In February of this year, Ray Rice, the talented starting running back for the Baltimore Ravens, was charged with simple assault against his fiancé, and now wife. The altercation took place in an Atlantic City hotel. Prosecutors offered Rice a plea deal that involves placement in a pretrial diversion program. The way it works is that the offender pleads guilty and agrees to satisfy certain conditions, such as completing domestic violence counseling, and must not commit any new offenses. If such an agreement is satisfied by the offender, the charges get dropped and the offender’s record can be expunged. In Colorado, the equivalent of such a deal is called a deferred judgment and sentence. This type of deal is common for first time offenders, or if the facts are such that the prosecutors may have a tough time proving the case in court. The latter is a common issue in domestic violence cases, because many couples get back together after the incident and the victim may be reluctant to prosecute. Ray Rice and his fiancé were married a month after this assault occurred. Rice was suspended for two games after an NFL investigation.
Today, however, the entertainment news website TMZ released the video from this incident taken from the elevator. The horrific video shows Rice punching his fiancé unconscious. The Ravens cut him earlier this afternoon, and the NFL reneged on their previous 2 game suspension and suspended him indefinitely. Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner, indicated in a statement that he hadn’t seen the video until it was released today.
What about the police and prosecutors? They have subpoena power and most
likely reviewed this incident on video prior to offering Rice his plea
deal. Having watched the video, the questions that many are asking are
1) how such a violent attack could be treated so leniently by
prosecutors, and 2) can Rice be punished more severely now that the
video is out?
The answer to the first question is unclear. As mentioned above, often times domestic violence cases are hard to prove for prosecutors because victims may not be cooperative. In this case, however, they had the video, which speaks for itself. While there may be other evidence that mitigated this assault, the video of the event is quite disturbing, and seems to warrant a harsher punishment than that handed down.
The answer to the second question is no, because of Rice’s
constitutional guarantee of double jeopardy. Double jeopardy is the
notion that a person cannot be prosecuted multiple times for the same
act, even if more evidence previously unknown to the police are
discovered later. Once Ray Rice accepted the plea deal offered to him,
he prevented the possibility of facing harsher punishment later.
Prosecutors also had access to the tape before TMZ did, so this is not a
situation where new evidence was uncovered.
Ray Rice will certainly trigger debate among Americans about what punishments are appropriate for cases involving domestic violence. While his criminal case is closed, his trials in the court of public opinion are just getting started.
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