According to authorities, Mike Vitar, who played Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez from the 1993 movie, “The Sandlot” has been charged with a Halloween night assault.
The Incident of Assault
Vitar, who is now a Los Angeles firefighter, along with two other men - fellow firefighter Eric Carpenter, and Thomas Molnar have been accused with assaulting a 22-year-old man that was handing out Halloween candy to kids on the street. According to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, the three men were in attendance at a party being hosted by Carpenter, 38, when they noticed the victim, who allegedly had returned to his old neighborhood to hand out candy. The three men believing the victim to be either trespassing on Carpenter’s property, or perhaps just a danger to the kids, then chased the victim down the street and attacked him.
All three men have been charged with assault. In addition to the assault charge, Carpenter has also been charged with personally inflicting bodily injury. He allegedly choked the victim after the victim was forced to the ground by the three men.
Despite the fact that they are often combined as “assault and battery,” it’s important to note that two are actually two separate charges. They also both fall under criminal and civil law.
Under California Penal Code, assault is defined as an “unlawful attempt” to cause a “violent injury on the person of another.”
California Penal Code defines battery as force or violence used against another person.
In essence, the difference is that “assault” is an attempt to commit the actual act of “battery.”
Defending the Accused
According to Arthur Avazian, the attorney defending Molnar, his client along with Vitar and Carpenter were actually trying to restrain the victim. According to Avazian, the victim was trespassing and would not leavethe premises. As a result, the three men were trying to get him to leave. Additionally, it seemed the victim was passing out candy to children against the consent of the adults present.
“They believed he posed a danger to children in the area by trying to pass out candy against the consent of the adults,” Avazian said. “These are really good people, two firefighters and my client who is successful businessman,” Avazian said.
Meanwhile, Michael A. Goldstein, the attorney representing Carpenter, urged the public to not jump to conclusions because of these allegations. Goldstein said his client is a career firefighter “who is the business of saving lives and helpings others.”
Defenses to Charges
As both Avazian and Goldstein, the two defense attorneys on this case have stated, the three men were trying to protect the children from the victim, in addition to potentially protect their land (in the case of Mr. Carpenter) from a potential trespasser. Both of these reasons could prove to be strong defenses to the three accused men. Below we outline what defenses can be used for assault and battery charges.
Self Defense. To prove a defendant was acting in self-defense, a criminal law attorney will need to prove the following:
- there was a threat of unlawful force against the defendant
- there was an honest, real perceived fear of harm against the defendant
- the defendant did not provoke or actually cause harm to the other person
- there was no chance for the defendant to be able to retreat from or escape the situation, and therefore needed to act in self-defense.
Defense of Others. To prove a defendant was acting in defense of others, a criminal law attorney will need to prove that the defendant had an honest and real fear that harm was going to be done to another person.
This defense is mostly likely to be employed by the criminal defense lawyers representing Carpenter, Vitar, and Molnar. If all three men believe that the victim was potentially going to cause harm to the children he was handing candy to, then it is plausible that the three men felt they needed to act in defense of the children. If their attorneys are able to prove this, or that the victim was acting in a suspicious way that would make the three men believe there was imminent harm, then the charges could be dismissed.
In this instance, the victim’s potentially suspicious actions would have given the three men reasonable grounds for wanting or needing to come to the defense of the children.
An additional aid to the defense team is the fact that two of the men are firefighters, and have proven time and time again that they are in “the business” of coming to people’s aid.
Defense of Property. To prove a defendant was acting in self-defense, a criminal law attorney will need to prove the accused acted in defense of his or her property. This defense will vary from state to state due to the nature of property law and how much an individual is allowed to exercise force to defend his or her property. This can be especially difficult when it comes to a home versus personal property such as a purse.
If the three men were at a party being hosted by Carpenter, and the victim entered onto the Carpenter property illegally, then it might be a successful defense to use. If the attorneys are able to prove that there was a perceived idea that the victim could have caused harm to the property, they might be able to have the charges dismissed.
Consent. This can be one of the hardest defenses to prove. For this defense to be employed, a criminal defense lawyer will need to show that the individual consented to the act. This defense is often heavily scrutinized by courts due to the fact that most harmful actions, even when consented to, are in violation of public policy and can and should still be punished under law.
Additional Considerations for Assault and Battery Charges - Proving Assault
When it comes to proving that someone is guilty of assault, there are a number of other considerations, including:
- the defendant intended to commit a battery and,
- that he or she had the “present ability”(a person’s immediate capacity to do an act)
A prosecutor would need to show that the person who committed assault was also capable of committing battery. But, that prosecutor would not need to show that actually physical contact occurred.
To prove that a defendant committed battery, the prosecutor would need to show that actual physical contact was made, and that physical contact was done willingly.
Additional Levels of Battery
There are additional levels, or degrees of battery defined by the California Penal Code.
For example, Carpenter was also charged with personally inflicting great bodily injury.
Section 242 of the Penal Code sets forth a basic law for battery, and Section 243(d) refers to “serious bodily injury.”
It’s important to note that there are specific codes that apply when certain people are victims, including: peace officers, police officers, firefighters, emergency response technicians, school employees, and other first defenders. The Penal Code also outlines separate laws for battery in the context of domestic violence.
Penalties for Assault and Battery
As with most crimes, there are a number of factors that are applied when it comes to sentencing, including: severity of assault and/or battery, if there were aggravating circumstances (such as use of a weapon), and the defendant’s criminal history.
For a simple assault, the Penal Code sets a maximum fine of $1,000, a maximum sentence of jail time for six months, or both.
Penalties can increase to $2,000 or one year of jail time if the victim of the crime is a person listed in the Penal Code (peace officers, police officers, firefighters, emergency response technicians, school employees, and other first defenders).
For a simple battery, the Penal Code sets a maximum fine of $2,000, a maximum sentence of jail time for six months, or both.
Penalties can increase to one year of jail time if the victim of the crime is a person listed in the Penal Code (peace officers, police officers, firefighters, emergency response technicians, school employees, and other first defenders) or if the act was an act of domestic violence.
For battery resulting in serious bodily injury, a defendant may be charged according to felony sentencing in accordance with Section 1170 of the Penal Code. This can result in jail time of two, three, four, or even longer terms.
Prior felony convictions may also increase penalties.
When looking at the case of Vitar, Molnar, and Carpenter, the potential penalties they are facing seem severe in comparison to the above.
According to the district attorney’s office, if convicted, Carpenter is facing up to seven years in prison, and Vitar and Molnar are facing up to four years each in prison.
It is unclear why these men might face such severe penalties. It could be because of their positions as firefighters, or perhaps other factors of the incident that have not yet been disclosed.
Arrested and Released on Bail
What is clear is that the three men will have to wait for their trials to begin. All three men were able to post bail. Carpenter was arrested Nov. 17, 2015 and was released after posting $60,000 bail. Vitar, 36, and Molnar, 45, were arrested Dec. 3, 2015 and were released after they each posted $30,000 bail.
The Los Angeles Fire Department announced both firefighters, who were off-duty at the time of the alleged assault, have been placed on administrative leave with pay as the criminal case proceeds.
“The LAFD is aware of an incident involving two off-duty firefighters that is alleged to have occurred on Saturday, October 31st. The department has cooperated fully with law enforcement during the subsequent investigation,” said Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman Peter Sanders.
Working with a Criminal Defense Attorney
Assault and battery charges can be complex, requiring much gathering of evidence and information. It’s highly advised that you work with an experience criminal defense attorney that will be able to advise you on the best defense.
Working with Sevens Legal Criminal Lawyers
If you or loved ones is accused or charged with any type of crime call us. Let us support and help you during this tough time. Our firm award winning attorneys provides hope and peace of mind. The Sevens Legal Criminal Lawyers office is located in both San Diego and Escondido. We have time and time again helped Southern California residents get their cases dismissed or penalties reduced.
Contact Sevens Legal Criminal Lawyers, today for a free consultation.
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