Friday, February 22, 2008

Jeremy Elder

Of course, LSU is not the only school with certain problems arising this week. Freshman defensive lineman Jeremy Elder, who redshirted last season, was arrested for two counts of Robbery in the 1st Degree this weekend.

I have my own perspective on this, and it's colored by two things. First, I come at it from a college football angle. Second, I can't ignore the fact that I am a criminal defense attorney by practice.

I spent a few minutes trying to think of what the worst thing a college football player can do would be. My conclusion was that it was a futile exercise because there are any number of things a college football player could do that would be instantly fatal to his career at a major program like Bama. A nonexhaustive list would include gambling on games, any serious violent crime, any crime likely to include substantial jail time, and distribution or manufacturing of controlled substances. And these are just the things off the top of my head.

In that sense, Nick Saban has a very easy decision. If one of your players is going around campus pointing a gun at people and asking for money, that player has to go. There's really no wiggle room. The fact that Jeremy Elder was only a reserve player makes this a non-particularly-painful decision, either. Suspending him indefinitely is the right thing to do, and if the allegations prove true, I'm sure he will be let go.

That's the college football observer in me talking. There's also the criminal defense attorney that has his own perspective.

If there's one thing you come to understand as a criminal defense attorney, it is this: The fact that a person has done a horrible thing does not necessarily make him a horrible person.

Robbery in the 1st Degree is a very serious crime. In popular parlance, it is "armed robbery". It's an A-felony, not far removed from murder as far as range of punishments go. In general, if you have a charge like this, if the person is not exonerated, you can probably expect the ultimate sentence to include multiple years in prison.

Elder may not be facing that. First, I imagine that because he is so young, this is likely his first adult offense, and may be his first offense period. His attorney will probably seek to get him "youthful offender" status, and the court will order an investigation.* Youthful offender status does several things to a criminal case. First, it seals the record, much like in juvenile court. Second, it reduces the available sentences. Someone granted youthful offender status can only be given a maximum of 3 years in prison, and most get no prison time and instead get probation.

In my experience, if he does not have a substantial history of criminal behavior, he will likely be granted that status, and it may keep him out of prison. This is particularly likely if the gun involved really was a pellet gun. The court would be a little more likely to cut him a break if he did not shove an actual, death-inducing firearm in someone's face.

I don't think any of that changes the football aspect of this case. If he did it, he has probably stepped on the Alabama practice field for the last time. He'd be allowed to otherwise go on with his life, however.

*I may be wrong about this in the sense that I have never tried to get someone youthful offender status for an A felony. It's just never come up in my practice. Without looking up the rules, I'm not sure you can even get it if you are accused of an A-felony. However, if it really was a pellet gun, it may not be an A-felony anymore.


gerry dorsey said...

saban may not even have a decision to make. universities are not in a habit of letting these kinds of dudes stay in their institutions.

Richard Pittman said...

There's that too.