BALTIMORE — Ravens running back Ray Rice has been accepted into a diversionary program that could allow him to clear his record of charges that he knocked his then-fiancee unconscious in a New Jersey casino, but he could still face discipline from the NFL.
Rice, 27, pleaded not guilty earlier this month to one count of third-degree aggravated assault and instead sought entry into a pre-trial intervention program for first-time offenders.
Prosecutors said they agreed this week to his inclusion in the program, which would also allow him to avoid trial.
“After considering all relevant information in light of applicable law it was determined this was the appropriate disposition,” acting Atlantic County Prosecutor Jim McClain said in a statement.
Rice’s attorney, Michael Diamondstein, said he will participate in the pre-trial intervention program for the next year, and must stay out of trouble and continue to receive family counseling with his wife. She wrote a letter to the court in support of him.
“We’re very happy with this result,” Diamondstein said. Rice “will now be able to move forward with his life, and he and Janay are looking forward to putting this behind him.”
Rice was accused of knocking Janay Palmer unconscious during an altercation in Atlantic City’s Revel Casino in February, an incident that authorities say was caught on video by a security camera.
Both Rice and Palmer were initially charged with simple assault, and Rice was later indicted on the more serious charge as Palmer’s case was dropped. The couple married days later.
Prosecutors said at a May 1 hearing that they had offered Rice a plea deal that would have placed him on probation for one year and required him to attend anger management counseling. Rice rejected that offer, and his attorney indicated he would fight the charges if he was not accepted for the program.
The NFL has been monitoring the case under its personal-conduct policy since the incident. The Ravens did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has discretionary power to discipline players regardless of how legal situations are adjudicated and has used them in the past.
Goodell suspended Ben Roethlisberger during the 2010 season for six games, which was later reduced to four games, after the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback was investigated by law enforcement officials for an alleged sexual assault in Georgia. Roethlisberger was never charged with a crime.
Atlanta lawyer David Cornwell, a former NFL counsel who has represented Roethlisberger, former Ravens wide receiver Donte’ Stallworth and New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez, told The Baltimore Sun earlier this month that despite Rice’s first-time offender status, a suspension remains a potential outcome.
Cornwell cited the leaked surveillance video to TMZ that shows Rice dragging Palmer from an elevator and the high-profile nature of the case as factors that will probably complicate his disciplinary outlook with the league.
“I think the problem that Ray Rice has is the video and that created such a public outrage,” said Cornwell, who doesn’t represent Rice. “He has no other prior incidents and, all things being equal, he probably would be looking at a fine from the NFL under normal circumstances. The video makes it a little more complicated.
“That’s what could get it out of the fine range and into a suspension because the league will respond to the unique aspect of the video and the fact that there’s a female involved. Those are complicating factors. The NFL has ignored plea bargains and things of that nature in the past.”
Former Ravens cornerback Cary Williams was suspended for two games by the NFL during the 2010 season for a domestic-violence incident. And former Ravens cornerback Fabian Washington was suspended for one game during the 2008 season for a domestic-violence incident. Both were first-time offenders.
Rice has not commented on the case, but his representatives have said the couple was in counseling. Palmer accompanied Rice to his court hearing.
“The league will take a look at all of that, and Roger Goodell is responsive to things like counseling and what kind of positive steps a player takes following an incident,” Cornwell said. “He also pays attention to the amount of press a case gets and the fact that this is a very important issue.”