Here’s an interesting development that’s appropriate for the high school and college football season, and it underscores that the words “foul play” have as much to do with criminal law as they do with sports.
An Arlington, Massachusetts high school football player has been formally charged with criminal assault and battery, as the result of a “head-butt” he inflicted against an opposing team’s player. Arlington Catholic High School football player James LaShoto was arraigned this Friday in Cambridge District Court, where his lawyer entered a plea of not guilty on his behalf. Authorities say the 17-year-old LaShoto deliberately “head-butted” Abington High School player Daniel Curtin in his (Curtin’s) head, after Curtin’s own helmet was knocked off during a Sept. 19 2009 game. Curtin suffered a concussion as a result, and could not play football for 10 days due to medical concerns surrounding his head injury. Arlington Cathlolic High School suspended LaShoto for two games as a result of the incident. (Can someone say “slap on the wrist”?) His lawyer, Ronald Martignetti, said although the play was “dirty,” it did not constitute a criminal act, and thus his client should not have been criminally charged.
An interesting question. Legally, criminal assault and battery occurs when a victim is placed in imminent apprehension of an un-consented to physical contact, and when some type of harm results from that contact (however minor the harm might be.) The legal issue that is going to determine whether or not this particular defendant should be found guilty of this charge, centers on two legal elements here – the elements of “intent” and “consent”. Specifically, intent on the part of the defendant, and consent on the part of the victim. In contact sports such as football, aggressive physical contact is unavoidably expected, and so are injuries. Players provide what is known as “implied consent” to contact of the type that would be normally expected and required within the context of the sporting activity. (The consent is “implied” by virtue of voluntarily participating in the sporting activity; hence, there is no need for players to execute written or “express” consent.)
One of two central questions in this case will be, did the defendant, LaShoto, specifically intend to inflict harm on the victim here – harm of the type that would not be expected, or otherwise legally excused, under these specific circumstances (i.e., a contact sport such as football)? Concomitantly, the second question is did the victim here, Curtin, give his consent to be touched or contacted in the manner that caused his injuries? We’ve all seen countless examples of players being carried off a field on a stretcher, after being injured in a game. So why has this youth been charged? Because while the victim here, through his very act of participating as a player, gave his implied consent for physical contact of the type inherent in this sport, neither he nor police authorities believe that he gave his consent for this specific type of physical contact, which caused his injuries. The defendant here is charged with intentionally head-butting the victim in the head, when the victim did not have his helmet on, and the defendant did have a helmet on. The prosecution’s argument will almost certainly be that the defendant had the specific intent to engage in a type of physical contact that the victim had not consented to, and that the defendant also had the specific intent to inflict serious bodily harm on the victim. A judge or jury could infer the specific intent, primarily from the fact that the defendant head-butted the victim with the defendant’s helmet on, knowing that the victim was not wearing a protective helmet.
The defense will likely argue that the victim impliedly “consented” to this type of bodily contact by playing in the game, and that the defendant’s actions did not constitute evidence of specific intent to cause bodily harm. If the prosecution does not advance the “specific intent” (to harm) theory, it may also avail itself of another prosecutorial argument known as “reckless disregard.” This approach would argue that even if the defendant did not have the specific intent to harm, he nonetheless acted with “reckless disregard” for the safety of the victim. As a former Special Assistant District Attorney and now a Norfolk County, Massachusetts assault and battery defense lawyer, I think a strong argument can be made that the defendant in this case possessed what is legally known as “specific intent” to inflict unconsented-to assault and battery on the victim, and that the victim did not grant implied consent for such physical contact. That doesn’t mean this defendant will be convicted, but it will make for an interesting trial, if the matter is not disposed of through plea agreement.
LaShoto was released on personal recognizance. He is due back in court Dec. 21.