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Pipes, Bottles and Chairs – Breaking Down the Cardi B Indictment

Today in Queens Supreme Court, multi-platinum selling artist Belcalis M. Almanzar  – better known to the world as rapper “Cardi B” – is expected to be arraigned on a 12-count indictment stemming from a 2018 fight in a strip club. Cardi B now faces two “violent” felonies and a handful of misdemeanor and violation offenses after being accused of throwing bottles, chairs, and ‘Hookah’ pipes at club employees after a verbal altercation spun out of control. Cardi B is also accused of soliciting and facilitating members of her entourage to participate in the fracas. Two of the complaining witnesses are bartenders employed at the club, one of whom was accused by Cardi B of having an affair with her husband ‘Offset’ from the rap group ‘Migos.’ According to news sources citing criminal court documents, one of these complaining witnesses claims to have suffered “burning, itching and temporary blindness in her eyes” after being hit in the face with a drink.

Cardi B is expected to enter a plea of “not guilty” to the following indictment charges:

  • Attempted Assault in the Second Degree, in violation of Penal Law 110/120.05(1);
  • Attempted Assault in the Second Degree, in violation of Penal Law 110/120.05(2);
  • Assault in the Third Degree, in violation of Penal Law 120.00(1);
  • Reckless Endangerment, in violation of Penal Law 120.20;
  • Conspiracy in the Fifth Degree, in violation of Penal Law 105.01(1);
  • Criminal Solicitation in the Fourth Degree, in violation of Penal Law PL 100.05(1);
  • Criminal Facilitation in the Fourth Degree, in violation of Penal Law 115.00(1);
  • Conspiracy in the Sixth Degree, in violation of Penal Law 105.00;
  • Criminal Solicitation in the Fifth Degree, in violation of Penal Law 100.00; and
  • 3 counts of Harassment in the Second Degree, in violation of Penal Law 240.26(1).

Both Cardi B and her lawyer have publicly denied her guilt because, according to them, no one ‘got hurt’. The defense of the case will not be so simply stated, however, since one of the charges carrying the heftiest punishment is based on the theory that Cardi B merely attempted to inflict serious injury. On top of that, a number of other charges allege Cardi B either solicited and/or facilitated the assault, and neither of these charges require that physical injury actually resulted. Without a doubt, the prosecution has dropped a comprehensive indictment on the Bronx rapper which will require an adroit (and probably technically nuanced) defense if the case is expected to be dodged in its entirety.

Cardi B’s biggest problem comes in the form of the two felonies she now faces (Cardi B was initially only charged with misdemeanors, but more serious charges were added by the Grand Jury after she turned down a misdemeanor plea). Prosecutors in the case have charged Cardi B under two alternative theories of attempted felony assault: in one, she is accused of attempting to cause serious physical injury to one of the bartenders; under the other, she is alleged to have attempted to cause physical injury with a dangerous instrument (conceivably a pipe, bottle and/or chair). Tracking the specific elements of these offenses, if a trial jury were to conclude that Cardi B (a) intended to cause one of the complaining witnesses serious physical injury and (b) attempted to cause such injury, she would be found guilty under Penal Law 110/120.05(1). Alternatively, if a jury were to conclude that she intended to merely cause physical injury and /or attempted to do so by means of a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument, she would also be found guilty under Penal Law 110/120.05(2). Either charge carries the potential for a term or imprisonment as high as 1 and 1/3 to 4 years in state prison.

Presumably, witnesses from the club will testify at trial (and have testified in secret Grand Jury proceedings) that Cardi B herself threw one or more of these objects at the complaining witnesses, or otherwise aided or facilitated someone in her entourage to do so. Whether or not she intended to cause physical injury as opposed to serious physical injury (or no injury…) will be a question for the trial jury to consider. Under New York Law, “serious physical injury” means physical injury which creates a substantial risk of death, or which causes death or serious and protracted disfigurement, protracted impairment of health or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily organ. “Physical Injury” means impairment of physical condition or substantial pain. Bottles, chairs and Hookah pipes can certainly all qualify as dangerous instruments under the proper circumstances.

At trial, Cardi B will have a number of pathways to contest this charge (as well as the other charges). Depending on how the evidence actually develops at trial, she may even be able to contest the credibility of testimony purporting to establish her as being the individual who threw any object. Surely, her attorneys will attack the credibility of the complaining witnesses and elicit testimony tending to demonstrate any bias or motive to inculpate the platinum rapper on their part (such as the filing of or intent to file a civil lawsuit against the successful rapper for money damages).

Should Cardi B’s identity as an object-thrower be beyond dispute (and even if it isn’t) her attorneys will argue she never had the requisite intent to cause “death, protracted disfigurement, protracted impairment of health of protracted loss or impairment of the function of the bodily organ” – in other words, that she never intended to cause serious physical injury. The second felony charge may not be so easy to overcome, however, since the prosecution will only have to allege that the throwing of any of the aforementioned objects was done so with the intent to cause “physical injury” as opposed to “serious physical injury.” After all, proving that a person who threw a bottle or chair intended to cause some type of physical impairment or substantial pain presents a much lower threshold of proof for prosecutors.

Aside from the felonies she faces, Cardi B also faces up to one year in jail if convicted of any of the several misdemeanors she has been indicted for:

  • Reckless Endangerment. Cardi B is accused of “recklessly engaging in conduct which created a substantial risk of serious physical injury to another person” under Penal Law 120.20. This charge will be a mixed bag for Cardi B, since prosecutors will once again have to prove she intended to cause “serious physical injury” (which obviously comes with a high level of proof) but will not have to prove she actually intended to cause such injury. Rather, prosecutors will only have to prove she consciously disregarded a risk that, for example, throwing a chair at someone presented the risk of causing such injury.
  • Assault in the Third Degree. Cardi B’s public assertion that ‘no one got hurt’ will constitute the best defense to this misdemeanor charge. Again, prosecutors will have to prove that (a) Cardi B (b) actually caused physical physical injury to another (c) with intent to do so. [For some reason prosecutors declined to prosecute her under a reckless theory.]
  • Conspiracy and Solicitation Charges. Cardi B is charged with a number of  “inchoate” offenses whereby it is alleged she agreed with one or more persons to engage in or cause assaults, and/or that she solicited, requested, commanded, importuned or otherwise attempted to cause others to engage in the commission of a felony. Cardi B’s attorneys will likely argue to the jury that no such “agreement” took place, and dispute that any fight was the result of such coordination. Prosecutors will downplay the standard of proof for such an agreement and argue that Cardi B had a motive to attack at least one of the complaining witnesses due to her belief she had an affair with her husband. Prosecutors will also argue that this was the driving force behind an attack that was ‘coordinated.’
  • Harassment in the Second Degree.  Finally, if a jury concludes that Cardi B merely subjected one of the complaining witnesses to physical contact, or attempted or threatened to do the same;  or, she will be convicted of Harassment in the Second Degree, which is a violation and not a crime (and carries a maximum of 15 days in jail). A jury could conceivably convict for this charge if, for example, they believed Cardi B did subject one of the bartenders to physical contact but no physical injury resulted (or if they believed no dangerous instrument was used).

In the coming months, expect Cardi B’s attorney to file a number of motions to obtain discovery materials from the government, as well as file motions challenging the sufficiency of any and all evidence upon which the indictment charges were secured. A successful defense in a case like this usually involves painstaking defense investigation, thorough debriefing of any and all eyewitnesses and background witnesses, and careful review of surveillance and/or audio evidence depicting related events. Fights which occur in bars and strip clubs very often pose significant challenges for prosecutors as well, as they find themselves dealing with victims and eyewitnesses who are severely intoxicated and may even present materially conflicting testimony. Finally, when it comes to high-profile defendants such as Cardi B, the potential for pecuniary interest in the outcome of the case on the part of government witnesses becomes a real possibility, and thus poses a risk for bias which the defense can and will exploit.

Our firm is experienced in defending cases involving such assaults, and has done so with great success (including securing numerous dismissals subsequent to extensive defense investigation prior to trial). If you or anyone you know has been charged with any crime, you should contact the lawyers at Galluzzo & Arnone LLP without delay.