Could Will Smith Face Legal Charges for Slapping Chris Rock at Oscars?

By now, most Americans have heard the biggest story of the 2022 Oscars. Will Smith walked on stage and slapped Chris Rock across the face. Nothing like this has ever happened in the 92-year history of the Oscars, and the incident left people with many questions.

But, one of the most consequential questions is: Could Will Smith face legal charges for slapping Chris Rock at the Oscars?

What Led Up to Will Smith Slapping Chris Rock?

The shocking incident happened fast.

Chris Rock took the stage to introduce the nominees for Best Documentary. He began with a few jokes. One joke referred to Smith’s wife Jada’s short hairstyle. Jada Smith was visibly upset by the joke. She has been vocal about how having alopecia has affected her hair loss.

At first, Will Smith appeared to laugh at the joke but then moments later, he walked on stage in what seemed to be a joke at first and slapped Rock across the face.

Rock looked stunned. Will returned to his seat where he yelled to Rock, “Keep my wife’s name out of you f***ing mouth.” Rock rebounded, said he would, and continued on to the award.

The incident set a new tone in the theater, yet Smith was not approached by security or asked to leave. Later in the evening, he returned to the stage to accept an Oscar for Best Actor.

At the time, it seemed like Smith was facing no consequences for his action. But, could he?

What Criminal Charges Could Will Smith Face?

The incident happened in Los Angeles so it would fall under California state laws.

In California, the incident would be considered a battery charge. Battery is the intentional act of force or violence against another person. It is defined under Cal. Penal Code § § 240, 242.

In most cases, battery charges in California are classified as a misdemeanor, but they can be charged as a felony at the prosecutor’s discretion. It’s likely that the Smith case would be classified as a misdemeanor as it doesn’t meet the qualifications often associated with felony battery (such as an assault on a police officer or public worker).

Charges could be more severe depending on the level of Rock’s injury. Battery causing serious bodily injury can lead to longer jail time.

At this time, it doesn’t appear that Rock has any serious injuries so if Smith were to face charges, he would likely face a simple battery charge.

Battery in California could be punishable by:

  • Up to six months in county jail
  • Fine up to $2,000
  • Probation up to six months

So, will Smith face charges?

Related: If You’re Arrested for a Crime, Immediately Take These 6 Steps

Could Will Smith Face Criminal Charges?

There is clear evidence that Smith hit Rock. It was broadcast live to roughly 16.6 million viewers.

But, that doesn’t necessarily mean Smith will face charges.

Rock has declined to press charges or file a police report. Rock’s participation is not required to file charges against Smith, but Rock’s lack of interest in pursuing legal action likely means no case will be opened.

The Los Angeles Police Department says it is aware of the incident but was not pursuing any other action.

Defense lawyer Alan Jackson, a former Los Angeles County prosecutor who oversaw high-profile cases, told ABC News why the state will likely not investigate the case further.

“Would they ever in a practical world do that when Chris Rock is saying, ’I won’t cooperate with a criminal investigation?’ Not in a million years. LAPD is probably breathing a relative sigh of relief that they don’t have to get involved with two high-profile actors duking it out on a world stage,” said Jackson.

While it remains to be seen if the Los Angeles city attorney’s office will decide to bring charges against Smith, it seems unlikely at this time.

Related: What to Ask During a Free Consultation with a Lawyer

Could Chris Rock File a Civil Case Against Will Smith?

In cases where a person is assaulted, the victim may have an option to sue for personal injury in civil courts. There does not need to be criminal charges to pursue a personal injury case.

Rock could technically file a personal injury case against Smith, but it is also highly unlikely.

Rock has already said that he is not pressing charges in the criminal matter so it is unlikely that he would pursue a civil case. Also, to secure a win in a civil personal injury case, Rock would need to prove that he experienced damages as a result of the incident. At this time, it does not appear that Rock was seriously injured or sustained any type of meaningful damages.

But, like potential criminal charges against Smith, civil charges could happen. Time will tell, but it’s unlikely to happen.

Related: What’s the Difference Between a Civil and Criminal Case? 

Talk to an Attorney If Facing Criminal or Civil Charges

Potential criminal charges and civil charges can lead to serious consequences. If you or someone you know has been charged in either court, talk to an experienced attorney right away.

Even if you have been involved in an incident and charges aren’t filed yet, it’s still important to talk to an attorney and start a legal strategy right away. Talk to TJ Grimaldi about the details of your situation with a free consultation. Request your consultation or call 813-226-1023 today.