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Wednesday, April 01, 2009
Will Plaxico Burress Avoid Prison and NFL suspension?

I have a new column on on the adjournment of the Plaxico Burress trial to June, with the expectation that he will reach a plea deal. Even if avoids prison, expect him to receive a suspension from the NFL. Here's an excerpt of the column.

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The desire of some politicians to turn Burress into a poster-child for the law may also dissuade prosecutors from letting Burress avoid jail time. Although statistics indicate that more than 80 percent of persons arrested on the same Class C felony receive plea deals -- many of which, particularly for first-time offenders such as Burress, do not include jail time -- those persons did not grace the front pages of the city's newspapers nor attract stern commentary from its mayor and other political leaders. Burress pleading his way out of jail time would clearly repudiate those politicians' wishes and perhaps also undermine the law going forward. Indeed, even Bloomberg opined that Burress' receiving less than three and half years in prison would constitute "a sham, a mockery of the law."

Burress' future in the NFL rests in the backdrop of his plea discussions. The Giants suspended him without pay following the incident and refused to pay him a $1 million signing bonus. A grievance hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, with the NFL Players' Association arguing on behalf of Burress. The outcome of that hearing should indicate whether the Giants will reinstate him or release him.

Getting an NFL team to employ Burress won't get him back on the field, however. Any plea deal would require Burress to acknowledge responsibility for breaking a law. Even if he avoids prison, he would almost certainly be suspended by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for violating the league's personal conduct policy. The policy empowers the commissioner to sanction any player whose conduct is "detrimental" to the league, with "detrimental" determined by the commissioner. Pleading guilty to a crime would unquestionably justify a suspension.

The length of the league's suspension would rest entirely in the hands of Goodell, who has tried to change public perception that NFL players act "above the law." While Goodell is not bound by his own precedent in issuing suspensions, consider the case of former Chicago Bears' defensive tackle Tank Johnson. After he pled guilty to misdemeanor weapon charges, which led to 45 days in jail, Johnson received a half-season suspension in 2007, with Goodell offering to lower the suspension to six games if Johnson attended counseling.

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To read the rest of the column, click here.


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