By Steve Ginsburg
(Reuters) - A New Jersey judge on Thursday dismissed domestic violence charges against Ray Rice brought against the former National Football League star for knocking unconscious the woman he later married after Rice completed a pretrial intervention program.
The February 2014 incident involving Rice and Janay Palmer in an Atlantic City casino's elevator and others involving NFL players prompted the most popular U.S. sports league to toughen penalties for domestic violence and other off-field misconduct.
Rice, a 28-year-old running back who was released by the Baltimore Ravens due to the incident, had applied for New Jersey's pre-trial intervention program during a May 2014 court appearance in which he pleaded not guilty to third-degree aggravated assault charges.
He completed the one-year program, and Atlantic City Judge Michael Donio signed an order on Thursday dismissing the charges, meaning the arrest will remain on Rice's record but there will be no conviction.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell last year came under criticism for his handling of the Rice matter. Goodell initially suspended Rice for two games but after a video became public of the player knocking out Palmer, his then-fiancée, with one punch, the commissioner suspended Rice indefinitely.
An arbitrator later lifted Rice's indefinite suspension after determining that the NFL had punished Rice twice for the same crime, counting the initial two-game ban.
Rice has apologized for punching Palmer.
Goodell has admitted he "didn't get it right" in the Rice case, and moved to strengthen the league's penalties against players who commit domestic violence.
Rice filed a wrongful termination grievance against the Ravens and settled for $1.59 million, according to the Baltimore Sun. He was seeking $3.5 million, the amount he would have earned had he played the remaining 14 games of the 2014 regular season after being suspended for two games.
Rice rushed for 6,180 yards and 37 touchdowns in six seasons with Baltimore and helped the Ravens to a Super Bowl victory. After missing last season, he hopes to join an NFL club for the 2015 campaign.
(Reporting by Suzannah Gonzales and Steve Ginsburg; Editing by Will Dunham)