Mike Vitar, the actor that played Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez in 1993 movie, “The Sandlot” has been charged with assault.

Child Actor Accused of Halloween Night Assault

On Halloween night of this year, Vitar, now a Los Angeles firefighter, fellow firefighter Eric Carpenter, and another man, Thomas Molnar allegedly assaulted a 22-year-old man that was handing out Halloween candy to kids. The three were in attendance at a northwest Los Angeles party that was being hosted by Carpenter, 38, when they noticed the victim was handing out candy to children as they passed. Allegedly, the victim was simply visiting the neighborhood where he grew up. The three assaulters then chased him down the street and attacked him, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.

The district attorney’s office is also alleging that Carpenter choked the victim after he was forced to the ground.

All three have been charged with assault. Carpenter has also been charged with personally inflicting great bodily injury, according to prosecutors said.

Assault Defined

According to the California Penal Code, assault is defined as an “unlawful attempt” to cause a “violent injury on the person of another.”

Assault is also often described as an attempt to commit battery, but it’s important to note that the “assault” and “battery” are actually two different things despite the fact that they are commonly combined as “assault and battery.”

“Battery” describes force or violence used against another person. To clarify the difference between the two – assault is an attempt and battery is the actual violent act.

In California, assault and battery laws fall under both criminal and civil law.

Defense for The Three Accused

Molnar’s attorney, Arthur Avazianis reviewing the case, but has initially said his client and the firefighters were actually trying to restrain the victim who was trespassing and would not leave.

“They believed he posed a danger to children in the area by trying to pass out candy against the consent of the adults,” Avazian said. “These are really good people, two firefighters and my client who is successful businessman,” Avazian said.

The Los Angeles Fire Department have announced both firefighters, who were off-duty at the time of the incident, have been placed on administrative leave with pay as the criminal case proceeds.

“The LAFD is aware of an incident involving two off-duty firefighters that is alleged to have occurred on Saturday, October 31st. The department has cooperated fully with law enforcement during the subsequent investigation,” said Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman Peter Sanders.

Michael A. Goldstein, the attorney representing Carpenter, said his client is a career firefighter “who is the business of saving lives and helpings others.” He urged the public not to rush to judgment.

To Be Convicted of Assault

To be able to be convicted of an assault charge, a prosecutor needs to show that the defendant intended to commit a battery (remember, battery is the actual violent act) and that he or she has the “present ability” to do so. “Present ability” means a person’s immediate capacity to do an act. This means that a prosecutor would need to show that the person who committed the assault was also capable of committing the battery.

A prosecutor would not need to show that physical contact actually happened.

To be able to convict a defendant of a battery charge, a prosecutor would need to prove the defendant willfully made contact with the victim.

Charges of Battery

The California Penal Code also defines various degrees of severity for battery.

Such is the case for Carpenter, who was also charged with personally inflicting great bodily injury.

While Section 242 of the Penal Code sets forth a basic law for battery, Section 243(d) refers to “serious bodily injury.”

There are also specific codes regarding battery against peace officers, police officers, firefighters (which Carpenter and Vitar are), emergency response technicians, school employees, and other first defenders. The Penal Code also outlines separate laws for battery in the context of domestic violence.

Penalties for Assault and Battery

Penalties and sentencing for assault or battery are dependent on how severe the crime was, in addition to if there were any additional aggravating circumstances (such as use of a weapon), as well as the defendant’s criminal history.

Penalties for Assault

The Penal Code sets a maximum fine of $1,000 for a simple assault, a maximum sentence of jail time for six months, or both.

If the victim of the crime is a person listed in the Penal Code (peace officers, police officers, firefighters, emergency response technicians, school employees, and other first defenders) or if the crime happened in a specific location like a school or public park, penalties can increase to $2,000 or one year of jail time.

Penalties for Battery

The Penal Code sets a maximum fine of $2,000 for a simple assault, a maximum sentence of jail time for six months, or both.

If the victim of the crime is a person listed in the Penal Code (peace officers, police officers, firefighters, emergency response technicians, school employees, and other first defenders) or if the act was an act of domestic violence, penalties can increase to one year of jail time.

For battery resulting in serious bodily injury, a defendant can be charged felony sentencing in accordance with Section 1170 of the Penal Code. This can result in jail time of two, three, four, or even longer terms.

Prior felony convictions can also increase penalties.

The convictions that these three men are facing seem severe compared to the Penal Code information laid out above.

According to the district attorney’s office, if convicted, Carpenter is facing up to seven years in prison, and Vitar and Molnar are facing up to four years each in prison.

The amount of years the men are being charged with seem closer to charges of “aggravated assault,” versus simple assault.

Aggravated Assault

Aggravated assault is when the assault is more serious. Examples include:

  • threatening or attempting to strike a person with a weapon or other dangerous object
  • threatening or attempting to shoot a person with a gun or threatening to kill the victim while pointing a gun at the victim
  • assault with the intent to commit another felony crime (for example, robbery or rape)
  • assault that results in serious physical injury
  • threatening violence while concealing one’s identity, and
  • assault against a member of a protected class(peace officers, police officers, firefighters, emergency response technicians, school employees, and other first defenders)

Arrested and Released on Bail

Carpenter was arrested Nov. 17, 2015. He was released after posting $60,000 bail. Vitar, 36, and Molnar, 45, were arrested Dec. 3, 2015. Both were released after they each posted $30,000 bail.

Assault Defenses

Being charged with assault is a very serious accusation to face. You will want to work with a criminal defense lawyer to defend yourself. Here are some possible defenses your criminal defense lawyer may employ:

Self Defense. Your criminal defense attorney will need to show the following:

  • there was a threat of unlawful force against you
  • there was an honest, real perceived fear of harm against you
  • you did not provoke or harm the other person
  • there was no chance of being able to retreat from or escape the situation.

Defense of Others. Your criminal defense attorney will need to show that you had an honest and real perceived fear that harm was going to be done to another person.

This might be a successful approach for Carpenter, Vitar, and Molnar as it seems that they were acting in defense of the neighborhood children on the night of the incident. If their attorneys are able to prove this, or that they all believed that there was imminent harm, then the charges could be dismissed.

In using this defense, the accused will need to be able to show reasonable grounds for the fear they perceived at the time of the incident.

Defense of Property. Your criminal defense attorney will need to show that the accused acted in defense of his or her property from being invaded. This defense will vary from state to state in terms of the extent it can be used. For example, in one state an individual is allowed to exercise reasonable force to defend his or her property, especially where a home is involved. This law is more divided when it comes to personal property. Still, if personal property has been stolen directly from an individual – for example, a purse – they may have the legal right to use reasonable force to recover that property.

This also might be a successful approach for Carpenter, Vitar, and Molnar as it seems that they were acting in defense of the Carpenter’s property, if indeed the victim was trespassing. If their attorneys are able to prove this, or that they all believed that there was imminent harm to the property and the victim was indeed trespassing, then the charges could be dismissed.

Consent. In jurisdictions where this is available, a defense attorney will need to show that an individual consented to the act. But if the act exceeded the permission provided, charges for assault and battery can still be valid. This defense is often scrutinized heavily in court as most harmful actions, even when consented to, are in violation of public policy and should still be punished under law.

Working with a Criminal Defense Attorney

As you can see, assault and battery charges can be complex. An experience criminal defense attorney will be able to analyze all the factors of an incident and be able to advise you on the best defense.

Any assault or battery charge is a serious accusation that could result in prison time, other serious penalties, and a criminal record that will follow you for the rest of your life. The good news is that there is a defense to every charge. Contact our office in Los Angeles at 562-287-5333, at 562-287-5333 or by e-mail to discuss your case with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney. – Drug Crimes Lawyers Los Angeles

Daniel R. Perlman, Esq.
Law Offices of Daniel R. Perlman