Ray Rice Outrage Should Be Directed At New Jersey Legal System, Not NFL [Opinion]

The release of the Atlantic City casino video that showed Ray Rice knocking out his then fiancée Palmer resulted in the Baltimore Ravens running back being cut from the team and indefinitely suspended from the NFL. Additionally, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the league office has come under fire from women’s groups, sports reporters, and now, even Congress for its handling of the matter. Amazingly, little attention has been focused on the one group that had the initial responsibility for handling the domestic violence incident – the New Jersey legal system.

Rice was charge with simple assault-domestic violence on Feb. 15 of this year. A grand jury indicted the NFL star for third-degree aggravated assault on March 28 as ESPN reported at the time. This felony level charge was dropped by the Atlantic County prosecutor’s office s after Rice was granted entrance into a Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI) program for first-time offenders. This agreement signed off on by Superior Court Judge Michael Donio.

The program requires Rice to complete a year-long program that includes counseling and includes what is essentially a year of probation. However, the guidelines of the program are supposed to allow only individuals who have committed minor offenses. NJ Advance Media also reports prosecutors can deny entry if a crime was “deliberately committed with violence or threat of violence against another person.”

Ray Rice Janay Palmer Video
Ray Rice knocking Janay Palmer unconscious in an Atlantic City casino elevator.

Rice was indicted for a third-degree aggravated assault, a violent felony, as a reminder. The Atlantic County prosecutor office was in possession of the casino elevator video showing Rice violently punching a woman unconscious and chose to let him walk free and potentially expunge his arrest record of the offense once he completes the PTI program.

“Mr. Rice received the same treatment by the criminal justice system in Atlantic County that any first-time offender has, in similar circumstances,” said Jay McKeen, a spokesman for the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office as picked up by NorthJersey.com. “That decision was correct.”

Those words were contradicted by Paramus defense attorney Travis J. Tormey who said he’s had clients in similar cases denied entry into the diversion program. Those clients also didn’t have a video clearly showing their assault either.

“This is very unusual and kind of surprising that prosecutors allowed him into PTI if they had that video,” Tormey told NJ Advance Media. “In cases of domestic violence, it’s typically hard to get into PTI.”

Janay Palmer-Rice may have played a role in Rice gaining acceptance into the PTI program. Brian Neary, a New Jersey defense attorney, informed NorthJersey.com that prosecutors take into account the injuries sustained by the victim and whether they want the offender admitted into the program.

Single-mother Shaneen Allen waits for her day in court for a non-violent offense while Rice walks free.
Single-mother Shaneen Allen waits for her day in court for a non-violent offense while Rice walks free.

The uneven application of PTI is highlighted by the case of Shaneen Allen, a 27-year old single mother from Philadelphia who was arrested in New Jersey for carrying a handgun that was legally registered in her home state of Pennsylvania. As highlighted by Fox News, Allen committed no violent offense, but was denied entrance into PTI and faces and faces at least three and a half years in prison if convicted.

The Atlantic County prosecutor’s office has refused to respond to questions on how it chooses who is eligible for PTI. However, the PTI program is offered less than one percent of the time for cases involving domestic violence in New Jersey, according to a CBS Sports.

The NFL finds itself in a PR nightmare thanks to not only the Ray Rice situation but recent child-abuse charges involving Adrian Peterson as well. For the Rice case though, the decision to suspend Rice for only two games appears to be predicated on the leniency that Rice received from the Atlantic City prosecutor’s office and Superior Court Judge, as well.

The NFL’s handling of the case and whether the Goodell lied about never seeing the in-elevator video of Rice striking his fiancée should come under scrutiny. The amount of scrutiny the league is receiving is far more than necessary though when a Congressional Oversight Committee starts making rumblings that it will hold hearings.

There’s been little mention of the Atlantic County prosecutor’s decision to allow Rice into the PTI program outside of New Jersey. In reality, that is where the majority of the outrage and condemnation should be directed to pressure New Jersey politicians and prosecutors to enact change to ensure that violent domestic offenders do not get to walk free.

[Images via Getty Images, TMZ Sports, Fox News]

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