Assault is an act of violence against another person. In the U.S., the threat of violence caused by an immediate show of force is usually enough to fit the legal definition. Although the crime of battery refers to any touching of another person without his or her consent, the charge of assault in most U.S. jurisdictions includes the act of physical violence.
Assault charges are not unique among celebrities. In many instances, an assault charge may stem from a celebrity’s annoyance at repeated invasions of his or her privacy, domestic disputes turned violent, or alcohol or drug use.
Sean Penn often gets into scuffles with paparazzi with one from 2009 resulting in a misdemeanor battery charge and his being sentenced to anger-management classes. In 1987, Penn served 30 days in jail for assaulting an extra on a movie set. His marriage to Madonna ended in 1989 after he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor domestic assault charges.
Celebrities can afford stellar legal counsel, and the advantage of having competent and high-priced counsel has its benefits. Charlie Sheen, the star of the TV show “Two and a Half Men,” was to go on trial in 2010 for allegedly threatening to kill his wife, Brooke Mueller, after becoming intoxicated and assaulting her on a vacation in Aspen. He managed to plea bargain his way to a no-contest plea from a misdemeanor assault and was sentenced to 30 days in jail and 36 hours of anger-management classes.
One of the more infamous assault cases was the sexual assault charge brought against Kobe Bryant in 2003, which if proved would certainly have ended his basketball career. After the accuser was subjected to allegations that impugned her credibility, charges were dropped despite Bryant’s admission that he did have sexual relations with her.
Ben Roethlisberger, quarterback for the Pittsburg Steelers, had to endure weeks of investigations before a sexual assault case against him was dropped. It was the second time he had been accused of sexual misconduct during his professional career.
There can be tremendous pressure on an accuser to drop an assault charge against a celebrity athlete since a conviction would likely end his or her career. The athlete also must caution against any guilty plea since the victim is likely to bring a civil suit that could cost the athlete millions of dollars as well as more bad publicity.