jury)
Plead guilty to assault with an agreed-upon sentence (which most likely would not include jail, but rather a fine and surcharges)
Plead guilty to Harassment 2nd degree or Disorderly Conduct, in satisfaction of the assault charge. Harassment and DisCon are violations, which are not crimes like misdemeanors and felonies, and carry maximum penalties of 15 days in jail and $250 fine.
Adjournment in contemplation of dismissal. This means that the matter would be adjourned for six months with no finding or admission of guilt, and he likely would be required to complete community service and otherwise stay out of trouble during the six months. At the end of the six months, the charge would automatically be dismissed.
Dismissal of the charge.
What do I think will happen? It's probably too early to give an accurate guess. But if I had to, my gut feeling is that he's offered a deal to plea to Harassment or DisCon, with a sentence of a couple hundred dollars in fines, and restitution to pay any hospital bills the complaining witness may have incurred. What determines what the prosecutor will offer as a plea deal? Generally it's dependent on the facts of the crime alleged, the strength of the case, and the criminal history of the defendant.
Of course, we are all most concerned with what impact this has on Delone Carter, the football player. As you all probably know, the SU Judicial Board can and will act independently of the criminal justice system. Especially since this was a student vs. student altercation occuring on campus, I would not be surprised if Carter is suspended by the school. Then, even separate from that, Doug Marrone could suspend him from the team. But I'll let that all play itself out.
In the meantime, stay tuned to Orange::44 for the latest legal analysis on this situation as it develops.