Sunday, June 28, 2009

Jolly's Trial and the Potential for a Goodell "Make-Up" Call

From the Press Gazette:

If Jolly is found guilty, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell almost certainly will suspend him, probably for the first four games of this season, for violating the NFL’s personal-conduct policy. Goodell usually waits until dispensation of a case for first-time offenders of the policy before determining whether to penalize the player, so if Jolly is found not guilty, he won’t be fined or suspended.

As a preliminary matter, although I have already voiced my opinion that Jolly's trial is a joke. I absolutely support the league's right to discipline players as the league sees fit. But I do wonder if Goodell The Populist Avenger is inadvertently throwing a monkey wrench into the legal process.

I don't practice criminal law, but it does seem to me that this is a case where everyone would be better off if Jolly took a plea agreement. But if Jolly were to plea out, he then has to face Goodell's (potentially steep) punishment. If he feels he has a decent defense, it might be worth it to fight for an outright acquital.

I'm sure Donte Stallworth's case is on Jolly's mind. Stallworth received a very light sentence (30 days jailtime, a couple years of house arrest, suspended license for life, and some probabtion) for a accidentally killing a man while driving under the influence. However, he received the light sentence for a good reason: he may have been acquitted at trial.

At bottom, although he was legally drunk, it may not have actually caused the accident. To put it another way, even if Stallworth was stone-cold sober, he may have still hit and killed the victim. (There was evidence the victim walked in front of Stallworth's car on a 6 lane, 40 mph road.)

So the plea deal may have actually been a good result for all involved. Moreover, the victim's family strongly supported the plea arrangement.

Nevertheless, the public was outraged. (I won't say the public was wrong, I just doubt public has enough information to support the outrage.)

So Goodell The Populist Avenger banned Stallworth indefinitely. It was the ultimate make-up call.

As I have already said: that's his right. But I wonder if his actions will have unintended consequences. For example, would Stallworth have accepted his plea if he had known it would result in an indefinitely suspension? Who knows. Maybe he would have taken his case to trial. Maybe he would have won.

Would things be better off is Stallworth decided to try his case? I doubt it. The prosecution risked an acquittal. The victim's family would have been forced to sit through a trial where a large portion of the testimony would have centered around their own loved one's negligence.

Looking to the future, I have to suspect that players like Jolly will be less likely to cooperate with the prosecution and hammer out a plea agreement.

It's a shame. Defendants who take plea agreements aren't "cheating the system." Plea agreement are an important part of the system. Especially in a case like Jolly's where no one was hurt or even seriously at risk of being hurt. Jolly was stupid. Lesson learned. Move on.

But under the league's policy, he has to go to court to try his case if he has a decent defense.

I'm not sure what the answer is here, but ideally, the league should give a lighter penalty to the players who cooperate with the prosecution. As it stands, Goodell seems set to "right the wrongs" of the justice system by (somewhat perversely) giving players as harsh or harsher a penalty if they cooperate with the prosecution.

So here's hoping Jolly has a good defense.


  1. The league uses this system because they believe a trial is the best way to determinate if the player is innocent or not. It seems logic, but I agree with you. I work for a law firm that requires us to go to the last stances of the case. Which sometimes is just a waste of money, because you know it's already lost, and yet the firm only allow us to make a settlement...

  2. ... in rare ocasions.

  3. "I work for a law firm that requires us to go to the last stances of the case."

    I'm not sure what this means, but that's beside the point. Isn't it up to the client how far to take a case?