At 6’ 3” and weighing in at 415 pounds, the bouncer needed every inch of the witness box. To say that he was a big guy doesn’t nearly paint the picture, but I’m a D.C. criminal defense lawyer, not a novelist. So, he was a big guy. But don’t call him a bouncer, because as he pointed out to me during cross-examination, he finds the term “derogatory.” He prefers, “security.” Fair enough.
In Washington, D.C.,” “bouncer” certainly is a derogatory term, mostly because they have a reputation for getting a little handsy. And by getting handsy, I mean pummeling D.C. club goers who get a little too drunk, rambunctious, or simply in the way. It’s well known and accepted that bouncers, er, club security officers are there to toss unruly patrons out on their ears. It’s what they do. But what gives them the right to do it? In a recent simple assault trial, I argued that nothing gives them the right. And the judge agreed.
My client was on trial for assaulting the aforementioned 415 lb. bouncer and his bouncer buddy, while he was being “escorted,” from a Washington, D.C. club. My client was arguably drunk, but not unruly, and he hadn’t been fighting. The bouncer testified that my client threw a punch at him, nicking his chin. The security footage supported this accusation, so game over, right? Not so fast. Because the video also showed what the bouncer meant by “escorted.” As my client moved towards the door, the bouncer shoved him, not once, not twice, but three times. He’s a bouncer doing his job, so what’s the big deal? Well, the big deal is that each one of those shoves constitutes an assault by the bouncer, on my client.
Self-defense is probably the most common defense in assault cases. A Washington, D.C. citizen has a right to defend himself against physical attack. The test is whether the attacked person believed that he or she was in imminent danger of bodily harm, and whether that belief was reasonable at the time. The amount of force used to defend oneself must also be reasonable.
In my D.C. assault case, once the gargantuan bouncer began shoving my much smaller client, my client had the absolute right to physically defend himself. To the law, and to the judge, the fact that the bouncer was hired by his employer to do exactly what he was doing makes no difference. Bouncers have no special authority to put their hands on customers. The law treats them no differently than the clerk at the counter at your local convenience store, or the waiter at your favorite restaurant. Can you imagine either of the those employees attempting to physically remove a customer or diner? Of course not. If they want someone to leave their place of business, then can ask, they can demand, but they can not physically do it themselves. Their remedy is contacting the police. That is the same remedy available to a club bouncer.
While the judge delivered her not-guilty verdict, she made it very clear that she recognized that the punch thrown by my client was an act of self-defense, in response to the bouncer’s repeated shoving. Given the size of the bouncer, the punch was a perfectly reasonable amount of force. Hopefully the message that bouncers cannot assault customer with impunity was loudly and clearly received. More than likely, it was not.