Ravens running back Ray Rice has been charged with aggravated assault in the February incident in which he is accused of knocking his fiancee unconscious in an Atlantic City casino elevator, a more serious charge than he originally faced.
Rice, 27, initially faced a charge of simple assault for striking Janay Palmer in the Revel Casino, an incident that authorities say was caught on tape. Prosecutors in Atlantic County, N.J., reviewed the case for several weeks before presenting it to a grand jury, which handed up the indictment, officials said.
Third-degree aggravated assault, a felony, carries a potential sentence of three to five years in prison.
Prosecutors said Thursday that they have dismissed a charge of simple assault that had been filed against Palmer, 26.
Rice's attorney, Michael Diamondstein, said neither Rice nor Palmer "wishes to go forward with this prosecution." Palmer's attorney declined to comment.
"They're together," Diamondstein said. "They're in counseling."
"Ray Rice is not going to put blame on Janay Palmer," he said. "The state chose only to prosecute Ray Rice, and we ask that the public reserve judgment until all the facts come out."
The Ravens released a statement that said, "This is part of the due process for Ray. We know there is more to Ray Rice than this one incident."
Attorney Joseph A. Levin, a criminal defense expert based in Atlantic City who is not involved in the case, said the new charge is appropriate, given the allegations. He said a requirement of third-degree aggravated assault is "significant bodily injury," which includes loss of consciousness.
Levin said defendants with no criminal record have a "presumption of no incarceration" in New Jersey, and might be eligible for a diversionary program that could result in the charges being dismissed. Rice has no prior record.
As for Diamondstein's contention that Palmer does not want to prosecute, Levin said that does not matter.
"It's not a matter of whether the alleged victim wants to prosecute or not, it's a matter of whether the state feels the prosecution is worthy," Levin said. "Apparently, the state feels it is very worthy."
He said that if the couple were to marry before the charge against Rice is resolved, Palmer likely could not invoke marital privilege. There is an exception in New Jersey law when the spouse is the alleged victim, he said.
Prosecutors said the next court hearing date has not been set and declined to say whether bail had been set. Diamondstein said Rice would not be taken into custody.
The altercation occurred about 2:50 a.m. Feb. 15 in an elevator at the Revel Casino. Casino security called police, and police said officers watched surveillance video in which the couple struck each other with their hands.
A 50-second video obtained by TMZ shows Rice lifting Palmer by her arms out of an elevator and placing her on the floor. She appears limp as he pulls her legs away from the elevator doors and props her up.
Diamondstein has said the video only "shows the very end of what transpired between Ray and his fiancee."
This week, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti called Rice's arrest "embarrassing and disappointing" but vowed to stick by the three-time All-Pro running back.
"Ray will be here," Bisciotti said in an interview with The Baltimore Sun at the NFL owners meetings. "This is a singular moment six years after we drafted him. It's embarrassing for him and his fiancee. It is especially hard to see somebody that is proud of his reputation have to take this kind of public relations hit."
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday that the league was continuing to monitor Rice's case, indicating no timetable or decision on whether Rice will be punished by the league. Though Rice has no history of off-field issues, first-time offenders have been suspended in the past.
When asked during a news conference in Orlando, Fla., at the NFL league meetings whether the case is being watched by the NFL and whether Rice will be disciplined, Goodell said: "Yes, and I don't know on the second part. We'll let the facts dictate that."