The elements of a criminal action in assault are1:
- The defendant did something that was likely to result in the use of force against someone else;
- The defendant did so willfully;
- The defendant was aware of facts that would lead a reasonable person to believe that this act would directly and probably result in force being applied to the other person; and
- When the defendant acted, they had the capacity to apply force to the other person.
The elements of a civil action in assault are2:
- An action intended to create
- a reasonable apprehension
- of imminent harm
- that is harmful or offensive
In civil and criminal assault, the elements are reasonably similar. Essentially, the action must be 1) intentional, 2) create a subjective apprehension (that is, from the plaintiff's perspective) 3) of immediate, unlawful and 4) harmful contact.
1. Did a crime (or tort) occur?
Assuming that the plaintiff truly feared unlawful, harmful contact (2, 3, 4), whether the defendant intended to create this would also be questioned. I highly doubt a judge or jury would find that this is the case, given the overall circumstances, that this was the defendant's intention (1) - being televised, and with a number of witnesses, and so on.
But, for the sake of an answer, let's assume that a crime/tort did occur.
2. Does Shapiro have any recourse and/or mechanism to force enforcement of the criminal statutes?
The California public prosecutor is required to institute proceedings where they suspect such offenses have been committed. There's a bit of discretion in this respect, and so they'll usually consider whether there's enough evidence to do so, and whether it's in the public interest to do so.
3. If Shapiro sues Tur civilly, would/should he win?
Maybe. It's difficult to say, but the fact that the District Attorney did not prosecute in this instance may be a signal that there is either a lack of evidence, or that it would not be in the public interest to do so. In my opinion, probably a bit of both.
Sure, in a civil case, a balance of probabilities is the standard of proof, rather than beyond a reasonable doubt in criminal cases. So it's possible that a civil action could be successful. But, that leads to the outcome, which would be...
4. If Shapiro wins a civil suit, how would damages be assessed / determined / calculated?
Almost certainly only nominal damages (damages that are usually very small - this is done in cases where the harm is technical, instead of actual). Punitive damages (intended to deter similar behaviour in the future, and sometimes called exemplary damages) are limited in the United States, and where no compensatory damages are awarded, highly unlikely. Excessive punitive damages has been found to be an arbitrary deprivation of property, in violation of the Fourth Amendment, and therefore unconstitutional. (See BMW of North America, Inc. v. Gore (1996).)
Compensatory damages (including special damages - as the name suggests, intended to compensate the plaintiff for loss or harm caused by the effect of actions undertaken by the defendant) are almost definitely out of the question, unless the plaintiff can prove that they suffered psychiatric injury as a result of the assault.
- An explanation of California Assault Law: Penal Code 240 pc
- Adapted from California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI), June 2005