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Ray Rice’s assault charges were dropped. How unusual is that?

For knocking his then-fiancee unconscious, former Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice was charged with aggravated assault. Today a New Jersey judge dismissed all charges against Rice, who completed a one-year program that included anger management. Did Rice get an unusual deal? Hari Sreenivasan gets reaction from Christine Brennan of USA Today and Debbie Hines, a former prosecutor.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    Now to the case of former NFL running back Ray Rice.

    The former Baltimore Ravens player was charged with aggravated assault after he knocked his then fiancee unconscious. The league suspended him indefinitely, a decision an arbitrator later lifted. Today, all charges against him were dropped.

    Hari Sreenivasan picks up the story from there in our New York studios.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    A New Jersey judge dismissed the charges after Rice completed a one-year program known as a pretrial intervention. Anger management counseling is said to be part of that program, but few other details have been released. The prosecutor agreed to let Rice participate in that program last year.

    There's been discussion again today over whether Rice was offered a routine or unusual deal, given the assault.

    We break this down with Debbie Hines, a former prosecutor familiar with domestic violence cases. She now practices in Washington, D.C. And Christine Brennan, USA Today national sports columnist and ABC news commentator.

    Debbie, I want to start with you.

    How unusual is it to have the charges dropped in an aggravated assault case, which usually carries a maximum of up to five years?

  • DEBBIE HINES, Former Prosecutor:

    Hari, it is so unusual, I don't know even know how to describe it.

    In most of the cases where there's an aggravated assault, you generally are not even allowed to participate in the pretrial intervention program. It's called different things in other states, but usually when it's a violent crime, whether it's domestic violence or it's just an aggravated assault not involving domestic violence, you are not allowed to even participate in the cases.

    So, what it means in New Jersey, I understand, is that in roughly about less than 1 percent of all domestic violence, aggravated assault-type cases ends up in this program.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    So, what's a typical path for an average somebody, not a Ray Rice, if they get an aggravated assault charge vs. a lesser charge?

  • DEBBIE HINES:

    The same thing that happened originally to Ray Rice, is that he was originally offered a plea bargain. Once his case had been indicted on the aggravated assault, he was offered a plea bargain, which he chose not to accept.

    What he chose to do is to basically plead not guilty and then go through this program. The average person would have been offered the plea bargain and they would have had the option of either accepting a plea bargain that was offered — and I can tell you it wouldn't have been for any pretrial intervention program — or they would have able to proceed to trial on the case.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right, Christine Brennan, how much of this is because he is a high-profile NFL player?

  • CHRISTINE BRENNAN, USA Today:

    Well, I'm sure a lot.

    What Debbie is saying is riveting and incredibly frustrating. But I wonder if, what would have been the case, Hari, if they had done the right thing in Atlantic City, if they had thrown the book at Ray Rice? The NFL would have taken its lead from that, from the decision of the authorities, and you wouldn't have had the two-game suspension by Roger Goodell, I am sure. I'm sure they would have given him a much tougher suspension even back then. Obviously, it would turn from two games into indefinite suspension, and Ray Rice had not played football again.

    But you think about how the course of sports history and, frankly, cultural history would have changed if the authorities in Atlantic City had done the right thing, instead of letting Ray Rice get off basically with a slap on the wrist.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Christine, there also seems to be a disconnect between how we're reacting to the NFL vs. the prosecutor's office.

  • CHRISTINE BRENNAN:

    Absolutely.

    I mean, I have been as critical of Roger Goodell and the National Football League as one, but I have also noted that they have made a lot of changes and are doing now more, Hari, than anyone in sports, maybe even in business, maybe even worldwide — I know that's quite a statement — on the issue of domestic violence.

    No one is doing enough, but the NFL has really learned its lesson from September 8. That was the day we saw that Ray Rice elevator video. So, when you think of that, you think of the pummeling that Roger Goodell and the NFL have taken, much of it self-induced, but a lot of it not, and you compare it to where's the outrage about the authorities in Atlantic City, I find that striking, as a journalist, the way that the NFL has really borne the brunt of this, when, of course, the authorities could have obviously changed history and changed this in a big way if they had done something different.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    So, Debbie Hines, a prosecutor might say, listen, I took into consideration what his then fiancee, now wife, also says and feels about the situation. Should that count in the sentencing or dropping the charges?

  • DEBBIE HINES:

    In this case, it should count for just a very minimum amount, because what you have to understand is that there was a video.

    And so they didn't even need the testimony of Ray Rice's — who became his wife, and so she would have had spousal immunity. But they had the video showing that he knocked her out unconscious. So, yes, they would take into account her feelings, just as they would in any particular victim's case.

    But in this case, the prosecutor could have proceeded without even her testimony, if she chose to invoke her spousal immunity, because of the video.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right, Christine Brennan, there's also the question of whether or not — whether or not Ray Rice will play again. There were articles today on a handful of teams that could use a running back like him. There were other articles saying perhaps he's past his prime.

    Will we see him back on the football field?

  • CHRISTINE BRENNAN:

    It's doubtful.

    I think there's a chance if a team needs — has an injury during training camp. I don't think we will see much action, Hari, until training camps open in the summer. There's a chance, but Ray Rice is radioactive. And because of the video, which, of course, the authorities in Atlantic City had as well, everyone knows him from that video.

    And I think not only basically football-wise, he's 28, which is kind of old for a running back, and he had his worst year in 2013, and then of course didn't play last year. So, it's damaged goods, I think, in many ways on the field, and then the public relations nightmare that would occur if you do sign him, I think that's another issue that a lot of teams are going to be dealing with.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right, Christine Brennan, Debbie Hines, thanks so much for joining us.

  • CHRISTINE BRENNAN:

    Thank you.

  • DEBBIE HINES:

    Thank you.

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