Tag: instant justice

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.