Program Ray Rice in is rarely granted

TRENTON, N.J. -- The pretrial intervention program offered to Ray Rice in the assault case involving his wife was granted in less than 1 percent of all domestic violence assault cases from 2010-13 that were resolved, according to New Jersey Judiciary data obtained Friday by "Outside the Lines."

Rice and his then-fiancée, Janay Palmer, were arrested on Feb. 15 and charged with simple assault after an incident at an Atlantic City casino. Janay's charges were later dropped, but on March 27, an Atlantic City grand jury increased Rice's assault charge to aggravated assault-bodily injury in the third degree causing bodily harm and one count of simple assault. If convicted of the felony, Rice faced a penalty of three to five years in prison.

Rice's defense attorney, Michael J. Diamondstein of Philadelphia, applied for and was granted pretrial intervention for Rice, a remedy that allows defendants to avoid conviction if they complete a court-ordered set of requirements. According to New Jersey's pretrial intervention website, PTI is used in criminal cases that don't involve "violence" and for "victimless crimes."

The data obtained by "Outside the Lines" indicate the outcome Rice received is extremely rare.

In 2013, for example, 15,130 domestic violence cases made their way through the New Jersey court system. Of those, 3,508 involved some level of assault. Of those, 30 cases -- less than 1 percent -- wound up with pretrial intervention as the outcome (496 domestic assault cases from 2013 were unresolved).

Atlantic County prosecutor James P. McClain has repeatedly declined comment to "Outside the Lines" about Rice's case, but a spokesperson for his office said: "Mr. Rice received the same treatment in the court system that any first-time offender in similar circumstances has received."

In an interview with the Press of Atlantic City on Wednesday, McClain defended referring Rice to pretrial intervention and allowing him to avoid trial. The decision was made "after careful consideration of the law, careful consideration of the facts, hearing the voice of the victim and considering all the parameters," McClain said.

"People need to understand: The choice was not PTI versus five years' state prison," McClain said. "The choice was not PTI versus the No Early Release Act on a 10-year sentence. The parameters, as they existed, were: Is this a PTI case or a probation case?"

The statistics released Friday by the New Jersey Judiciary show that over the past four years in New Jersey, there have been 15,029 domestic violence cases involving assault. A total of 70 -- less than half of 1 percent of those assault cases -- have wound up in pretrial intervention.

The statistics do not indicate whether the cases cited involved first-time offenders, and are not separated county-by-county. The data also do not break down PTI granted for varying degrees of assault, such as aggravated assault in the third degree, a more serious charge than the assault that Rice faced.

In New Jersey, there are two types of assault: simple assault and aggravated assault. Aggravated assault, which Rice was charged with, involves an attempt to cause or the actual infliction of an unjustified injury. Levels of injury range from a "bodily injury" to a more severe "significant bodily injury" up to a "serious bodily injury." A grand jury charged Rice with aggravated assault in the third degree causing bodily injury, a felony.

Rice's legal punishment has drawn sharp criticism from legal quarters in New Jersey and beyond since TMZ Sports released a new video of Rice striking his now-wife in a casino elevator.

"I was stunned" about Rice's case, said Donna D'Andrea, a legal advocate for The Women's Center, a domestic violence and sexual abuse center in Linwood, New Jersey. "I'm outraged ... I believed PTI was an inappropriate response in this case."

In her nearly 30 years of experience, D'Andrea said she could not recall a single other aggravated assault case being accepted into the pretrial intervention program.

"None of it makes any sense on why this was allowed," she said. "Usually, there is a plea deal to a lesser charge so the person is put into the system and can be monitored. They didn't do that here. None of it makes any sense why this was allowed to happen this way. ... It's baffling. I don't know why the prosecutor decided to do this."

Richard Sparaco, a defense attorney practicing for more than 30 years in Atlantic County, said, "I can't say I've ever had a violent crime of this nature accepted into the PTI -- in any county."

Sparaco said it was likely Rice's wife had endorsed Rice's acceptance into PTI, but he said that would not have made the situation unique. He said many alleged victims of domestic violence want to drop charges or do not want to pursue a criminal investigation, but prosecutors still file charges.

"With this type of domestic violence and the video that we've all seen now," Sparaco said, "you'd have to say if a prosecutor sees that video, it would be quite surprising to us defense attorneys to see acceptance into the PTI program."

Pretrial intervention for Rice was approved by PTI director Jill Houck and Atlantic County prosecutor Grace Dovell-Welch. On May 20, New Jersey Superior Court Judge Michael A. Donio approved PTI for Rice at a hearing, according to court documents.

Houck, in an email, declined to comment. Dovell-Welch did not return several messages. Donio did not return messages. A spokesman for the Atlantic County prosecutor also declined to comment. Diamondstein also declined to comment.

Under the terms of PTI, Rice was ordered to take anger management counseling and be supervised, by a probationary period, for 12 months, court records show. A proof of participation was required by the court, the records show. If Rice stayed out of trouble for the 12 months, there would be no trace of the case on his record.

On a Wednesday appearance on ESPN Radio's "Mike and Mike" show, New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney said the Rice case might lead New Jersey lawmakers to re-examine the state's domestic violence laws. A day before, he called for acting state Attorney General John Hoffman to review how the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office made its PTI decision.

"We want to make sure it was handled properly," Sweeney told "Mike and Mike." "If everything was done right and this was acceptable, then we have to change our laws."

Investigative reporter Paula Lavigne of ESPN's Enterprise/Investigative Unit contributed to this report.