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Explainer: How To Prosecute a Shoe-Thrower

Publication Date: 
December 23, 2008
Source: 
Slate
Author: 
Juliet Lapidos

Slate Magazine recognizes Professor Robert Weisberg for providing information pertaining to the penalties in the United States for shoe-throwing referring to the recent incident in which shoes were thrown at President Bush in Iraq:

Title 18, Section 112 of the U.S. Code offers special protection for "foreign officials, official guests, and internationally protected persons." Whoever "assaults, strikes, wounds, imprisons, or offers violence" against one of these people can be fined, imprisoned for up to three years, or both. "Assault" under common law covers not only the attempt to inflict harm but also placing someone under the reasonable apprehension of harm, so shoe-throwing might count. If a lenient jury decided that throwing a shoe (and missing) didn't quite rise to the level of assault, they might find the perpetrator guilty of coercing or harassing a foreign official or obstructing the official in the performance of his duties. These lesser offenses carry a sentence of not more than six months in prison or a fine.

Tossing Nikes or Bruno Maglis or Model 271s at the U.S. president, vice president, or president-elect on American soil is an even riskier proposition. If a jury were to treat the action as an assault, the perp could get up to 10 years. If the attack were deemed a mere "threat," then he'd face up to five years.

Of course, there's a chance that the hypothetical flingers mentioned above would face no charges at all. That's up to federal prosecutors, since assaulting, harassing, or threatening either the president or a foreign dignitary is covered by federal law. Naturally, a Secret Service agent or another law-enforcement official would apprehend the attacker, but the case might be considered too frivolous to prosecute. If a U.S. attorney declined to take on such a case, the president or foreign dignitary could, like any private citizen, bring a civil suit against the shoe-flinger. In this case, the defendant would probably risk paying a fine and getting probation.