Words That Can Hurt You

How about another criminal justice post? It is a good one, believe me.

One conundrum I always wrestle with is what to do with someone who clearly broke the law, no ambiguity whatsoever, he is guilty, but had a perfectly plausible reason for his actions and either did it with noble motives, or at the very least, lacked Mens rea, a guilty mind? Some lesser examples, the guy speeding down highway to get his wife to the hospital, the street urchin who steals a loaf of bread from the baker to avert extreme starvation (less relevant in today’s society given our welfare system), or the guy that threatens the punk that insulted his sister in school. Or, something a bit more serious, the guy that cold cocks a loud mouth drunk for using a racial pejorative, then drunk hits his head on the pavement causing life threatening injuries;

Douglas Reddish, 25, was eating with his girlfriend at Benny’s Burritos in the city’s West Village neighborhood when a worse-for-wear Austin Dewan, 31, stumbled into their table on the sidewalk.
Witnesses said that Reddish jumped up to help the visibly inebriated Dewan, but when he slurred out ‘This n***** wants to fight me’, Reddish lost control and punched him.

If this happened in the movies, the drunk would pull himself off the ground, realize his bad form, and apologize, admitting whatever ass kicking he received was well deserved. But this drunk did not get up, he suffered a massive head injury from striking the pavement and is now in intensive care.

Most states define “fighting words“, as limits on free speech, and even make the utterances of these words a criminal offense, usually under the umbrella of disturbing the peace. But what about the guy that reacts to these words? The very definition includes words used to illicit a negative or violent reaction, but do we expect those victims on the other end to not take the bait, to control themselves and hope that a cop was within ear shot and heard the offending words so that he can effect an arrest?

Let’s discount the possibility that the puncher is some professional boxer or some trained kung fu m##ther f**ker, but is just a reasonably sized schmoe who reacted instinctively and decked the offending d bag. Most people on the receiving end of a punch does not drop like a sack of potatoes, and hit their head on the pavement, but it is reasonable to assume that a well placed punch with sufficient intensity good cause a lack of consciousness. And gravity being what it is, a crumpling to the pavement (hard concrete) is to be expected. I guess he could have dragged the drunk to the closest patch of grass, then took care of business, but the instantaneous reaction sorta goes hand in hand with the fighting words example.

And what happens if the guy dies, we gonna charge the puncher with some capital offense?

Despite that every fabric of my being screams that the drunk got what he deserved, eff him, and let the puncher go free, a crime was committed. I think in this instance a criminal complaint will be filed but wouldn’t you just love to sit on a jury like this?

We were talking about plea bargains in an earlier post, a case like this is taylor made for a plea bargain and as a DA (assuming the victim was not the son of the mayor or some other member of hoity-toity crowd) I would bend over backwards to give him something like misdemeanor battery with 3 years probation, no jail time. And I would charge the victim with disturbing the peace, even if it was his peace (and his noggin) that was disturbed.

Of course the DA does not have to file any charges at all, justice was in effect served here, the proper punishment was meted out, without the legal system getting involved.

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  1. Thrill

    We had a similar case in my town a couple of years ago. In that one, the jury sided with the defendant and he was acquitted of involuntary manslaughter.

    Remarkably, the defendant looked like this and the victim looked like this, if you can believe it.

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  2. Mook

    Something smells fishy about this story. Of course it’s possible that it happened exactly as the initial reports say, but it just seems like a stretch. Not a good sign that Reddish immediately fled the scene leaving his girlfriend at the table.

    I wonder, did ALL the witnesses confirm the same story, or did those witnesses who stated that the white guy yell the N word coincidentally all happen to be black?

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  3. InsipiD

    Witnesses said that Reddish jumped up to help the visibly inebriated Dewan, but when he slurred out ‘This n***** wants to fight me’, Reddish lost control and punched him.

    It turned out to be true…

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  4. Mississippi Yankee

    Most states define “fighting words“, as limits on free speech, and even make the utterances of these words a criminal offense, usually under the umbrella of disturbing the peace. But what about the guy that reacts to these words?

    Hasn’t this all been discontinued under the newly invented “Hate Crime” rule?

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  5. Biggie G

    We had a similar thing happen here in 2001.

    I only mention it because I have heard a lot of people (not here) say that GZ should have taken his beating like a man and then run home suitably chastened. It looks like this happens regularly. It is not the common outcome, but people die in fist fights. We are not all MMA fighters, and even they get hurt pretty badly, who can hop right up and keep going.

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  6. CM

    BTW speaking of fightin’, I’m enjoying the tv show Banshee (starring a Kiwi actor), Cinemax’s first big-budget drama. It’s pretty much an hour of fucking and fighting every episode. The most brutal fighting I’ve ever seen in a tv show. Example. And the most explicit sex too.

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  7. Mississippi Yankee

    Funny you should mention Banshee, saw an advert for season 2 on HBO tonight. Sadly it won’t be back until 2014 here.

    Must agree, if you’re into T&A (and I am) Banshee has it in aces. The fight scenes OTOH were so brutal they had a crusty old bastard like me cringing.

    BTW Cinemax also does Strike Back, another brutal f*ckfest about British special forces fighting terrorist in South Africa. Hell their theme song is worth the price of admission

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  8. CM

    Just watched the Season 1 final. Excellent. Quality trash. Looking forward to Season 2. Still not entirely sure that Antony Starr was the right guy for the lead though. But then it’s not his T&A I was staring at.

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  9. HARLEY

    yeup Banshee and Strike back are real gems in the T&A+asskicking Genre.. love it brutal hell..
    oh and the song for Strike back is also the theme song for the game Borderlands 2, yeah great tune.

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  10. Seattle Outcast

    From the time I sat on a jury for assault, we weren’t given any instructions on beating up drunks, but MA training was very heavy on appropriate use of force, and not getting prosecuted for overstepping the law. Most “kung-fu motherfuckers” would likely have used a method to induce a shitload of pain without actually causing any damage (joint locks, pressure points, etc) or dropped him on his ass while controlling the fall.

    And then left.

    Drunks are notoriously hard to take care of without really hurting them, but they can’t do shit to follow you around.

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  11. davidst

    No one should engage in violence except in defense against violence (or imminent threat of violence). The puncher should be charged with assault and if the victim incidentally died then perhaps manslaughter. That’s the law isn’t it? Don’t engage in violence unless you accept the possible consequences. Period. Maybe we need a public information campaign in schools or something to make this clear to people who are more likely to casually resort to violence.

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  12. Poosh

    Am I missing something, why isn’t Douglas Reddish in jail right now? Since when was it ok to physically hurt people because they hurt your feelings? Fighting words are entirely subjective. Perhaps I miss read the story.

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  13. richtaylor365 *

    Am I missing something, why isn’t Douglas Reddish in jail right now?

    Probably because they have not decided what exactly to charge him with.

    The puncher should be charged with assault and if the victim incidentally died then perhaps manslaughter. That’s the law isn’t it?

    Not arguing with any of that but I always like to look for mitigating factors. I can’t see me decking a guy because he called me a name (insulting my wife would be a different matter) so in that respect I see culpability. But I think a black man being called the N word is going to get a lot of leeway. I don’t pretend to understand all the visceral emotions regarding this word with the black community, and yes, people should control their emotions, but no DA in his right mind would willingly try a case like this because of the racial baggage attached. A nice quiet plea bargain with no jail time will likely be the best result for everyone.

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