A Queens County Supreme Court Judge acquitted Hiram Monserrate of felony Assault and convicted the embattled state senator of Assault in the Third Degree, a misdemeanor. More specifically, the judge found him guilty of New York Penal Law 120.00(2). According to the New York Penal Law, an individual is guilty of 120.00(2) when he or she recklessly causes physical injury to another person. This offense differs greatly from 120.00(1) which requires that a person intentionally causes physical injury to another person. Regardless of the theory of the case, anyone convicted of a misdemeanor Assault faces up to one year in jail. However, a judge has the discretion to sentence that person to no jail at all. While the court has not sentenced Senator Monserrate, a full order or protection was issued thereby preventing him to have any contact with the victim of his crime.
While I did not sit in the courtroom listening to the testimony, the decision rendered by the court does not surprise me. If Senator Monserrate had been convicted of the felony, the state would have been thrust into terrible turmoil and a horrendous stalemate. Removing Senator Monseratte from his seat would have resulted in 31-30 standoff in the state senate. Did this fact impact the court’s decision? Did the judge “split the baby” by finding Mr. Monserrate guilty of a crime, but a significantly lesser offense? Are we over analyzing his decision and, at bottom, the facts just did not support the People’s case?
What is slightly confusing, and in my opinion gives credence to the political and legislative implications having an impact on the court’s decision is the following. If the court truly believed that the People did not prove the intentional Assault beyond a reasonable doubt, then why did the court issue a full order of protection preventing Senator Monserrate from having contact with the victim? If his actions were reckless, as opposed to intentional, then shouldn’t the court permit the two, as consenting adults, to continue their relationship? If a person intentionally assaults another it is clearly understandable that a judge would want to make sure a victim, domestic or not, is safe. An order of protection or restraining order may be necessary in those situations. However, if the judge in the Monserrate trial found that the defendant acted recklessly, i.e., it was an accident, then there is an argument to be made that there is no real reason to issue an order of protection. Was there evidence presented that indicates he is a dangerous man who has hurt her in the past? Was there evidence that Senator Monserrate has injured her intentionally or did so in this case? If there was, then why was he not convicted of the intentional Assault crime?
Taking this theory further, one must understand that under New York law, if one perpetrates an intentional misdemeanor Assault, but uses a dangerous instrument (here a glass), then the crime is technically “bumped up” to a felony offense. Following this out further, if the judge found that Monserratte acted intentionally, then as a matter of law he would have to find him guilty of the felony Assault as a “bump up.” One step further would lead us to the legislative implications in New York State as discussed above.
It is interesting to note that the judge found that Senator Monserrate did not act recklessly in slicing the victim, but acted reckless and caused physical injury when pulling her away from the railing and to the hospital. Hmmm….how is it that the court found that his actions cutting the victim were not criminal at all, but his alleged attempt to help her by dragging her to the hospital was criminal? Not only does that appear to be inconsistent, but how did his dragging her away cause her substantial pain or a physical injury? Wasn’t that sustained by the fact that a glass cut up her face?
Despite my conclusions, It is very easy to be an arm chair quarterback of the criminal justice system after the fact. We all like to draw our own conclusions even though the vast majority of us were not in that courtroom. Certainly none of us were there the night Senator Monseratte assaulted his victim. All of us, regardless of the crime, should be afforded the benefit of the doubt. After all, it is the People who have the burden to prove their case and we are all safely wrapped in a blanket of innocence until they establish otherwise. All of us, including Senator Monserratte, rightfully deserved that same inference. Unfortunately for Senator Monserratte, however, a judge has stripped him of that presumption of innocence where he now awaits his fate at sentencing for recklessly assaulting a woman.