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N.J. officials say Rice got no special treatment

Ray Rice, the former Baltimore Ravens running back shown in an elevator video punching his then-fiancee, didn’t get special treatment by avoiding jail and probation, according to New Jersey prosecutors.

The video showing Rice knocking Janay Palmer unconscious in an Atlantic City casino on Feb. 15 was released Monday by the website TMZ, prompting the Ravens to cut him with three years remaining on a five-year, $35 million contract. The NFL suspended Rice indefinitely.

In May, Atlantic County Prosecutor James McClain agreed to let Rice enter the Pre-Trial Intervention program, an alternative to prosecution giving defendants an opportunity to rehabilitate. If Rice completes an anger management program and complies with other terms, the charges will be dropped and he won’t have a record of conviction, according to the New Jersey Courts website.

“Mr. Rice received the same treatment by the criminal justice system in Atlantic County that any first-time offender has in similar circumstances,” Jay McKeen, a spokesman for McClain, said Tuesday in an email. “The decision was correct.”

Lawmakers in Trenton criticized the state’s PTI program, which lets first-time offenders avoid prosecution for third- or fourth-degree crimes. Gov. Chris Christie said he wouldn’t get involved.

Rice, 27, and Palmer were each charged with misdemeanor assault after the 2:52 a.m. incident at the now-closed Revel Casino Hotel. On March 27, Rice was indicted on a charge of aggravated assault, a third-degree offense that can carry a penalty of three to five years in prison.

The complaint against Palmer was dismissed. Palmer and Rice married a day later. She supported his PTI application.

“I don’t think that was a tailor-made resolution for a pro football player,” said Joseph Hayden, a defense lawyer in New Jersey for 45 years who’s not involved in the case. “The victim didn’t want this prosecuted. She’s married to him. I’m not excusing the conduct. It’s inexcusable. But the wishes of the victim normally count for first-time offenders.”

Another defense lawyer not involved in the case, Jack Arseneault, said domestic violence convictions are difficult without the cooperation of the victim.

“Domestic violence cases routinely get PTI, sometimes when the physical violence is worse than what we see in that video, which paints a very graphic picture,” Arseneault said.

At Rice’s arraignment, prosecutors offered a plea bargain involving probation, anger management counseling and no jail time, which is typical for first-time offenders. As part of the pre-trial exchange of evidence, prosecutors gave the video of what happened inside the elevator to Rice’s attorney Michael Diamondstein, the Press of Atlantic City reported at the time.

Diamondstein was asked outside the courthouse if that video showed Rice punching his wife, the paper reported.

“It’s more complex than that,” Diamondstein told reporters. “I can’t break it down to you in words that quickly.”

Rice pleaded not guilty to the charge on May 1 and applied to enter the Pre-Trial Intervention Program.

On May 20, Superior Court Judge Michael Donio approved Rice’s entry into the PTI program, with the consent of the prosecutors.

“This decision was arrived at after careful consideration of the information contained in Mr. Rice’s application in light of all the facts gathered during the investigation,” McClain said in a statement at the time.

Diamondstein didn’t return calls Tuesday seeking comment.

In a posting Tuesday on Instagram, Janay Rice defended her husband and assailed the media.

“THIS IS OUR LIFE!” Janay Rice wrote. “If your intentions were to hurt us, make us feel alone, take all happiness away, you’ve succeeded on so many levels.”

The PTI program is governed by a state law and a court rule that lays out its terms.

“Fundamentally, it turns on the degree of the crime charged,” said Lawrence Lustberg, a defense lawyer not involved in the case. “It also turns on the sense of whether the defendant will re-offend. Ray Rice had gone into anger management. The PTI program views that favorably.”

Assemblywoman Gabriela Mosquera, the Democratic chairwoman of the Women & Children’s Committee, said the PTI law should be re-examined in light of the video.

“After seeing this very graphic video of the events that had previously been reported, it’s all the more puzzling as to how the county prosecutor reached a decision that Pre-Trial Intervention was the appropriate course,” Mosquera said in a statement. “It’s confounding, actually.”