Ray Rice Provides Important Lesson on Assault

These rays of sunshine are no strangers to the criminal justice system. Now Ray Rice (left) is hoping to avoid jail time just like alleged murderer Ray Lewis (right) after assaulting his fiancee in a casino.

Another day, another NFL player arrested. Such is life for the most profitable non-profit league with $35 million worth of commissioning each year.

Seriously, though, according to the NFL Arrest Database compiled by U-T San Diego, NFL players have been arrested 685 times since 2000. That is about one player arrested per week.

This week, however, has been particularly troubling for the Baltimore Ravens. Less than two years after celebrating while murderer, I mean, justice obstructor extraordinaire Ray Lewis, hoist the Lombardi Trophy, the Ravens have found themselves in the crime blotter a lot recently. On Friday night, wide receiver Deonte Thompson was arrested on suspicion of possessing marijuana and drug paraphernalia in Gainesville, Florida. And last weekend star running back Ray Rice was arrested after knocking his fiancee unconscious in an Atlantic City casino. Since the 2000-2001 season, Baltimore Ravens players have now been arrested 19 times.

What makes Rice’s latest transgression all the more appalling is that the whole attack was captured on camera because it was a casino — everything is on camera in a casino.

In the aftermath of Rice’s knockout blow to his fiancee, the terms assault, simple assault, and aggravated assault, have been thrown around interchangeably. For anyone who has ever taken a criminal law class, this can be infuriating. So buckle up and consider this an early bar review because it is time to crack open the New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice.

Since my criminal law experience is limited to one semester at the Burlington County Prosecutors Office, let’s play it safe and start with the statute itself. The New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice Section 2C:12-1. provides that a person is guilty of simple assault if he:

(1) Attempts to cause or purposely, knowingly or recklessly causes bodily injury to another; or

(2) Negligently causes bodily injury to another with a deadly weapon; or

(3) Attempts by physical menace to put another in fear of imminent serious bodily injury.

Simple assault is a disorderly persons offense unless committed in a fight or scuffle entered into by mutual consent, in which case it is a petty disorderly persons offense.

There is a lot of language to parse out, but most importantly, there are three ways for a person to commit simple assault. First, a person commits simple assault by either attempting to or actually causing someone else to suffer a “bodily injury.” The injury must have been caused either purposely, knowingly, or recklessly. A person acts recklessly when he “consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk” that his actions will cause an injury (N.J.S.A. § 2C:2-2(b)(3)). That means that a person is reckless when he is aware that his actions will likely cause the injury, but he just doesn’t care.

Second, simple assault can also occur if a person negligently injures someone else by using a deadly weapon. Third, it is also a simple assault to put another person in fear of suffering a serious bodily injury. A “bodily injury” occurs when a victim suffers at least some physical – not mental – injury or pain. That is because New Jersey law defines “bodily injury” as “physical pain, illness or any impairment of physical condition.” In contrast, a “serious bodily injury” creates a substantial risk of death, or long-term disfigurement or loss or impairment of an organ. (N.J.S.A. § 2C:11-1(a-b)).

Herein lies Rice’s best scenario. Rice will likely contend that there was an argument and his fiancee struck him first. Depending upon the quality of the video and potential audio of the casino surveillance footage, this type of he-said, she-said, she-slapped, he-punched, type of argument could open the door for Rice to plead to a disorderly persons offense under the simple assault statute.

A defendant convicted of simple assault can be fined or ordered to make restitution, or both. The fine cannot exceed $1,000 in the case of a conviction for a disorderly persons offense, or $500 for a petty disorderly persons conviction. A judge can, however, order a higher fine not to exceed double the amount of loss suffered by the victim. (N.J.S.A. § 2C:43-3).

In terms of aggravated assault, New Jersey holds that a person is guilty of aggravated assault if he:

(1) Attempts to cause serious bodily injury to another, or causes such injury purposely or knowingly or under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life recklessly causes such injury; or

(2) Attempts to cause or purposely or knowingly causes bodily injury to another with a deadly weapon; or

(3) Recklessly causes bodily injury to another with a deadly weapon; or

(4) Knowingly under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life points a firearm, as defined in section 2C:39-1f., at or in the direction of another, whether or not the actor believes it to be loaded; . . .

As of now it does not appear that Rice used a weapon, although his massive biceps are up there in terms of danger potential. However, that phrase “under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life” could come into play. This legalese focuses not on a defendant’s state of mind but instead upon on the circumstances under which the defendant acted. So, instead of considering whether a defendant acted knowingly, purposely, or recklessly, the extreme indifference standard asks whether a defendant’s conduct resulted in a probability as opposed to a mere possibility of injury. Punching a much smaller woman in a closed elevator might arise to that level.

Understandably, the penalties for aggravated assault are much greater than simple assault. Aggravated assault ranges from a lower level crime of the fourth degree up through a crime of the third degree to a higher level crime of the second degree. A defendant convicted of aggravated assault can be sentenced to a prison term or probation (or both), as well as fined and ordered to make restitution. A defendant convicted of a second degree crime can be sentenced to a prison term of anywhere between five years to ten years. In addition, the defendant can be fined up to $150,000. Conviction of a third degree crime carries a potential prison sentence of at least three years up to five years, and a fine that could be up to $15,000. The prison term for a fourth degree conviction cannot exceed 18 months, and a fine cannot be more than $1,000.

More than likely, someone of Rice’s stature, with his money and years of notoriety in New Jersey as a star at Rutgers will lead to a favorable plea deal. However, even if Rice avoids major legal punishment, he could take a huge hit in his wallet in terms of endorsement deals. Additionally, the $35 million commissioner, Roger Goodell, is above the law. He can dish out punishments under the NFL’s personal conduct policy without worrying about the rules of evidence.

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