When NFL running back Ray Rice applied to a pre-trial intervention program on May 1 - which, if completed, would help dismiss the charges against him - he had to clear more hurdles than many other applicants.
Those accepted into the program have typically committed minor crimes, such as theft or drug possession. Rice, accused of punching his then-fiancée in an elevator at Atlantic City's Revel Casino Hotel earlier this year, was charged with aggravated assault - a violent crime.
"Crimes of violence are generally crimes that we shy away from," Kathy Boyle, who administers the intervention program in Atlantic County, said Monday.
But after examining Rice's incident and more than a dozen other factors - which, generally speaking, include the victim's wishes and the suspect's criminal history - Boyle's staff approved Rice for the program. The Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office, which has the final say on an applicant's status, agreed.
The move elicited fresh criticism Monday when TMZ released a video of the Feb. 15 incident that shows Rice striking Janay Palmer, now his wife, in the head and knocking her to the floor. Hours after the video surfaced, and anger exploded on social media, the Baltimore Ravens terminated Rice's contract.
New Jersey Assemblywoman Gabriela M. Mosquera (D., Camden), vice chair of the Women and Children Committee, was among those raising questions Monday about how the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office handled Rice's case.
"After seeing this very graphic video of the events that had previously been reported, it's all the more puzzling as to how the county prosecutor reached a decision that Pre-Trial Intervention was the appropriate course of discipline in this case," Mosquera said in a statement released by her office. "It's confounding, actually."
The prosecutor's office obtained the video from inside the elevator before approving Rice for the intervention program. At the time, the public had only seen video aftermath of the incident - Rice dragging his wife's unconscious body out of the elevator.
Boyle, of the intervention program, said her staff did not have access to either video while reviewing Rice's case, though it is not uncommon for the prosecutor's office to withhold such footage during an investigation.
Four hundred eighty-eight people are in the pre-trial intervention program in Atlantic County, which receives about 40 applications a month, officials said. Rice was enrolled May 20, nearly three weeks after applying.
The 12-month program requires counseling, employment, and staying out of trouble. Generally, the worse the injuries and more violent the crime, the less likely it is someone will be accepted. That means individuals charged with aggravated assault are rejected more often than not, Boyle said.
But other factors sometimes squeeze such a case through. Palmer, for example, agreed that Rice should enter the program. A victim's injuries may not be severe (Rice's attorney, Michael Diamondstein, said in May that neither Rice nor his wife was injured.) Or the suspect may be a first-time offender who has deep ties with the community.
"We do try to look at the whole person," Boyle said, speaking generally. "Not just the nature of the offense."
Boyle said her office began receiving criticism for the Rice decision after Shaneen Allen, a Philadelphia woman, was denied admission to the program. Allen was arrested last October in Atlantic County, accused of having a gun inside her vehicle. The gun was registered in Pennsylvania, but not allowed in New Jersey.
Last month, after a judge upheld the prosecutor's decision to keep Allen out of the intervention program, USA Today posted a column headlined: "Carrying a gun way worse than beating your wife."
As for Rice, if he completes the program, the charges will be dismissed, though his record will not be expunged. Rice must appeal to the Superior Court in Atlantic County for that to happen.