Rice Case Lesson: Little Punishment For Serious Partner Violence


To many who viewed the video of football star Ray Rice’s attack on his fiancee, the contrast between the viciousness of the assault and the leniency of his punishment was baffling and infuriating, says the New York Times. Although Rice knocked Janay Palmer unconscious and dragged her body out of an elevator, prosecutors allowed him to enter a pretrial intervention program that will spare him jail, probation and even a criminal record if he does not commit another crime.

Many of those who routinely handle domestic violence cases say the episode is a highly public example of a well-known fact: Violent domestic assaults rarely lead to jail or serious legal consequences, especially when they involve offenders like Rice with no prior record. Despite decades of increased public attention on domestic violence, many first-time cases are still handled as noncriminal matters across the U.S. Even in New Jersey, one of the states with the most stringent laws and court rules, offenders often walk away with little more than court-ordered counseling in the small percentage of cases that are elevated to involve felony charges, as Rice's case was. “For a case like this to end this way is not uncommon,” said Jane Shivas, executive director of the New Jersey Coalition for Battered Women. “But it certainly is unfortunate.”

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