Program that accepted Rice rare in domestic cases

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Program that accepted Rice rare in domestic cases
Janay Rice, back left, looks on as her husband, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, speaks during an NFL football news conference, Friday, May 23, 2014, at the team's practice facility in Owings Mills, Md. Ray Rice spoke to the media for the first time since his arrest for assaulting his fiance, now his wife, at a casino in Atlantic City, N.J. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
FILE - In this Jan. 30, 2013, file photo, Jeffery Miller, NFL vice president of security, addresses the media at a news conference for Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans. The video of Ray Rice punching his fiancee inside a casino elevator was sent to NFL headquarters to the attention of Miller in April, a law enforcement official says. The NFL has repeatedly said no one with the league saw the violent images until TMZ Sports released the video earlier this month. Miller said Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014, through an NFL spokesman that he never received the video. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)
OWINGS MILLS, MD - MAY 23: Running back Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens pauses while addressing a news conference with his wife Janay at the Ravens training center on May 23, 2014 in Owings Mills, Maryland. Rice spoke publicly for the first time since facing felony assault charges stemming from a February incident involving Janay at an Atlantic City casino. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
FILE - In this Aug. 7, 2014, file photo, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice sits on the sideline in the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the San Francisco 49ers in Baltimore. The Ravens have cut Ray Rice. Hours after the release of a video that appears to show Rice striking his then-fiancee in February, the team terminated his contract Monday, Sept. 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Nick Wass, File)
Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, right, speaks alongside his wife Janay during an NFL football news conference, Friday, May 23, 2014, at the team's practice facility in Owings Mills, Md. Ray Rice spoke to the media for the first time since his arrest for assaulting his fiance, now his wife, at a casino in Atlantic City, N.J. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
FILE - In this July 31, 2014, file photo, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, right, walks off the field with Justin Forsett before addressing the media at a news conference in Owings Mills, Md. The Ravens have cut Ray Rice. Hours after the release of a video that appears to show Rice striking his then-fiancee in February, the team terminated his contract Monday, Sept. 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Gail Burton, File)
Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, right, speaks alongside his wife Janay during an NFL football news conference, Friday, May 23, 2014, at the team's practice facility in Owings Mills, Md. Ray Rice spoke to the media for the first time since his arrest for assaulting his fiance, now his wife, at a casino in Atlantic City, N.J. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Janay Rice listens as her husband, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, not pictured, speaks during an NFL football news conference, Friday, May 23, 2014, at the team's practice facility in Owings Mills, Md. Ray Rice spoke to the media for the first time since his arrest for assaulting his fiance, now his wife, at a casino in Atlantic City, N.J. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Ravens running back Ray Rice and his wife Janay made statements to the news media May 5, 2014, at the Under Armour Performance Center in Owings Mills, Md, regarding his assault charge for knocking her unconscious in a New Jersey casino. On Monday, Sept. 9, 2014, Rice was let go from the Baltimore Ravens after a video surfaced from TMZ showing the incident. (Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun/MCT via Getty Images)
Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice answers question during a news conference after NFL football training camp, Thursday, July 31, 2014, in Owings Mills, Md.(AP Photo/Gail Burton)
ARLINGTON, TX - AUGUST 16: Ray Rice #27 of the Baltimore Ravens sits on the bench against the Dallas Cowboys in the first half of their preseason game at AT&T Stadium on August 16, 2014 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, TX - AUGUST 16: Ray Rice #27 of the Baltimore Ravens smiles during warm ups before their game against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on August 16, 2014 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
OWINGS MILLS, MD - MAY 23: Baltimore Ravens assistant director of public relations Patrick M. Gleason holds the door as running back Ray Rice enter a news conference followed by his wife Janay Rice and Ravens team President Dick Cass at the Ravens training center on May 23, 2014 in Owings Mills, Maryland. Rice spoke publicly for the first time since facing felony assault charges stemming from a February incident involving Janay at an Atlantic City casino. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice enters an NFL football news conference with his wife Janay, back right,, Friday, May 23, 2014, at the team's practice facility in Owings Mills, Md. Rice spoke to the media for the first time since his arrest for assaulting his fiance, now his wife, at a casino in Atlantic City, N.J. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Baltimore Ravens football player and former Rutgers University standout, Ray Rice holds hands with his wife Janay Palmer as they arrive at Atlantic County Criminal Courthouse in Mays Landing, N.J., Thursday, May 1, 2014. After Rice and Janay Palmer got into a physical altercation on Feb. 15 at an Atlantic City casino, both were charged with simple assault-domestic violence. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, left, leaves a NFL football news conference with his wife Janay, Friday, May 23, 2014, at the team's practice facility in Owings Mills, Md. Ray Rice spoke to the media for the first time since his arrest for assaulting his fiance, now his wife, at a casino in Atlantic City, N.J. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, left, looks back as he hugs his father-in-law Joe Palmer after an NFL football news conference, Friday, May 23, 2014, at the team's practice facility in Owings Mills, Md. Rice spoke to the media for the first time since his arrest for assaulting his fiance, now his wife, at a casino in Atlantic City, N.J. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice pauses as he speaks during an NFL football news conference, Friday, May 23, 2014, at the team's practice facility in Owings Mills, Md. Rice and his wife Janay spoke to the media for the first time since his arrest for assaulting his then-fiance at a casino in Atlantic City, N.J. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Baltimore Ravens football player and former Rutgers University standout, Ray Rice holds hands with his wife Janay Palmer as they arrive at Atlantic County Criminal Courthouse in Mays Landing, N.J., Thursday, May 1, 2014. After Rice and Janay Palmer got into a physical altercation on Feb. 15 at an Atlantic City casino, both were charged with simple assault-domestic violence. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
Baltimore Ravens football player Ray Rice, second from left, and his attorney Michael Diamondstein stand during Rice's arraignment at the Atlantic County Courthouse Thursday, May 1, 2014, in Mays Landing, N.J. Rice's wife Janay Palmer is seated at right. After Rice and Palmer got into a physical altercation on Feb. 15 at an Atlantic City casino, both were charged with simple assault-domestic violence. (AP Photo/The Philadelphia Inquirer, Tom Gralish, Pool)
Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice removes his jersey after a training camp practice, Thursday, July 24, 2014, at the team's practice facility in Owings Mills, Md. (AP Photo)
Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice walks off the field after a training camp practice, Thursday, July 24, 2014, at the team's practice facility in Owings Mills, Md. (AP Photo)
SANTA CLARA, CA - JULY 17: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sits in the crowd during the the Ribbon Cutting Ceremony for Levi Stadium on July 17, 2014 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)
Maine Governor Paul LePage in his office at the State House in Augusta. LePage, who was beaten by his father when he was young and has made domestic abuse prevention and awareness a priority of his administration, wrote a scathing letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell about the controversial two-game suspension levied on Ray Rice after a domestic incident involving his wife at a N.J. hotel.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks at a press conference at the NFL's spring meeting, Tuesday, May 20, 2014, in Atlanta. Goodell has been criticized for suspending Ravens running back Ray Rice for two games following a domestic incident at a N.J. hotel.
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BY GEOFF MULVIHILL and SEAN CARLIN

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - The offender-rehabilitation program former Baltimore Raven Ray Rice was allowed into after knocking his fiancee unconscious in an Atlantic City elevator is rarely used in domestic assault cases - but whether that means he got special treatment because of his stardom remains up in the air, depending on whom you ask.

Only 70 of the more than 15,000 domestic violence assault cases adjudicated from 2010 to 2013 in New Jersey's Superior Court were admitted into the pretrial intervention program, according to records obtained by The Associated Press. The program, known as PTI, allows suspects to avoid incarceration and keep their records clean if they meet agreed-upon requirements.

Video released by TMZ Sports last week shows Rice punching Janay Rice, at the time his fiancee and now his wife, in the face and knocking her unconscious Feb. 15 at Revel Casino Hotel.

Advocates for victims of domestic violence have accused investigators of being too lenient on Rice, and lawmakers have called for a review. Defense attorneys and experts disagree about whether his stardom led to leniency, with some saying Rice's fame, if anything, gave the case more scrutiny.

Rice was initially suspended for two games but was released by the Ravens and barred indefinitely by the NFL after the video from inside the elevator was released last week and league Commissioner Roger Goodell drew criticism for the earlier punishment.

More than half of the 15,000 total domestic violence cases were dismissed or referred to lower-level municipal courts. Rice's case started out in municipal court, but county prosecutors took over the case after the release of the February video. Rice pleaded not guilty, and prosecutors signed off on his request to be placed into the PTI program, which is available only in state Superior Court.

Cases are often downgraded or dismissed because the alleged victims do not want to go ahead with charges, said Sandy Clark, associate director of the New Jersey Coalition for Battered Women. That is the case with Janay Rice, who married Ray Rice a day after a grand jury indicted him.

Under terms of his PTI, Rice agreed to pay $125 in fines and receive anger management counseling.

Simple assault charges are far more frequent in domestic violence cases than the more serious aggravated assault charge Rice received, Clark said.

"With third-degree aggravated assault, I would like to think those do not wind up being dismissed," Clark said.

Rice's case appears to have been handled more harshly, in fact, because of his fame, according to New Jersey defense attorney James Leonard Jr. and John C. Lore III, a professor at Rutgers School of Law in Camden. Two other defense attorneys said that Rice's celebrity could have played a role in the case getting more legal attention.

Leonard Jr. said that the case should have remained in a municipal court - where, if it had, it stood a better chance of being thrown out altogether.

"It's irresponsible for people to suggest that the courts and the prosecutors turn a blind eye," he said. "Those cases are reviewed very, very thoroughly."

Rice's attorney did not return a message left after business hours Monday but said earlier that his client was an excellent candidate for the program.

"He's just a high-character individual," attorney Michael Diamondstein said. "He's a good guy."

New Jersey guidelines advise that those who commit violent crimes should "generally be rejected" from the program, but Atlantic County Prosecutor Jim McClain, who handled the case, says he signed off on it after reviewing the circumstances and consulting with Janay Rice.

She indicated through her lawyer this year that she did not want the case to proceed. She has supported her husband and criticized his indefinite suspension by the NFL.

McClain has declined the AP's interview requests. But he has defended Rice's entry into the diversion program and told The Press of Atlantic City that Rice likely would have received probation rather than the three to five years in jail the charge allows for if he were convicted at trial.

"Just like it is not just or fair to go easier on somebody because of who they are, neither is it fair or just to go heavier on somebody because of who they are," McClain told the newspaper. "I felt, and still feel, this disposition was appropriate."

The intervention program is seen as a key tool as the state tries to keep low-level suspects out of jail.

Defendants can have charges dismissed if they meet all conditions of the pretrial intervention. Conditions can include random urine monitoring, community service, and restitution. PTI supervision averages from one to three years, according to the state.

Of the 15,029 people charged with assault in domestic violence cases from 2010 to 2013, 8,203 had their cases dismissed or downgraded to a lower court, according to the data provided by the state judiciary. Nearly 3,100 pleaded guilty, 13 were found guilty at trial and nine were found not guilty.

The data were first reported last week by ESPN. They do not break down the charges by level of offense, so it is not clear how other cases charged as third-degree crimes were handled.

New Jersey should perform more complex assessments of cases, Clark said, including assessing how dangerous suspects are, even if it means going against the victim's wishes in some cases.

Some lawmakers have called for reviews of the handling of the Rice case specifically and whether it is appropriate to use PTI in such cases, but the state attorney general's office has not said whether it will conduct one.

Gov. Chris Christie would not discuss the handling of Rice's case but defended the intervention program generally, calling it line with the goal of keeping nonviolent suspects and offenders out of jail.

People who commit domestic violence can be rehabilitated, and more cases should probably go into pretrial diversion programs than to trial, said John Hamel, a San Francisco-based social worker who founded the Association of Domestic Violence Intervention Providers.

But most domestic violence cases involve pushing or shoving, or maybe throwing an object, Hamel noted. The level of violence in the Rice video - in which Janay Rice lost consciousness - was so extreme that Hamel believes the NFL player should have been dealt with more harshly.

"It looked like she was moving toward him to hit him or something," Hamel said. "He could have grabbed her, but he knocked her out."

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