There’s hardly a person with a smartphone who has not seen a video or discussion about what happened at the 2022 Academy Awards. But besides the viral memes of the public slapping incident, the one thing everyone has been asking is whether or not Will Smith could be officially prosecuted for his actions? Let’s break it down from a Criminal Defense Attorney’s point of view.
In case you scrolled past it, here’s a brief recap of the night’s events, as summed by this Variety article: Chris Rock, who was doing a monologue on stage, made a comment about Jada Pinkett Smith. While Will Smith appeared to be laughing at the joke about his wife at first, moments later, he walked on stage and hit Chris Rock in front of the entire Academy, fellow celebrities, and viewers worldwide. After the infamous slap, Smith sat back down and continued hackling Rock, yelling, “Keep my wife’s name out your f***ing mouth!’ audibly.
Chris Rock moved on with his monologue; however, the moment became infamous. It left many wondering if Will Smith’s actions were not only unprofessional but also against the law.
From the law’s perspective, touching another person without their consent in a harmful way is called Battery (PC 242). The slightest touch could quickly escalate into a Battery charge if done in an angry, malicious way. Battery is punishable with up to 180 days in a County Jail. In this very public example, the entire nation has seen the moment when Will Smith’s hand connected with Chris Rock’s face. Simply put – Yes. Will Smith could absolutely be prosecuted with a Battery charge. In fact, LAPD officers confirmed that they had been on the scene, prepared to arrest Will Smith.
At this point, a couple of days have passed, and Chris Rock has told Los Angeles Police that he does not want a case to be pursued against Mr. Smith. Could Will Smith still be prosecuted? The answer is, once again, yes. Technically, given the public incident, charges could still be filed by the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office. There’s video evidence that millions saw live, and even more on Twitter that night. However, it is very unlikely, given that Chris Rock would not participate or assist the prosecution in their case. There is also generally precedent about big name celebrities getting let off the hook easier when it comes to their criminal cases.
On the other hand, there have been speculations about the entire incident. What if all of it was staged? If that is the case, and Chris Rock was aware and consented to the hit prior to it, Will Smith could not be charged with Battery, no matter what. Consent is a great defense, as it is a requirement for this charge that the Victim is unaware that it is coming and has not agreed. If Chris Rock agreed to the “slap” as a prank on everyone, then he gave his consent to Will Smith hitting him. Yes, as odd as it sounds, you can consent to someone hitting you – and they won’t get in trouble for it!