“Who Started It?!” or Self-Defense in Domestic Violence Cases

Ray Rice and Jay Z have a lot in common, actually. Both were attacked by women. However, how they chose to deal with it has everything to do with why Ray Rice was initially suspended from the NFL and Jay Z emerged from his situation smelling like a rose.

Many times the alleged victim is the initial aggressor.

The video of the Ray Rice showdown in the elevator and the video of Solange Knowles attacking Jay Z illustrate just how complicated domestic violence or assault cases case can be. It looks to me like Ray Rice’s wife hit him twice and then came towards him again before he delivered the knockout blow. This is exactly like the scenario that I often see I my cases time and time again, where the alleged victim is the initial aggressor. If people disagree with each other enough to argue to the point of blows in the first place, of course they are going to also disagree about who actually started the fight in the first place.

In California, “defense of self” and “defense of others” are well-known doctrines criminal defense lawyers use when defending their clients against domestic violence and assault charges.

Years ago I spoke to a group of female “lifers” who are incarcerated at California Institution for Women. Each one of them had been convicted of murdering their romantic partner. Most of them believed that they were poorly represented a trial by male, public defenders, and that their “victims” were actually their batterers and the initial aggressor in the conflict which led to their arrest, trial, and ultimate incarceration. Many times, they claimed, they were unable to introduce at trial evidence of the history of domestic abuse that occurred prior to the incident for which they were serving time. Most of them believed that their lawyers did not want to take the time to listen to their stories, that their story never came out in their trial. Now, to me, that is a crime.

Even with a lawyer who is passionately committed to vigorously defending you, it is still always a challenge to mount a self-defense defense. You will have to prove that amount of force used was reasonable.  Very often I have had to deal with pro-prosecution judges and who did all they could to stop me from putting on my client’s case and from introducing all the evidence we had to support of a self-defense defense. Reality check: Judges have a lot of power.

As long as there are humans on the planet, they will fight. There will always be occasions where one must use force to defend oneself or another, where one will have to stand their ground. And inevitably, in some of these cases the question will arise as to Who Started It?”   If you or someone you know has been charged with assault or domestic violence, choose your lawyer wisely.   Make sure that you feel in your own heart that he or she has the insight, the compassion, the commitment and the heart to discover your story and to fully understand the context in which the conflict arose. Next, ask yourself whether they have the passion and the tenacity to fight for you in court so that your story will be heard.


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