The Will Smith Slap: Was it Assault?

The Will Smith Slap: Was it Assault? If you watched the Oscars on Sunday, or if you’ve been on really any social media platform or watched any news coverage since then, you’ve likely seen the altercation that happened between will Smith and Chris Rock on stage, where Will Smith hauled off and slapped Chris Rock across the face for a joke that he made about Jada Smith. So I keep getting questions from people asking me, “Would that be considered assault in the state of Texas?” So let’s break that down in this week’s video.

Happy Friday everybody. Hope you’re having a great week, getting ready for another awesome weekend. So last Sunday the Oscars happened and Chris Rock made a joke at the expense of Will Smith’s wife Jada. Will Smith took issue with that joke, walked up on stage and slapped Chris across the face. So in the state of Texas, and I know this didn’t happen in the state of Texas, but in the state of Texas, would this have constituted assault? The simple answer is yes, it absolutely would.

Assault in the state of Texas has varying levels of severity. The lowest level is a class C demeanor, that’s assault by offensive contact. That’s when you intentionally cause contact with another person that a reasonable person would find offensive. This is generally a push, a shove, slapping a phone out of somebody’s hand. You spit on somebody, something like that. Anytime you cause contact with another individual that causes “bodily injury” and the legal definition of bodily injury is simply causes physical pain it jumps up to a Class A misdemeanor.

So this is really what Will Smith committed was the Class A misdemeanor of assault causing bodily injury. Even though there was no “injury” to Chris Rock, all that’s required is that he had a physical pain associated with that contact. I’m sure that if Chris Rock were asked and answered honestly, did that slap hurt? Yes. That’s the answer. Class A misdemeanor.

So did Will Smith commit, in the state of Texas, a Class A misdemeanor of assault? Yes, he did. Absolutely. There’s really no question about it. It’s clear cut that’s what happened. So then the question is, is there a defense to that? Is there a defense because he was offended by something that Chris Rock said? The answer is again, pretty simple, no. Words, at least in the state of Texas and in most states that I know of, are not going to give rise to a valid legal defense of assault, unless those words constitute a real imminent threat that you were then defending against.

Okay. What Chris rock said, a joke at somebody’s expense, as tasteless as that joke might or might not have been, do not cross that line into a real threat that you then have to defend yourself against. So no, there is no legal defense based on what Chris Rock said.

Third question I get is Chris Rock was quoted afterwards of saying he doesn’t want to press charges. The LAPD issued a tweet saying that the victim in that case, meaning Rock, didn’t want to press charges against Mr. Smith. So would that mean that you would not get prosecuted here in the state of Texas? The answer to that is not necessarily. The state can and often does still pursue criminal charges against an assaulter even if they don’t have the cooperation of the victim. Especially in a case like this, where the assault occurred on camera, or if there’s another eyewitness that can say I witnessed the assault occur and is willing to testify to that. In this case, I’m sure there are many people that were there in the audience that would say yes, I saw Will Smith slap Chris Rock.

So the cooperation of the alleged victim isn’t required, it’s just not required. Certainly it helps a defendant’s case if a victim is not going to cooperate and doesn’t want to testify, that’s certainly helpful, but it’s not dispositive. It doesn’t go away just because of that. So if a normal person here in the state of Texas were to do what Will Smith did and that was caught on video, would they be charged in Texas? I can categorically say yes, they could, and most likely would be charged in the state of Texas.

Now will Will Smith actually face criminal charges? Highly doubtful. I think the probability of that is virtually zero, but all that said, I don’t want anybody to come away from this thinking that, well, he had a justifiable slap because the guy was making fun of his wife. So if somebody does the same to me, I’m perfectly fine just hauling off and decking that person because they had it coming. They may have “had it coming”, but that is not a legal defense.

So Will Smith, if he were in the state of Texas and to be honest, if he wasn’t Will Smith, would most likely face a Class A misdemeanor charge of assault causing bodily injury. Class A misdemeanors in Texas carry a punishment of up to a year in the county jail and a fine not to exceed $4,000. So lesson of the story, don’t go around slapping people. I don’t care what they said. I don’t care who they’re making fun of. If you do, you’re going to face criminal charges and to some people, maybe that’s worth it. But to me, it’s not because then you got to hire me. Then I got to defend against you. Then we got to negotiate a plea deal and it’s never a good thing. So don’t do what Will Smith did. Don’t slap people. Everybody try to get along. Hope y’all have a great week and I’ll see you next time.

Author Bio

James P. Whalen

James P. Whalen is the managing attorney and founder of Whalen Law Office, a Texas criminal defense firm offering personalized legal representation for various federal criminal charges. With a commitment to providing comfort and guidance during challenging times, Mr. Whalen serves as both an attorney and counselor to his clients, helping them navigate their cases while striving to restore normalcy to their lives.

In an inherently unbalanced criminal justice system, Mr. Whalen takes on cases with unwavering dedication. With decades of legal experience, he offers representation across various criminal charges, including white-collar crimes, violent crimes, drug charges, and more. Mr. Whalen’s numerous accolades, including Super Lawyer recognition and board certification in Criminal Appellate Law and Criminal Law, reflect his unwavering commitment to ethical and high-quality legal representation.

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