Athletes have played a dramatic role in the justice system over the last 10-15 years. Professional athletes seem to be targeted not just by wrongdoers but by law enforcement as well. Some of the high profile cases brought against pro stars lend credence to the possibility of biased prosecution.
In 2000, Future Hall of Fame Linebacker Ray Lewis agreed to a deal in which he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of Obstruction of Justice. This conviction stemmed from a fight outside an Atlanta night club after the Super Bowl that year.
Two young men were stabbed to death in the incident, which allegedly involved Lewis and two other individuals who were part of Lewis’s entourage that evening. The Atlanta District Attorney at that time (Paul Howard) came under fire for even charging Lewis with a crime.
Howard and his office failed to produce any physical evidence or witnesses that could tie Lewis to being a party to the assault or playing any role in the stabbing of the two victims. Lewis did serve 12 months probation, the maximum sentence for a first time offender, as part of his plea arrangement.
In 2003, Kobe Bryant was accused of sexually assaulting a young woman at a Colorado resort where he was staying prior to a minor knee surgery.
During the court proceedings, Bryant’s defense blasted the character and credibility of the accuser by revealing that she wore undergarments containing semen and pubic hair of a Caucasian male to her medical examination.
This action was further questioned because the rape exam took place the day following the alleged attack. The case against Bryant was ultimately dismissed and Bryant served no time in jail.
It should be noted that Bryant and his accuser reached a settlement in a civil suit that was filed shortly after his original arrest. The financial terms of the agreement were not made available.
In 2005, Jamal Lewis, as part of a plea deal, was sentenced to four months in a minimum security facility after pleading guilty to a drug conspiracy charge.
The Federal Judge who sentenced Lewis said in her brief that the Government case against Lewis was not very strong and that it was highly unlikely the jury would return a unanimous guilty verdict had the case gone to trial.
Now I know those are just a few cases. I know that in the examples above, people will speculate about the level of guilt or innocence for each athlete. At the end of the day though, justice should be blind, while having both eyes open.
O.J. Simpson reportedly went to a hotel room last summer to confront a former business associate about sports memorabilia that Simpson believed to belong to him. Simpson and a group of men, some of them armed, entered the hotel room and demanded the occupants return the items to Simpson at once.
He was later arrested and faced charges that included Armed Robbery and false imprisonment. The entire incident was recorded on tape, which was damning evidence in the case against Simpson.
An all-white jury of Simpson’s peers (how is that possible) returned a guilty verdict in October for his role in the incident. Today, O.J. Simpson was sentenced to 16 years in prison for his part in that occurrence.
I have come to the conclusion that our justice system misses the mark about as often as Atlanta Braves hitters missed fast balls this past season.
Aside from the obvious caught with the “smoking gun” conviction, I have often wondered how many times men and women who have professed their innocence are actually falsely accused.
I don’t wonder about O.J. and whether he led a group of men into a Nevada hotel last year. I do wonder if he was convicted for that crime, or for one that occurred 13 years ago.