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Soccer Player Sentenced Following On-Field “Sucker Punch” Leading to Assault Conviction

Both civil and even criminal repercussions occasionally arise following recreational and even professional sporting assaults in Canada.  Reasons for sentencing were published this week by the BC Provincial Court highlighting a case of the latter.

In this week’s case (R v. Miletic) the Defendant sucker punched a fellow competitor during an adult league recreational soccer game in New Westminster, BC.  The punch “broke the victim’s orbital bone and caused him negative longer-term effects“.  At trial the Defendant was convicted of assault causing bodily harm.

The Court summarized the circumstances of the offence as follows:

[8]           Briefly, this was an over 35 soccer game between two teams that had some history of aggressive conduct towards one another. This game was no exception. One of the players from the opposing team (not the victim of the assault) was described as particularly aggressive. By the end, Mr. Miletic’s team had received a red card (which results in expulsion) and a yellow card (a warning), while the other team received four yellow cards and a red card.

[9]           Mr. Miletic, who had a work-related back injury that had kept him out of soccer for a long period of time, sat on the sidelines watching. He came into the game part way through the second half. Soon after, a player on the opposing team was fouled by a member of Mr. Miletic’s team and that resulted in a gathering of players with some minor jostling, referred to as a “scrum”. Mr. Miletic was in this scrum and was pushed from behind by someone, which he testified caused him to believe he may have re-injured his back. It was as this scrum was starting to disperse that Mr. Miletic came from behind and the side of the victim, a member of the opposing team picked seemingly at random, and punched him in the face.

[10]        The referee, who had backed out of the scrum in order to observe the players’ conduct, saw Mr. Miletic punch the victim. He gave Mr. Miletic a red card, resulting in his expulsion. Mr. Miletic left the field and remained in the stands for the remaining 20 minutes of the game. He faced some additional penalty from the league, which was not entirely clear.

In finding a conditional discharge was appropriate sentence and in line with some of the more high profile sports related criminal prosecutions in Canada Judge D. Sudeyko provided the following reasons:

[34]        In this case, this was a “sucker punch”. It was cowardly and serious. Indeed, even in hockey (or I expect any organized sport), that amounts to an assault as conduct well outside the type consented to by the participants. However, it was reactive in a moment of frustration and uncharacteristic of Mr. Miletic.

[35]        Therefore, I do not consider it as serious as the actions of either Mr. Bertuzzi, which were also premeditated, or of Mr. McSorley, which involved the use of a weapon in the nature of a hockey stick. Principles of both parity and restraint suggest that the sentence be no greater than that imposed in similar cases.

[36]        Although there is a lack of remorse expressed in this case, I do not consider that significant enough not to allow for a conditional discharge.

[37]        In my view, the principles of sentencing can be met by the imposition of a conditional discharge with a period of probation. The purpose of that probation will be to also satisfy the objectives of promoting a sense of responsibility, which can be achieved by requiring Mr. Miletic to complete some community work.

[38]        Therefore, I grant a conditional discharge, and place you on probation for a period of one year. The terms will be to keep the peace and be of good behavior, to report to a probation officer in New Westminster within 2 business days and thereafter to report for the sole purpose of arranging for the completion of 50 community hours. The only other condition will be that you will have no contact with the victim, Mr. McGregor, except in any legal proceeding, and you will not go to any known residence, place of employment, of education, or worship. You will also not participate in any sporting activity involving Mr. McGregor.

From an injury law perspective these developments are significant.  If the victim sued civil liability would be basically guaranteed as it is an abuse of process for a Defendant to deny civil liability once convicted for the same act to the much higher criminal standard of beyond a reasonable doubt.  Often times any private liability insurance policies deny coverage for incidents reaching a criminal level leaving many defendants in such a situation on the hook personally for any financial ramifications of their actions.

Assault, Battery, bc injury law, R v. Miletic, sports injuries