No Jail for NFL Players in Abuse Cases

     ELIZABETH, N.J. (CN) – Two professional football stars charged in New Jersey with domestic violence persuaded courts this week to let them avoid jail time.
     In the first case, Atlantic City Superior Court Judge Michael Donio dismissed an assault charge Thursday against former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice.
     The decision comes upon 28-year-old Rice’s successful completion of a yearlong pretrial intervention program, which reportedly included $125 in fines and anger-management counseling.
     Rice, a three-time Pro Bowler who helped the Ravens win Super Bowl XLVII, was widely pilloried after casino security cameras caught him knocking out girlfriend Janay Palmer, a woman he has since married, in an elevator.
     Footage of the February 2014 incident shows Rice attempting to nonchalantly drag Palmer’s unconscious body out of the elevator when it reaches their floor.
     Rice’s arrest initially put him on a two-game suspension, but NFL commissioner Roger Goodell upped the punishment to an indefinite suspension when the security video went viral.
     Palmer has publicly defended him against both the assault charges and his NFL suspension.
     The NFL reinstated Rice after his appeal led an independent arbitrator to conclude that his indefinite suspension was arbitrary. As a free agent, Rice can sign with any team.
     Another free agent, linebacker Jermaine Cunningham, pleaded guilty this week in New Jersey to two gun charges stemming from a December 2014 domestic altercation.
     Unlike in the Rice case, Cunningham’s did not involve physical violence. Rather his ex-girlfriend had called Summit police when the former New York Jet posted sexually revealing photographs of her without permission on the social media site Instagram.
     Police responding to the “revenge porn” allegations then recovered a Walther PK 380 handgun and hollow-point bullets subsequently in Cunningham’s Audi sedan.
     While the gun was legally registered, Cunningham had taken it with him from Georgia in April 2014, which violated state gun-transportation laws.
     Cunningham, 26, pleaded guilty Wednesday before Judge William Daniel to single counts of third-degree invasion of privacy, fourth-degree illegal transport of a weapon, and fourth-degree possession of hollow-point bullets, local prosecutors said.
     Judge Robert Mega is expected to sentence Cunningham to probation on June 19. The 2010 second-round NFL draft pick has no prior criminal history in New Jersey, prosecutors emphasized.
     Cunningham’s attorney, Anthony Fusco Jr., said in an interview that they are happy with the plea.
     “He made out very well,” Fusco said. “Hopefully he can go and pursue his career and get on with his life.”
     Rice is also expected to forfeit his handgun at sentencing.
     Without a plea deal, Cunningham could have faced three years in prison simply for the gun charge, Fusco said.
     New Jersey adopted its “revenge porn” law in 2004, the first such in the country. Violators face up to five years in prison.
     Cunningham has had brushes with the law outside the Garden State. As a University of Florida defensive end in 2007, Cunningham among a group of student athletes arrest for hurtling empty soda cans at a Jimmy John’s sandwich shop clerk who wanted them to pay for a bag of chips.
     In that case, Cunningham was released without charges.
     Domestic-abuse cases have become something of a lightning rod for the NFL in recent years. The league is scheduled to hold a hearing on May 28 for the appeal of a 10-game suspension Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy faces on allegations that he threw his girlfriend onto a bed covered in guns.
     Though a North Carolina judge initially found Hardy guilty of domestic violence, the charges were reportedly dismissed when the accuser did not make herself available for a jury trial. Hardy is fighting to get his record to be expunged.

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