A Pennsylvania high school football player with aspirations of winning a D-1 scholarship faces possible criminal charges after an on-field incident on September 6, 2013, in which Hamburg High School quarterback Joey Cominsky ripped the helmet off the head of an opposing lineman, and then swung the helmet at the victim's exposed head, as he lay on the ground. Although the conduct in question was captured on video, South Annville Township Police plan to interview more than 100 witnesses, including players, coaches and referees, before deciding how to proceed.
Criminal charges based upon in-game behavior at sporting events are incredibly rare. Conduct which would be considered criminal in everyday life is often resolved with penalties, ejections, bans from playing in upcoming games or even suspension from school. In rare cases where conduct crosses the line, criminal charges can be filed.
At the very least, I would expect Cominsky to be charged with the summary offense of harassment, punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $300 fine. I suspect that he will also be charged with simple assault, a second degree misdemeanor punishable by up to two years incarceration and a $5,000 fine. Simple assault takes various forms, but the most appropriate subsection of the simple assault statute would be "attempting by physical menace to put another in fear of serious bodily injury." Clearly, a blow to the exposed head with a hard plastic football helmet could cause a serious head injury, and any normal person, including a massive lineman, would be fearful in such a situation. Cominsky could even be charged with aggravated assault, a first degree felony punishable by up to 20 years in state prison and $25,000 fine. Like simple assault, aggravated assault takes various forms. The most applicable subsection of the aggravated assault statute would be "attempting to cause serious bodily injury."
Mr. Cominsky's age will play a major role in determining how his case will ultimately be resolved. If he is 18, he will be charged as a an adult, even though he is still in high school. If he is under 18, his case is likely to remain in juvenile court, unless he was previously adjudicated delinquent, and it appears that he is not amenable to treatment in the juvenile system. Obviously, both the direct and collateral consequences are much more lenient in the juvenile system than in the adult system.
If a finder of fact concludes that Cominsky was trying to hit the victim's head with the helmet but missed, then he would be guilty of aggravated assault. If the finder of fact concludes that he was merely trying to scare the victim, then he would be guilty of simple assault. If the charges are handled in juvenile court, Cominsky will be "adjudicated delinquent," rather than being "found guilty," which is a term reserved for adult criminal court.
If Cominsky is adjudicated delinquent for aggravated assault, this conviction will create an adult prior record score until he is 28 years old, meaning that if he is convicted of another crime as an adult, he will face a harsher sentence than he would if he had no prior record. An adjudication of delinquency for simple assault, on the other hand, would not give him an adult prior record score. It is hard to say how the case will ultimately turn out, but I just hope for Cominsky's sake that his parents have enough money to hire a skilled and experienced criminal defense attorney.
Matt McClenahen is a criminal defense lawyer in State College, Pennsylvania, home of Penn State University. He primarily handles adult criminal cases, but will take a juvenile case form time to time. http://www.mattmlaw.com/Criminal-Defense-Overview/Assault-Defense.shtml