Jury: No Assault in Grunting Biker Case

Every now and then, a criminal defense trial ends in a verdict that brings a smile to the face of ordinary Americans. In early June, it seems one “not guilty” verdict handed down by a New York jury is giving many people reason to smile.

According to the New York Times, Stuart Sugarman had charged Christopher Carter with assault for injuring him on his bike during a spinning class. Apparently, Sugarman was irritating Carter (and other members of the spinning class) with his vocal grunts and shouts during group exercise on stationary bikes.

Sources indicate that Carter asked the class’s instructor to ask Sugarman to quiet down, but to no avail. Evidently frustrated beyond his limits, Carter dismounted his bike, walked over to Sugarman’s, grabbed the bike by its handlebars, tilted it back and released it – with Sugarman still astride.

During the trial, it seems Carter’s criminal lawyer acknowledged that Carter had performed those actions. The matter at hand, then, was whether or not Carter’s actions had caused the neck and back injuries that allegedly caused Sugarman to spend nearly two weeks in the hospital.

Perhaps it was the human angle that led the six-person jury to acquit Carter of all charges. Or maybe it was the irritation factor – these days, you can hardly leave home without overhearing someone’s cell phone conversation, being forced to listen to too-loud music from mp3 players or getting cut off in traffic. The jury’s message? Rudeness has gone far enough.

While this may strike some as a misuse of the criminal justice system – after all, jurors are supposed to base their verdicts on the facts and not their opinions of the people involved in the case – the acquittal does have a basis in criminal law.

Apparently, the evidence presented didn’t offer proof beyond reasonable doubt that Carter’s actions led to Sugarman’s herniated disc and subsequent hospitalization.

One juror, quoted in the Times, explained that Sugarman was simply not a credible witness – his testimony regarding the event, which evidently served as a major part of the trial – wasn’t convincing to the jury. And after all, wrongfully convicting someone of a crime can be hugely detrimental.

Though Carter, 45, has been cleared of all criminal charges, the fallout from the spinning class incident may not yet be over. According to NationalPost.com, Sugarman, 49, and his attorney have filed a civil suit against Carter, charging him with civil assault.

In some cases, where evidence is insufficient to convict a suspect of a criminal charge, he can be found liable in civil court. Civil penalties are less severe than criminal penalties.