A Quick Study of Ref Assault and Battery

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From April 2002 Referee magazine

A Quick Study of Ref Assault and Battery

The cold truth that attacks on sports officials are daily occurrences is nothing new. One story talks of a recent football game melee, another reviews a lawsuit from an injured referee, another examines newly passed referee assault legislation. But can you make sense of it all?

First, it is critical to understand the difference between a civil suit and a criminal action. A civil offense involves a lawsuit between individual citizens over the recovery of cash damages or a court's issuance of an injunction. In a criminal action, suit is brought against an individual by the government for an alleged violation of a law and is punishable by a court-imposed fine and/or jail. A civil suit will not result in a prison sentence.

When you read that a jury returned a $25,000 verdict for an injured official, you are reading about a civil action When a jury returns a verdict of guilty and a court imposes 30 days imprisonment, it's a criminal case.

lt's also important to understand the difference between the civil and criminal version of assault and battery. Hang in there - this gets tough.

Under civil law, assault is defined as any attempt or threat to injure another person, coupled with both an apparent ability to inflict injury and an intentional display of force that makes the victim fear immediate bodily harm. Civil assault is committed without physical contact.

Civil battery is the touching of another person without legal justification or excuse. Battery requires physical contact. "Tm going to punch you out" may be civil assault; the punch itself may be civil battery Under criminal law, a person is guilty of criminal assault if he attempts to injure another person or makes a menacing gesture intended to make the person fear for his safety. Civil assault requires a victim to actually fear for his safety but criminal assault is committed if an act merely is intended to make a person fear for his safety - even if the victim is not actually in fear.

As with civil battery, criminal battery requires unwarranted contact and resulting harm. It also requires an examination of the batterer's criminal intent known as mens rea, Latin for "guilty mind." Unwarranted contact, plus injury, plus an intent to harm equals criminal battery.

The third piece of this assault puzzle is knowing the different referee assault laws passed by various state legislatures. Sixteen have passed laws applying criminal assault and battery laws to attacks on sports officials Those laws provide for a variety of penalties for different degrees of offenses. In Minnesota, a person who commits assault on an official at an interscholastic game may be "excluded from attending" any such contest for up to one year in addition to other penalties under the state's criminal battery laws. New Mexico states that a person who commits "aggravated battery upon a sports official, inflicting great bodily harm, or does so with a deadly weapon" may be found guilty of a second-degree felony.

   Now that you have a grasp of the issues, what can you do next?
1.  Read your state's sports official law (if it has one) and laws on assault and battery. You can find them on your state's government website.
2. Check in at www.naso.org for updates in this area. The more you know about all states' laws, the better you will be able to comprehend your own.
3. Contact an attorney for more guidance. Your best choice may be the lawyer who represents your sports officials association.
Written by Ted Curtis. a journalist and attorney in South Florida. The article is intended for general informational purposes only and is not legal advice.