A society in which almost everybody has a video camera on their cell phone has highlighted some crimes in a way that would never have happened two decades ago. It also raises some questions about trial by social media.
In Houston, Texas, an alleged attack on a teenage girl by a schoolmate went viral attracting more than 12 million views.
The clip showed 17-year-old ShaMichael Manuel getting beaten up by a schoolmate named Sharkeisha, who “hit her in the face when she’s wasn’t looking and then hit and kicked her while she was lying on the ground,” the Daily News reported.
The Harris County sheriff’s office said the alleged attacker was arrested on charges of assault with bodily injury. Investigators did not identify her because she’s a minor.
The victim said the attack on Nov. 19, 2013, allegedly started because of a dispute over a boy, ShaMichael’s family told Houston’s KHOU-TV.
The family said insult had been added to injury after a video of the incident went viral, inspiring what the Daily News described as “snarky, shark-themed memes and a popular Twitter hashtag.”
“They’re making jokes, and they’re taunting. They’re glorifying the girl Sharkeisha, but they’re taunting my daughter at the same time,” said ShaMichael’s mother Olevia Henderson.
ShaMichael, a senior at Cypress Creek High School, said, she was lured to a nearby apartment complex thinking she was going to pick up some of her belongings from friends. She claimed she was then assaulted and the incident was videoed.
ShaMichael, reported a black eye and a split lip, in the allege attack. ShaMichael and her mother told the media they were humiliated and wish the video would disappear. No charges were brought against the person who took the video.
The case illustrates the role of video cameras and social media in some crime situations. The Daily Mail reported Twitter and Facebook users originally identified the Sharkeisha in the video as a 22-year-old woman from North Carolina. ShaMichael said the girl who attacked her was 16, and was attending school with her in Harris County, Texas.
In some cases the proliferation of video technology has helped clear up gray areas in investigations. Recently a Dallas police officer receive a suspension after video footage from a member of the public undermined his version of events in the shooting of a mentally ill man. However, when an incident attracts a massive degree of attention and comment on social media as in the case in Houston, it can make it difficult for a defendant to receive a fair trial.
Assaults are among the most common crimes of violence we see as criminal defense attorneys. A Class A misdemeanor assault means that some bodily injury allegedly occurred, although the injury may be nothing more than a bruise or a scratch. Conviction typically leads to a period of probation and those who are convicted may have to comply with other requirements such as attending anger management classes in addition to the payment of significant fines.
An aggravated assault allegation means the accused is alleged to either have exhibited a “deadly weapon” or caused serious bodily injury in the course of an assault. Some victims, such as police officers, make this a first degree offense with a penalty range of 5-99 years of imprisonment, as opposed to a second degree offense with a penalty range of 2-20 years of imprisonment.