Randy Starks, a defensive lineman for the Miami Dolphins, was arrested for aggravated battery on a police officer, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported May 24. Starks is accused of hitting the officer with his vehicle at a slow speed, in bumper-to-bumper traffic on a Saturday night in South Beach. He was also charged with a misdemeanor related to his truck’s license plate, which was not registered to that truck. No allegations related to drugs or alcohol were reported.
The newspaper said Starks was driving through South Beach just after midnight on Sunday when the officer approached his truck. The truck was designed for four people, but according to the article, it had thirteen inside, including a woman on Starks’ lap. The officer waded into bumper-to-bumper traffic and knocked on the driver’s side rear window, but the truck kept moving forward. When the officer knocked again, the truck did stop, allowing the officer to approach. But as he reached the driver’s door, the truck accelerated slightly, hitting the officer in the chest and knocking him into another vehicle.
Because this case involves a pro athlete, it’s attracting a lot of attention from both fans and the media. As a South Florida battery criminal defense attorney, I would like to clear up some of the misconceptions I’ve noticed. For example, the aggravated battery charge. If you’ve never worked in criminal law or been arrested before, you may not realize this, but battery is defined as any intentional, unwanted touching or intentionally causing bodily harm. That’s it. To be charged with battery, you do not need to cause great bodily harm or even hurt the other person. A charge of aggravated battery requires great bodily harm or use of a deadly weapon -- which could include a car.
Furthermore, under Florida law, any battery on a police officer is automatically treated more seriously -- from a second-degree felony to a first-degree felony, in the case of aggravated battery. So, assuming the incident happened as it was reported, the charges against Starks are perfectly legally sound. That said, the penalty for a first-degree felony is up to 30 years in prison, which seems disproportionate to the crime to this Fort Lauderdale battery criminal defense attorney. Judging by the description, Starks made some mistakes, but he may not have even intended to harm the officer. Given that he was apparently driving with someone on his lap, the swerve may not have been intentional -- a prerequisite for a battery charge. That’s just one of the possible avenues of defense I can see from reading the article.
Finally, as a Miami-Dade battery criminal defense lawyer, I’d like to add that high-profile athletes and celebrities should be given the same benefit of the doubt everyone accused of a crime should get -- presumed innocent until proven guilty. Celebrities and the wealthy attract a lot of criticism after an arrest, but when they face the justice system, each one is just an individual -- and just like everyone else, they need the help of a smart criminal defense attorney.