UPDATED – Stephanie Pratt’s Boyfriend Faces Possible New York Felony Assault Charges: Trumped Up Arrest Charges or Viable Case Against Julien Chabbott?

In what appears to be a failed low speed getaway, the boyfriend of dime-a-dozen reality “star” Stephanie Pratt was arrested yesterday for allegedly rolling over the foot of a police officer in Manhattan. According to earlier reports, Julien Chabbott was charged with Second Degree Assault (New York Penal Law 120.05(3)), Vehicular Assault (New York Penal Law 120.03) and Obstruction of Governmental Administration (New York Penal Law 190.50). However, it appears that only the misdemeanor crimes of Third Degree Assault and Obstruction of Governmental Administration are being prosecuted. While I am confident Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. did not envision he would be juggling cases of such magnitude upon being elected as Manhattan’s chief prosecutor, I am equally confident he and his office will get to the bottom of this allegedly bone-headed move (just accept the ticket, man!!!).

As a preliminary matter, Chabbott apparently lacks the minimum level of common sense one would expect from the average self-absobred twenty-something who can only afford a zip car. If a police officer is issuing you a ticket, don’t get in his or her face, grab the ticket from his or her hand or…wait for it…drive away as he or she is standing immediately next to or in front of your car. While stupidity is fortunately not a crime, Chabbott’s alleged charades may be. So, instead of sleeping at nearly 1:00 am, let me quickly and briefly dissect some of the potential charges.

Assault in the Second Degree: NY PL 120.05

A “D” felony punishable by up to seven years in prison, one of the more common ways this crime is committed is when a person intends to cause serious physical injury to another person and in fact does so. This type of injury is one that creates a substantial risk of death, long term protracted health issues or disfigurement. Alternatively, another common subsection that is charged for this felony Assault is one where a person intends to cause the lesser physical injury to another person and does so with a dangerous instrument. Physical injury is defined in part as substantial pain and is much less significant than the serious variety. In Chabbott’s case, it is likely that neither of these common subsections will be charged. Prosecutors would have difficulty proving that Chabbott intended to cause any type of injury to the officer as opposed to merely avoid accepting a ticket.

Instead, the subsection prosecutors could theoretically charge Chabbott with is New York Penal law 120.05(3). In substance, this subsection makes it a felony Assault if and when you intend to prevent a police officer from performing his lawful duty (drafting and issuing a ticket), you also cause a physical injury to that police officer. This subsection does not require that you specifically intended to cause a physical injury to the police officer, but that you intended to prevent the officer from performing a lawful duty and in the course of that prevention caused a physical injury. A sprained foot that is gimpy, swollen, black and blue, etc., would likely be a sufficient level of injury to satisfy this charge.

Additionally, prosecutors could also charge Chabbott with New York Penal Law 120.05(4). This subsection is based upon reckless behaviour as opposed to intentional. Pursuant to the theory here, you are guilty of Assault in the Second Degree if you recklessly cause physical injury to any person by means of a weapon or dangerous instrument. A dangerous instrument is any type of object that is readily capable of causing death or serious physical injury due to the manner in which it is used. Although slightly more difficult, prosecutors would argue that the vehicle could have caused serious physical injury or death due to the manner in which it was used when it rolled over the police officer’s foot. While a car can certainly do that, it is questionable if it was readily capable of doing so in the circumstances depicted in the video. In fact, I am quite confident that unless there is real medical evidence of any type of injury and / or corroborating evidence of damage to the shoe Chabbott allegedly rolled over, Chabbott’s criminal defense lawyer could very well challenge whether any injury occurred at all. As a side matter, the press’ reference to Vehicular Assault may in fact be this crime as to the actual felony offense of Vehicular Assault.

Although the video does not depict the entire scene, the officer inched in front of a running vehicle (it was a parking ticket for God’s sake…let the guy go!). As the car pulls forward, the officer proclaims that Chabbott ran over his foot. However, the video does not appear to capture the tires and the street. Further, the officer was barely in the way of the Ferrari’s forward progress. As such, what evidence confirms he was in fact run over or injured? Other than the officer’s scream at the scene and possible statement to a physician or EMT, is there any actually physical corroboration of an injury? If not, the charge of Second Degree Assault or even the more likely criminal court complaint charge of Third Degree Assault is far from a prosecutorial “slam dunk.”

Obstructing Governmental Administration: NY PL 195.05

Chabbott, or anyone for that matter, is guilty of Obstructing Governmental Administration (a/k/a OGA or Obstruction) if and when he intentionally obstructs the administration of law or attempts to prevent a public servant (police officer) from performing an official function (inspecting a car and issuing a valid ticket). This must be done by some form of interference (the driving away of the vehicle being ticketed). Unlike the felony above, OGA is an “A” misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.

Vehicular Assault: NY PL 120.03

The allegations reported in the press as well as the video do not fully set forth the theory of the Vehicular Assault charge. In fact, this is likely not an actual charge. Generally, this crime is associated with accidents or injuries sustained to individuals other than drivers of vehicles who have some level of intoxication. As a result, Vehicular Assault is often associated with DWIs. In the event Charbbott was intoxicated and he operated his Ferrari (starting the car and moving it an inch is sufficient under the eyes of New York law), then maybe this crime would be viable. However, as discussed in the Second Degree Assault charges above, the threshold of serious physical injury likely cannot be met for this crime.

While the above assessment is brief given the early morning hour of this blog entry and my inability to get back the past hour of my life, it is nonetheless an interesting case from a criminal defense perspective. Can a felony Assault really be proven beyond a reasonable doubt and will this even be charged because the complainant is a police officer? Is it more likely this case involves a reckless misdemeanor Assault at best? Did the officer in fact sustain an injury and what evidence corroborates this? From a practical standpoint, why did the police officer use his body to stop the forward progress of the vehicle? Was he trying to ensure a man did not drive away or was he just agitated that Charbbott wouldn’t back down? Was there traffic to prevent the car from getting very far anyway? Did the officer inch forward enough to make it clear that he was blocking the car’s path or was he setting Charbbott up? Where this ends up is anyone’s guess, but at least Pratt gets to find out first hand if the following proverb rings true…all press (for a reality “star”) is good press.

Saland Law PC is a New York criminal defense firm. Established by two New York criminal lawyers who served as prosecutors in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, Saland Law PC represents clients throughout the New York City area.

UPDATE: It appears that prosecutors charged misdemeanor Assault in the Third Degree and OGA. I have not seen the criminal court complaint, but the Assault charge(s) will more than likely contain the reckless element. Although the complaint was a police officer and therefore potentially a felony, prosecutors likely saw the case for what is really was/is. Further, the officer was treated at Bellevue Hospital for injuries. Medical records will reveal what, if any, injury was actually sustained.

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