The case of Jamill Jones and whether he should be charged with homicide.
Recently, an unfortunate tragedy occurred in Queens resulting in a man’s death. A tourist from Florida named Sandor Szabo requested an Uber to take him from a family member’s wedding. In an apparently intoxicated effort to find his Uber, Mr. Szabo banged on several nearby cars with his fists. He eventually banged on the car belonging to Jamill Jones, an assistant coach for the Wake Forest University men’s basketball team. Mr. Jones got out of his car and punched Szabo one time in the face. Szabo fell to the ground and hit his head on the pavement. Jones drove away. Szabo was taken to the hospital and later died from the injury. See “Wake Forest coach could face murder charges,” NY Post, August 10, 2018.
Jones was identified and surrendered himself to police. As of yet, he has only been charged with a misdemeanor assault in violation of Penal Law Section 120.00 (Assault in the Third Degree, to be precise). That charge makes it a crime, punishable by up to one year in prison, to intentionally cause physical injury to another person. This is a typical charge for a single punch to the face. The fact that Mr. Szabo tragically died, however, makes the situation more complicated from a legal perspective. The New York Post article suggests that Mr. Jones could face murder charges, but that is perhaps imprecise or incorrect. Murder charges (such as the most common charge of Murder in the Second Degree, in violation of Penal Law Section 125.25) would require a showing that Jones not only killed Szabo, but that he intended to kill Szabo. That seems unlikely given that he only punched Szabo once.
There is precedent for these situations, as this is not the first time in New York that a person has been arrested for killing someone with a single punch; indeed, the author of this article has seen several such unfortunate cases in his days as a Manhattan prosecutor. Normally, one of two things happens: either the defendant is charged with a misdemeanor assault, as Jones has been here, or the defendant is charged with Manslaughter in the Second Degree, in violation of Penal Law Section 125.15. Manslaughter in the Second Degree is a Class C felony with a maximum possible sentence of 15 years, though probation and non-jail sentences are possible. See Penal Law Sections 60.01 and 65.00. Manslaughter in the Second Degree requires a showing that the defendant recklessly caused the death of another person. “A person acts recklessly with respect to a result or to a circumstance…. When he is aware of and consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that such result will or that such circumstance exists. The risk must be of such nature and degree that disregard thereof constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would observe in the situation.” Penal Law 15.05(3).
The question thus becomes: when he raised his fist to punch Szabo, did it occur to Jones that he might kill Szabo with a single punch? Most people probably don’t think that one punch will kill, and that is the dilemma facing prosecutors in these cases. Certainly, the prosecutors will feel pressure from the victim’s family and the community to prosecute Jones to the fullest extent of the law. However, it will likely be extremely difficult to secure a felony conviction in this case. Mr. Jones could still receive a sentence of one year in prison for the assault, not to mention the misdemeanor crime of Leaving the Scene of an Accident (VTL Section 600) that he will surely face, as well. But, we expect that he will not even be charged with manslaughter under the circumstances.
If you or a loved one have been arrested or investigated for an accidental homicide, you should strongly consider contacting the experienced criminal defense attorneys at Galluzzo & Arnone LLP. Their team of former Manhattan prosecutors have both prosecuted and defended homicide cases, and can bring their balanced understanding to your defense team.