B.C. soccer player uses famous NHL violent incidents as defence for punching rival player | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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B.C. soccer player uses famous NHL violent incidents as defence for punching rival player

Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Pexels.com Jim De Ramos
August 20, 2020 - 2:00 PM

A B.C. defence lawyer has used several high profile hockey fights and violent incidents in his defence as to why his middle-aged client shouldn't get a criminal record after punching a rival player during an over-35 rec league soccer match.

Highlighting the Todd Bertuzzi–Steve Moore incident, as well as Marty McSorley's infamous on-ice assault, defence lawyer Phillip Riddell argued his 44-year-old client, Zoran Miletic, sucker-punched the other team's player in a "brief impulsive act" after a "scrum" had broken out during the game and the assault should be judged in the context of the soccer match.

The defence lawyer used the famous NHL fights – where the players were convicted of assault but didn't receive criminal records because the violence took place on the ice – to argue for a conditional discharge for Miletic.

The case also raised an interesting question. There is an expectation of violence in professional hockey, but not in recreational league soccer, so should a rec league soccer player receive a stiffer sentence than a professional hockey player?

According to the B.C. Provincial Court decision Aug. 13, the assault took place during a Lower Mainland over 35s soccer match. The judge even takes the time to explain that soccer is "better known worldwide as 'football.'"

While many Canadians may consider "football" a non-contact sport where even the slightest touch sends players falling to the ground and gasping in agony, Judge Danny Sudeyko had a different opinion.

"To be clear, soccer, including at the over-35 category, is far from a non-contact sport. It may differ from hockey, in that it strongly condemns even consensual fighting, but it has its own sense of violence that falls within the norms, even if outside the rules, of the game," he said.

The judgement – which doesn't name the specific teams – says the two sides had a history of playing aggressive matches and "this game was no exception."

During the game, two players got red cards and were sent off, and five other players were issued warnings and yellow cards – a penalty only given for serious fouls. During the game, a player on Miletic's team fouled another player and a "scrum" broke out "with some minor jostling" and a player pushed Miletic in the back, exacerbating a previous back injury.

"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," the B.C. Provincial Court Judge said.

The punch left the player with a broken orbital bone around his eye socket.

Miletic was then charged and following a trial Feb. 25, the judge found him guilty of assault causing bodily harm.

The court documents say Miletic, 44, is a "strong family man" who came to Canada from Croatia, via Germany as a refugee in 1997. He is married with two children, has always been employed, has no criminal record, and has never shown any "propensity towards violence on or off the soccer field."

The defence argued for a conditional discharge, meaning Miletic would not receive a criminal record, citing both the Bertuzzi and McSorley cases who both received conditional discharges.

The Crown asked for a suspended sentence, 18 months of probation, and 50 hours of community service. The Crown argued the assault could not be compared to the Bertuzzi or McSorley incidents because in the NHL there was a certain level of violence expected, while in amateur soccer there was not and there was a need to deter and denunciate the violent behaviour.

However, the judge didn't agree with that reasoning.

"I fail to see how the expectations of a higher level of violence in a professional league, or the physical training and preparation level of the athletes, decreases the need for denunciation and deterrence when the level of violence norms are exceeded," Judge Sudeyko said. "That, in effect, says because the victim expects some level of violence, the offender is entitled to the benefit of that expectation even when the offender exceeds that level. Similarly, I fail to see how the lower expectations of violence in a non-professional league, even if true, should result in a greater penalty to the offender."

The judge also pointed out a precedent had been set in the Bertuzzi and McSorley cases and that Miletic's behaviour wasn't as serious as the NHL players. McSorley hit another player in the head with his stick – and with only 4.6 seconds left in the game.

"Principles of both parity and restraint suggest that the sentence be no greater than that imposed in similar cases," judge Sudeyko said.

While Judge described the "sucker-punch" as "cowardly and serious" he also said it was "reactive in a moment of frustration and uncharacteristic" of Miletic and ultimately granted a conditional discharge and one-year probation. Providing Miletic adheres to all the conditions of his probation he will not have a criminal record.

He was, however, "indefinitely suspended" by B.C. Soccer, although appears to have a hearing pending.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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