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How the NFL Can Really Help Domestic Violence Victims

Saturday, September 13th, 2014
Ray Rice @ Wikipedia

Ray Rice @ Wikipedia

The controversy surrounding the Ray Rice incident of hitting  and punching his now wife, Janay Palmer unconscious  in a an elevator in February, 2014 highlights why the Violence Against Women Act was passed 20 years ago and why it needs further awareness  and support even today. It further provides an opportunity for what the  NFL’s 32 teams and Commissioner Roger Goodell can do if they really mean business about  a no tolerance policy against domestic violence.


Twenty years ago today, the Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA”) was signed into law by President Bill Clinton.   At that time, an assault of hitting, kicking, pushing or severely injuring a woman by a male partner was considered a “family affair”.  And it is so ironic that even today Janay Rice posts to her Instagram and Twitter accounts that the incident involving her husband is a “personal one”.  Sorry Janay but there is nothing personal about the occurrence of a criminal act.  That’s why court records are public records and open for anyone to view. And there is nothing personal about domestic violence which hurts and affects  more than the two individuals involved.


Twenty years ago, according to a statement released today by Vice President Joe Biden, who was instrumental as a Senator in getting the “VAWA” passed, “Women who had their arms broken with hammers and heads beaten with pipes, were among the 21,000 women who were assaulted, raped, and murdered in a single week in America at the time.”   And  it includes women who have been violently knocked unconscious by their mates today. The “VAWA” has been strengthened since it first passage to include date violence, investments for health providers to screen patients for domestic violence,   making services available to  LGBT  persons and for Native American  tribes to be able to prosecute non-Indian offenders.


More resources need to be made available to domestic violence hotlines and counselors across the country.  Most are stretched in terms of resources.  Since the Ray Rice incident and revelation of the video inside the elevator, many domestic violence hot line calls have drastically increased by over 50% in some incidents.   The National Domestic violence Hotline saw an 84% increase in calls following the 2 days after the Rice video was leaked. There is often some good in some bad incidents. And the good that is occurring now as a result of the Rice incident is a further awareness of violence against women, how far we’ve come and yet how far we must still go.   And if Roger  Goodell and the NFL is really committed to taking a strong stand against domestic violence, they should put their money where their mouth is.  All 32  NFL teams should be required to commit substantial monetary contributions yearly to organizations in the forefront of fighting domestic violence.  And just like in the ALS “bucket challenge”, the NFL should challenge the National Hockey League, the National Basketball league and Major League Baseball to do the same thing. That would show the intentions of the NFL are real and not merely lip service in the fight against violence against women.


Vice President Biden announced this week that the White House intends to convene a summit bringing  together legal experts, scholars, and  advocates on Civil Rights and Equal Protection for Women.  We know from the Ray Rice incident that bias against victims of rape and sexual assault still exists in our criminal justice system and in  the court of public opinion.   And we still have a way to go to make sure that every victim has a basic civil right to equal protection under the law.  And last but not least, if you are experiencing  or know of anyone experiencing  any form of domestic violence,  VAWA created the  anonymous National Domestic Violence Hotline, which you can visit here,* or dial 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for help and advice.

Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer and former prosecutor who has prosecuted crimes of domestic violence against women. She is a contributor to the Women’s Media Center often seen in the media addressing issues on gender and race.







Ray Rice Fans and Supporters Need a Reality Check

Friday, September 12th, 2014

Ray Rice @ Wikipedia

Ray Rice @ Wikipedia

The Chris Brown type  supporting Ray Rice fans who still support their man in spite of proof before their eyes of a violent attack in February on Janay Rice need a reality check. On Thursday night with the Ravens game held in Baltimore against the Pittsburgh Steelers, many Baltimore Ravens fans, both men and women, were spotted wearing Ray Rice’s No. 27 jersey, standing by their man.  Many fans, who were interviewed, did not think that Rice deserved to be terminated from the Ravens and receive an indefinite suspension from the NFL.  There are two sides to a coin and often two sides to a discussion.  However, in this instance, those in full support of Ray Rice are in denial of what occurred and misunderstand why he was terminated from the Ravens.


Supporting Rice fans on Thursday stated it was a personal matter between Rice and his now wife, Janay Rice. It was a personal matter.  As for former NFL player Ray Rice, his employment contract, as with all NFL contracts, had a morals clause. NFL contracts and most   endorsement company contracts have what is termed a “morals clause”.   These morals clauses allow a team, company or sports league to terminate a player’s contract for criminal activity or behavior or conduct that is unbefitting to an athlete or the team’s brands.  Morals clauses are general in nature and may cover a large range of incidents.  In legal terms, they may be referred to as a “catch – all” category.    Morals clauses are found also in the NBA, Major League Baseball (“MLB”) and National Hockey League (“NHL”).  These clauses are in the leagues’ constitutions and in the players individual contracts giving power to a team or Commissioner to fine, suspend or terminate a player whose behavior or conduct does not conform to standards of morality, is in violation of criminal laws or is otherwise detrimental to the team or league.


Many sports players are also terminated from endorsement contracts due to a morals clause as in the case of Tiger Woods for his infidelity to his now ex-wife due to the famous mistresses scandal.  It was a personal matter that was not criminal but yet the morals clause caused him to lose his many multi-million dollar endorsements at that time.  Other athletes lost lucrative endorsement contracts due to a morals clause such as Michael Vick, Kobe Bryant and  Olympic Gold medalist swimmer Michael Phelps for admitting to marijuana use. And in the case of morals clauses,   there are many behaviors that may cause a termination that do not result in a criminal conviction such as   arrests for drunk driving, drug use, domestic scandals and public fights.  Generally speaking, a   morals clause is always in the best interest of the employer, team, company or franchise.   They are always subjective in the eyes of the entity enforcing the clause and give them absolute discretion to enforce them.


However, in many instances, employees have personal matters that cause their termination from the job.  By way of example, some federal government employees with a high security clearance who are arrested for an assault without a conviction may be subject to termination.   Having represented persons in this position, I was surprised to learn at the time that even without a conviction, it can cause job jeopardy.  And as a prosecutor, my former office had a no tolerance policy against drunk driving arrests and other “personal” criminal offenses occurring on personal time.  A drunk driving arrest was cause for termination.  In some corporate employee positions, an assault on a wife, family member or others can lead to termination of one’s job.  And Catholic schools are now requiring their teachers to sign morality clauses which could invalidate their employment for behavior similar to Rice’s elevator assault.

Some of the Baltimore Ravens fans who support Ray Rice may also be employed in positions and jobs that will result in their termination due to morality clauses.     These Rice supporters need a reality check.


Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer and former Baltimore prosecutor who  often appears in the media addressing issues of  gender and race in the law.


Charles Severance Indicted in 3 VA Murders

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014




Charles Severance was indicted on 3 murders in Alexandria, VA from 2003 killing of realtor Nancy Dunning, 2013 killing of transportation planner Ron Kirby and beloved music teacher Ruthanne Lodato in February, 2014.  In a surprise move, the prosecutors declined to seek the death penalty even though the Grand Jury indictment on 2 capital cases pursuant to VA law in Lodato and Kirby.  The third case of Nancy Dunning was outside the 3 year period of time for a capital murder case.   Severance is currently in jail on a weapons violation which has a trial date in October, 2014.   The case was investigated by the FBI, Alexandria police and the VA State police to bring about the indictments.   Of the three cases, the one involving Ruthanne Lodato is the strongest with a living eyewitness who made the composite sketch which looks identical to Severance.   The killing of Nancy Dunning in 2003 is the weakest case as her now deceased husband, former Alexandria sheriff was the suspect for many years. He died as a suspect.  Severance once arraigned on the charges will provide light on whether his attorneys will seek a psychiatric evaluation based on his unstable mental condition.


On Tuesday, September 9, I analyzed the case on DC’s  Fox 5  morning news show with insights presently known about the case.  Watch here and stay tuned for updates:


Ray Rice’s Domestic Abuse “Nightmare” is his Own Fault

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

Ray Rice @ Wikipedia

Ray Rice @ Wikipedia

Former NFL Ravens player Ray Rice has no one to blame except himself for his  termination from the Baltimore Ravens, indefinite  NFL suspension and  possible loss of his football career due to the domestic violence inflicted on his then fiancé and now wife, Janay Rice.  This is not about media “ratings” as his wife posted in an Instagram. This is about the NFL finally getting it right this time, after so long getting it wrong.  And what happened to Ray Rice is what happens across America every day.  He acted out his  violent temper on his fiancé, knocking her unconscious.  He and the Ravens tried to make it seem like it was only 30 seconds in his life. Well, I hate to be the one to let the Ravens, Rice and the NFL in on a simple truth.  Every person, who appears in a court room as a criminal defendant and is convicted, wishes they had 30 seconds back of their life too. It doesn’t take hours, days or minutes to commit a crime. It usually takes only seconds of one’s lifetime.  And the repercussions often last a lifetime.

And Ray Rice is not in a league of his own when it comes to domestic violence.  Unfortunately, there are thousands of Ray Rice’s every day across this nation. And there are many victims like Janay Rice’s too.  One in four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime.  And every year one in three women who are victims of homicide is murdered by her current or former partner.  Most abusers do not receive treatment, a  criminal conviction or even a slap on the wrist for their transgressions as their victims do not prosecute or the courts fail to protect them with protective orders and other remedies.  But as someone who has prosecuted and at times defended persons who committed domestic violence, Ray Rice does not also stand alone in the type of punishment given out to him.  I have seen defendants who were corporate employees lose high level jobs due to domestic violence at home.  It’s rare for employers to take domestic abuse as unacceptable behavior but it does occasionally happen.


And domestic violence against women, unlike some other crimes, is often one that lasts a lifetime in the world of the abused victim.   There are psychological scars left with the victim that  may last for quite some time from denial, remorse, fault and many others.  We have already seen some of these play out in Janay Rice who apologized for her fault in Ray Rice’s behavior during the press conference held at the Raven’s facility earlier this year. And Janay Rice posted on her Instagram account comments indicating the unfairness of his punishment, thinking it was due to media  “ratings” and calling it a “nightmare”.  Janay Rice is like many victims of domestic violence who think everyone and everything is at fault for their abuse except their abuser. Hopefully Janay Rice will get the help she needs to understand that what happened was bigger than any media ratings and she bore no fault for its aftermath. There is nothing that she did which should cause or warrant her fiancé or any man to hit, punch and knock her out unconscious. And no apology was needed on her part.  And the real nightmare  for Janay Rice happened in February, 2014 inside the Revel Casino elevator in Atlantic City and not yesterday with his suspension and termination.

The NFL and the Ravens management and owners  and even the Atlantic City prosecutors got it all wrong.  The 30 seconds of Ray Rice’s abusive life didn’t just start in Atlantic City a few months ago.  There was something deeply wrong and flawed with Rice to be able to punch out his wife regardless of what transpired in the elevator or before the incident.  And Ray Rice needs the rest of his life to reflect and  continually seek help for what happened.  And he should not blame Roger Goodell, the NFL, the Baltimore Ravens or his wife.  He and only he is the one that is to blame.

Debbie Hines is a former Baltimore prosecutor who has prosecuted and defended assault cases of domestic violence.  She often speaks in the media on issues of gender and race in the law having appeared on Arise TV, BET, C-Span, Fox 5, RT America, Sky News and TV One among others.



Women’s Equality Day and Still More Work to Do

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014
The headquarters of Colored Women Voters, located in Georgia, an early 20th-century suffragist organization

The headquarters of Colored Women Voters, located in Georgia, an early 20th-century suffragist organization

Today marks Women’s Equality Day—the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution giving women the right to vote. Women have come a long way since the early days of women’s suffrage which ultimately led to the passage of the 19th amendment- granting women the right to vote on August 26, 1920. As we celebrate Women’s Equality Day on August 26, marking the day women received the right to vote in 1920, a move has been affront for the past several years to disenfranchise women. Whether indirectly or directly, the result of many new voter ID laws may be the same. Voter ID laws enacted now in over half the states, requiring voters to present some form of identification as a requirement to vote place unreasonable burdens on many women when casting their vote.

States requiring voters to register with proof of citizenship is more problematic for women than for men. A survey by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU law school shows that only 66 percent of voting-age women with ready access to any proof of citizenship have a document with their current legal name. Women who have recently married or divorced and have changed their names—and whose passport, naturalization papers or birth certificate are in their former names—will then be required to obtain a certified court document showing the divorce decree or marriage certificate. These documents vary in cost from state to state but can cost upwards of $25 plus any time off work to obtain them. The certified court documents may not even be in the state where you now reside, further delaying and complicating matters.

For those women who are already registered to vote, the same problem will hold true. The photo ID must be in the same name that is registered with the Election Board. Hence, any recent changes in name from divorce or marriage will require certified proof of the name change along with the new photo ID. Of course, most men need not endure such onerous paper trail requirements. But U.S. women change their names in 90 percent of marriages. Karen Celestino-Horseman, an attorney for the League of Women Voters, says “women in particular are going to be impacted,” by requirements that they produce documents authenticating every name change in cases of marriage and divorce.

Women hold the keys to the 2014 midterm election. Since the 1980’s women have been voting more than men. In 2008 10 million more women showed up at the polls than men. And in battleground states where women outvote men in the hundreds of thousands, women’s votes are crucial. In 2012 Presidential election, women represented over 50% of the vote. And in every election since 1996, women were more likely to vote than men. And equal access to the polls is paramount for all. Women and particularly women of color who fought so hard for suffrage and became the last to get that right must continue to fight oppressive voter ID laws.

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, former prosecutor and founder of LegalSpeaks. As a legal and political commentator she has appeared in national and local media including the Michael Eric Dyson Show, NBC, ABC and CBS affiliates, C-Span, BET, Sky News, CBC-Canada among others. She also writes for the Huffington Post and the Women’s Media Center.

An Unlikely Grand Jury Outcome for Mike Brown

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

FergusonMOThe St. Louis prosecutor, Robert McCullough, has started the Grand Jury process involving the shooting death of Michael Brown. It could take as long as two months before it is concluded as the grand jury only meets once a week. Time will tell but based on the makeup of the St. Louis Grand Jury which is 75% white, there is little reason, in my opinion, to believe that a majority white Grand Jury will indict Officer Darren Wilson. White people have not had the experiences with police officers that young black men encounter on a daily basis all across America. And the grand jurors’ decision will likely fall among racial lines. This is despite the fact that most whites don’t see what happened to Michael Brown as racially motivated.

PEW research conducted during the period of August 14 – 17 shows the racial divide on Ferguson. When asked if the shooting was a racial issue, 80% of African Americans who were polled responded “yes” while only 43% of whites feel the shooting of Michael Brown was a race issue. And while 65% of African Americans believe the police have gone too far in Ferguson, only 33% of whites in the poll believe the police have gone too far. Very few African Americans have confidence in the investigation into the shooting death of Mike Brown. Over half of white Americans have confidence in the investigation versus only 18% of African Americans.


Another reason of the unlikeness of an indictment is how the Ferguson police handled the case. The Ferguson police killed Mike Brown and then the Ferguson Police Chief assassinated his character by showing a robbery video to the public. Meanwhile, the St. Louis prosecutor has said he intends to keep witness statements out of the public. And they tried to keep the identity of the officer hidden until they were forced to reveal his name. And no incident report has surfaced to date. Yet , the police chose to show Mike Brown on videotape in the convenience store with a purported robbery.   Can anyone spell double standard? As a young black man, Michael Brown’s life is already devalued by many in America. Many non-minorities never see the humanity of black men. Instead they only see thugs, killers, robbers, drug users and always someone “up to no good”.   “Up to no good” has become the standard defense in cases involving a killing of a black man. The victim was probably “up to no good” as if to say he or she got what they deserved.

And perhaps the main reason for the lack of confidence in an indictment against Officer Darren Wilson stems from Robert McCullough, the County Prosecutor who is presenting the case to the Grand Jury. McCullough comes from a family of police officers and wanted to become a police officer. His father was an officer and was killed when McCullough was 12. McCullough’s dream of becoming a police officer was abandoned when he lost a leg to cancer. Yet, with all the appearances of his inability to be objective, McCullough refused to allow a special prosecutor to be appointed. He decides what evidence to bring before the Grand Jury.

McCullough says all witnesses will be taken before the Grand Jury.   The Grand Jury indictment standard is well below the one of reasonable doubt in trials. In theory, the standard in which to indict is a much lower standard. And unlike a criminal trial, the decision of the grand jurors does not have to be unanimous for an indictment to issue—only 9 in favor are required. And so as the Grand Jury process begins, I hope for an indictment but do not expect an indictment against Darren Wilson for the death of Mike Brown. The deck was stacked against Mike Brown long before August 9. And even after death, the deck is still stacked against him. He was, after all, a black man in America.


Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, legal analyst and former prosecutor. She frequently appears in the media addressing issues of race, class and gender in the law.