Not Guilty of Assault: Manhattan Case of Christoper Carter and Stuart Sugarman

Christoper Carter was acquitted in New York County (Manhattan) Criminal Court after a jury found the prosecution did not prove he committed the crime of Assault in the Third Degree, a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail, beyond a reasonable doubt.

While many people know the basics about this story, the case is centered around an altercation at a sports club. Stuart Sugarman and Christopher Carter were both members of Equinox, a gym in New York. During a spin class Sugarman became loud and apparently rude. To quiet him down, Carter allegedly lifted Sugarman’s bike and /Sugarman hit the wall, fell to the floor, and damaged discs in his back. As a result of this incident, the police and Manhattan District Attorney’s Office charged Carter with Assault in the Third Degree.

This case is interesting on its own merits, but it also gives us the opportunity to examine the crime of Assault in the Third Degree. The first issue one must analyze in a Third Degree Assault case is whether Carter (or any defendant) caused physical injury to a complainant. The second is whether he intended to cause physical injury or, in the alternative, he was reckless in causing physical injury to the complainant.

Dealing with the first issue, physical injury is described as impairment of one’s physical condition or substantial pain. However, merely stating someone suffered pain without more may not be enough to withstand an experienced criminal defense attorney’s motion to dismiss or an argument to a jury that physical injury was not proven beyond a reasonable doubt. In fact, the Court of Appeals, the highest court in New York State, has found that physical injury was not established where a complainant was punched repeatedly but could not articulate and specify the pain. The case cited here is not alone on an island. There are a countless cases following this decision and cases which can be put to use in defending your matter.

Even assuming the complainant suffered physical injury, the second issues is whether the defendant’s actions were intentional or reckless. The key element for intentional behavior is that the defendant must have acted in a manner where his “conscious objective” was to cause a particular result. As stated above, if the defendant was accused of acting reckless, then it must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt at trial that he was aware of and consciously disregarded a substantial and unjustifiable risk that a particular result would occur or that such circumstances existed. It is important to note that the risk must be of such nature that disregarding it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would observe in the situation.

As will be discussed in another entry and on a later date, there are may cases interpreting the meaning of both intentional and reckless. For the purpose of generally understanding Assault in the Third Degree, however, it should be sufficient for now to recognize that there must be a specific and articulable injury along with an intentional action or reckless behavior that caused that injury.

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