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Ray Rice is a Victim

ray-riceI would estimate that a third of the clients I represent are charged with some sort of family assault or domestic violence, so I have a little more insight into this crime than most. It is easy to demonize these individuals and portray them as violent generally. Ray Rice is facing this characterization. However, this is not only incorrect, it actually says more about our society than those accused of assaulting a loved one.

We love to separate everything cleanly in our society. We like to easily identify the bad guys, and assume nothing redeeming. We expect our law enforcement officers and prosecutors to punish these individuals as severely as possible just so long as they have been identified as abusers. But the real world doesn’t work that way.

Obviously, Ray Rice is an exception from an evidentiary standpoint. A security camera surreptitiously recorded his act. Everybody got to see what went down in that elevator. But in the real world of spousal fights, nothing is black and white. And I would like to take this opportunity to suggest that the same may not be true in Ray Rice’s case.

In many situations, the claimed violence is not so one sided. We know nothing of what occurred between Ray Rice and his wife prior to the actual violence in the elevator. We see his wife approach him with her hands up and we see his reaction to it. In that brief moment in time, it is clear to all who view the video that he over reacted and used too much force. That snapshot is clearly brutal. But is it the whole story?

I don’t want to join those people who like to make up facts in order to suit their own perceptions, but let me suggest the obvious. We simply don’t know what happened before the couple went into the elevator, and we sure don’t know the actual extent of violence in their relationship. I have heard more than one commentator say with assured moral authority that a man “should never lay hands on a woman”. Is this true?

Are we to take the position that a man can never defend himself from violence if it is coming from a woman? That isn’t what the law says. What would this commentator do if this weak woman was holding a gun to his head and he had the ability to use force to prevent it?

I’ve heard more than one supposed legal “experts” state that the prosecutor in New Jersey who handled Ray Rice’s case should never have offered him pretrial diversion. These statements are made because it massages the public’s outrage. However, nothing is black and white, even if the public would prefer it to be. I virtually guarantee that this prosecutor knows more about what went down between Ray Rice and his wife, including their history, than any of these supposed legal commentators.

These commentators are merely trying to hop on the bandwagon, but their comments aren’t innocent. This desire to demonize is extremely dangerous. It is already far too easy for someone to get charges filed against a boyfriend or spouse. If we also require our prosecutors to offer jail in every domestic violence situation, then we not only run the risk of ruining the life of innocent people, it will also result in unintended consequences. A prosecutor may well believe that a man has assaulted his wife or girlfriend, but be hampered by the evidence available to her. If the only thing she can offer is jail time, then a jury trial or dismissal be the only recourse.

Lets not forget that Ray Rice has a number of important conditions attached to his pretrial diversion. The most important of these is counseling, and from all indications he has done all that has been asked of him in that area. What is probably most important to his wife is that their lives not be destroyed by future violence. Ray Rice now has the opportunity to learn how to handle his anger, even justified anger, from the programs attached to his pretrial diversion. If his wife had refused to testify, or perhaps testify to prior violence on her own part, Ray Rice might have walked with no conditions.

But there was a new video. And what this video did was allow the public, with aid from commentators apparently free of any personal defects, to make a black and white judgment of Ray Rice. The cowardly NFL jumped on the bandwagon as soon as it could, taking from Ray Rice and his wife their ability to make a good living in the only trade he has been trained.

As I said, the new video was evidence. But that is all it was. Ray Rice already admitted to prosecutors and the NFL that he hit his wife. Both prosecutorial authorities, and the public, was aware that she was unconscious when she was removed from the elevator. What precisely did the NFL think happened in the elevator, based on the evidence already available to them?

Ray Rice’s career is over, and I think its a shame. He didn’t lose it because of his actions. The NFL has already said that a first domestic violence charge is worth exactly the suspension of six games. He lost it because of the public’s desire to pick a villain and a victim, and the news organizations exceptional ability at stoking the fires of outrage. So let me be the first and only person to say this: Ray Rice is a victim. He is a victim of his own actions, but also something much, much worse. He’s a victim of our actions as well.