And Does The Punishment Fit The Crime?By Heather Brown

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Back in May, Ray Rice pleaded not guilty to aggravated assault. As a first time offender, he avoided jail time, but was ordered by the court to undergo counseling.

On Tuesday, the prosecutor’s office involved in the deal responded to the criticism that plea deal was too lenient.

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

Ultimately, the punishment for domestic violence cases depends on the state laws, the severity of the crime, the extent of the injuries to the victim, whether the victim will testify and how many times it’s happened in the past.

“The punishment was probably too light for what the original crime was: manhandling his girlfriend, now wife,” said Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman. “When you see the subsequent video, that takes it in Minnesota from a fifth degree to a first degree and the difference is the level of harm.”

Most first-time domestic offenses are misdemeanors — a fifth degree assault, which is considered the threat to do bodily harm. That conviction carries a maximum sentence of 90 days in jail and $1,000 fine. In most cases, though, people are entered into a diversion program and avoid jail time through plea deals.

“I think a lot of people feel they’re hoping to cut it off the first time,” Freeman said. “We want people to come forward, we want to get the first case started, and we want to get inside that young man’s head and say this conduct isn’t acceptable.”

But, if the first time is a strangulation, causes great bodily harm or a weapon is used, it’s a more serious charge and usually a felony coupled with jail time.

For the fifth degree domestic assaults, the second time is a gross misdemeanor (up to one year in jail and $3,000 fine). It isn’t until the third offense that a fifth degree domestic assault becomes a felony (up to one year and one day in jail, and a five year probation).

One of the biggest challenges with prosecuting these cases is when the victim recants. Freeman says his office works hard with the victim to make them stand for what they say.

“The principal evidence we have disappears when the victim recants, we don’t have a case and, unfortunately, we dismiss cases all the time,” Freeman said.

Heather Brown

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