Ray Rice Video Raises Questions of Additional Legal Punishment
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UPDATED: Sep 11, 2014
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The National Football League (NFL) was called to address a violent incident of domestic assault this week when internet news source TMZ released footage of Ray Rice hitting his then-fiancé Janay Palmer in an Atlantic City elevator. Although the NFL and Rice’s team, the Baltimore Ravens, took action once the video was released, questions linger about the quality of the league’s response and the relatively light criminal punishment Rice received by New Jersey prosecutors.
Ray Rice Video Changes NFL PunishmentThe incident between Rice and Janay Palmer, who are now married, occurred on February 15th, 2014 in an elevator at an Atlantic City casino and resulted in the arrest of both parties by Atlantic City Police. Four days later, TMZ released security footage of Rice dragging an unconscious Palmer out of the elevator, leading the NFL and the Baltimore Ravens to conduct a disciplinary investigation. During a joint press conference in May, the Rices, who married in late March, both apologized for their role in the incident.
In late July, after several months of reviewing evidence, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced that Ray Rice would receive a two-game suspension for his domestic assault incident, citing lack of criminal prosecution as a reason for the perceived light sentence. This week, the situation changed dramatically when TMZ released a second security tape that offered video from inside the elevator showing Rice striking Palmer. The force of his blow was so significant that Janay fell over and hit her head against the elevator railing, knocking her unconscious.
On the day the video was released by TMZ, Baltimore Ravens officials decided to release Rice and cancel his contract. Later in the day, the NFL responded to the newly released footage by increasing Rice’s ban indefinitely, meaning he will need to apply for reinstatement should any of the leagues other 31 teams desire to sign him. While the league faces criticism for either not seeking out the video during its initial investigation, or covering up its knowledge of the video, the New Jersey legal system is also being questioned for its decision to forego prosecution in favor of entering Rice into a diversion program.
Ray Rice Avoids Criminal Charges
Concurrent with the NFL’s investigation into Rice’s domestic assault, New Jersey prosecutors looked into the matter to determine if Rice would be subjected to criminal prosecution. In March, a grand jury indicted Rice on one count of aggravated assault, a felony charge. Rice pled not guilty, and in May his attorneys, New Jersey prosecutors, and NJ Superior Court Judge Michael Donio agreed to terms of a pre-trial diversion program. Under the terms of the agreement, Rice would complete the requirements of a year-long supervised rehabilitation program and avoid further criminal prosecution.
With the release of the second video, which was available to police and prosecutors, legal analysts have debated the possibility of Rice being removed from his diversion program and brought to trial for felony domestic assault.
Possibility of Additional Criminal Prosecution of Ray Rice
Whether or not Rice can face felony prosecution for domestic assault despite his pre-trial diversion agreement is a matter of some speculation. The first matter to consider is whether or not Rice can be prosecuted due to the Constitution’s protection against Double Jeopardy – a clause that prevents anyone from being charged with the same crime twice. Double Jeopardy applies in a non-trial situation when the defendant pleads guilty to the crime charged, something that Rice did not do after his grand jury indictment. Given the process which led to his diversion agreement, it seems possible that prosecutors could avoid Constitutional concerns by taking further action.
Even if Double Jeopardy can be avoided, however, there is still the matter of removing Rice from the pre-trial diversion program despite the fact that he has not violated any of the terms of the agreement. Although Judge Donio has a fair degree of latitude in deciding Rice’s ongoing worthiness for participation in the program, the terms of his agreement likely protect him from expulsion unless he lied or withheld information at the time Judge Donio issued the order. With the New Jersey court system having access to the footage from inside the elevator, it does not appear Rice entered into the agreement fraudulently, and therefore is unlikely to be expelled from his diversion program.
Making a change to Rice’s criminal case further unlikely is Janay Rice’s refusal to press charges, and her recently issued statement defending her husband and criticizing the media coverage surrounding the situation. With the NFL receiving intense criticism for its handling of the Ray Rice domestic assault case, the issue is far from over, but it is not likely the former Ravens’ star will face additional criminal action.