News Roundup

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Ray Rice is, or was, an NFL player. He punched his then-fiancee, now wife, at a New Jersey casino, knocking her unconscious. He was charged with a felony assault but entered a deferred prosecution program, and the NFL suspended him for two games . . . and then the video hit the internet, and a firestorm erupted. Because there are so many important and complex issues around the case, this roundup is all about Ray Rice.

The video. TMZ obtained and published the video. It is here.

The reaction. Rice was cut by his team, the Baltimore Ravens, and suspended indefinitely by the NFL. He’s even being removed from the Madden NFL 15 video game. The NFL is investigating itself, to see where it went wrong in dealing with the matter. Local prosecutors are defending their handling of the case as consistent with how other domestic violence cases are handled, particularly in cases like this one where the victim does not support criminal prosecution. Nonetheless, the media is asking whether Rice can be kicked out of his deferred prosecution agreement and prosecuted. It sounds like he can’t.

The call for zero tolerance. Sixteen female senators, among others, are calling for a “real zero tolerance” policy that would have first-time domestic violence offenders banned from the NFL for life. As a private organization, I assume that the NFL has wide authority to determine who can and can’t play in the league. But the call for zero tolerance raises some questions. Should all employers have zero-tolerance policies? If so, a first-time domestic violence offender would effectively be rendered unemployable. If not all employers should have such policies, which ones should? And should such policies truly involve lifetime bans, even for offenders who have shown remorse, completed treatment, and changed their behavior?

What about other players? Ray Rice isn’t the only NFL player to be accused of domestic violence. The Carolina Panthers’ Greg Hardy, for example, was convicted of assault on a female in district court, though he has appealed for trial de novo in superior court. The victim in that case testified that Hardy “flung her from the bed, threw her into a bathtub, then tossed her on a futon covered with rifles” before “ripp[ing] a necklace he had given her off her neck, thr[owing] it into a toilet and slam[ing] the lid on her arm when she tried to fish it out.” Hardy allegedly followed that up by “dragg[ing] her by the hair room to room . . . putting his hands around her throat,” and threatening to kill her. The Panthers and the league have taken the position that the legal process must play out before they will take action based on the allegations. Is that the right position, particularly given the district court adjudication? The league isn’t required to apply the criminal courts’ standard of innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

The importance of video. A key distinction between Rice’s case and other cases is that his acts were caught on video while others’ were not. Assuming that Greg Hardy’s accuser is telling the truth, his conduct is far worse than the single punch thrown by Rice, and a video of those events would make the Rice video look tame by comparison. But shouldn’t our outrage be based on the severity of the conduct in question, not on whether it happens to be caught on video?

Beyond football. Domestic violence isn’t the exclusive purview of football players. Consider another high profile abuser: federal judge Mark Fuller was arrested not long ago in Atlanta and charged with beating and kicking his wife in a hotel. He, too, received a deferral. This article argues for zero tolerance of domestic violence in the federal judiciary, and for the impeachment of Judge Fuller.

Conclusion. I am genuinely conflicted about how to think about the Ray Rice matter. His actions were egregious. That’s true of virtually all the violent crimes that come into the criminal justice system. How Rice’s actions fit in the spectrum of violent crimes, and what sort of punishment he deserves from the courts and from his employer, seem to me questions that aren’t easy to answer. As always, I welcome others’ insights.

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6 comments on “News Roundup

  1. A lifetime ban for first offenders is a ridiculous over action probably made only to score political points. Let’s just ignore someone’s entire life up to the DV charge and completely take away their ability to make amends and supports their family. What about DUI offenders? DUIs claim far more lives and pose a greater threat to the public. Senator Michael Crapo, for example, picked one up and I don’t see them lobbying to ban him from the senate. You’re right, it’s all about the video.

  2. Unfortunately, in our current society, too often we rely on video, or partial video evidence. This, in turn, is causing us to view eyewitnesses as unreliable. If this trend continues, it will not be a good thing for our justice system.

  3. You are correct that Rice’s actions were egregious. You are mistaken in your sentence following that statement: “That’s true of virtually all the violent crimes that come into the criminal justice system.” A large percentage of the misdemeanor domestic violence cases that come through the criminal justice system in Wake County do not involve conduct which is so shocking as to be “egregious.” The most common conduct involves yelling, screaming, and maybe pushing but no punches thrown. Sometimes there isn’t even a yelling match, just one person claiming assault in order to have the other person arrested, usually because the first person suspects the second person of cheating on the first person.

  4. I liked your post about DV far to often it’s not caught on film. Ray’s wife is a typical abuse survivor, in my opinion she accepts that being hit is part of the “pact” when you marry a famous person. However that may look to me i’m sure that’s not what she’s thinking.
    Maybe she did the smart thing and married him, I mean he does have 25 Million dollars to live on the rest of his life, and maybe she will do the right thing and hit him where it hurts..in the Bank Account.

  5. What? No mention of “Hon.” Mark Fuller, the Alabama federal judge who pummeled his wife bloody in the Atlanta Ritz-Carlton? And it looks as though he will skate with a diversion and expunged record after he undergoes a month or two of domestic violence and substance abuse intervention. And this despite both Alabama Senators calling for his resignation.

    http://www.esquire.com/blogs/politics/A_Tale_Of_Two_Thugs

  6. My apology. The judge did receive a cursory honorable mention for the Domestic Violence Hall of Shame.

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