Yesterday, during the Oscars award show in Los Angeles, comedian Chris Rock – the emcee/host of the event – made a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s hair loss. Will Smith, her husband and a famous actor, promptly walked onstage and smacked Rock hard in the face. Smith then sat back in his seat and cursed repeatedly at Rock. Obviously, this happened in California, so California state law applies to Smith’s slap. Apparently, Chris Rock has decided not to file any criminal charges or make any police reports in connection with the event, which was obviously witnessed by millions of people on live television.
This interesting and unexpected exchange provides a fun example to consider New York criminal law: What charges, if any, might have applied to this slap had it happened onstage in New York?
The most significant plausible charge here would be the Class A misdemeanor or Assault in the Third Degree (Penal Law Section 120.00). That statute makes it a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail to intentionally cause physical injury to another person. Here, however, it does not seem that Chris Rock suffered any physical injury significant enough to justify the charge. Indeed, although he was obviously dazed and it appeared to be a fairly hard slap, Rock carried on with his emcee duties and even made a few quips about what had happened. A physical injury, as defined by New York law, is supposed to be “substantial pain” and/or “impairment of a bodily function.” Surely Rock felt some pain from the slap, but it appears to have been too temporary to have really justified an assault charge under New York law.