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NFL Cannot Follow Legal System in Letting Stallworth Get Off Easy

Jun 17, 2009 – 1:39 PM
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David Whitley

David Whitley %BloggerTitle%


If you're like most people not named Donte Stallworth, you are mad.

Mad at Stallworth. Mad at his high-priced lawyers. Mad at the prosecutor. Mad at the legal system.

The Browns receiver was just sentenced to 30 days for driving drunk and killing a man. Unless he starts a dog-fighting ring in jail, Stallworth could be in uniform when Cleveland opens training camp.

Thirty days shouldn't even be called a "sentence." It feels more like a period or an apostrophe or a bad joke.

As mad as you are, the fact is Stallworth did what any of us would have done if we made $5 million a year. He bought himself a huge helping of Rich Man's Justice.

Now it's up to another judge to administer the justice Florida's legal system is seemingly incapable of.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell can sanction any player whose conduct is deemed "detrimental" to the league. I don't know about you, but I'd find it highly detrimental to turn on the TV and see a player who had as many manslaughter convictions as touchdown receptions in the past nine months.

That should be worth at least a year's suspension. Granted, Judge Goodell's docket is pretty full these days. Plaxico Burress and Michael Vick are also waiting to hear if the commissioner will tack on some NFL time to their legal sentences.

Burress hasn't actually been convicted of anything yet, other than being stupid enough to literally shoot a leg out from under his career.

As for Vick, the sentence Stallworth received has him back in the national conversation. How could he get almost two years for killing dogs and Stallworth get 30 days for killing a person?

Excellent question. Unfortunately for those of us who want to rail against the system, there are plausible explanations.

After being arrested, Vick lied to investigators and failed a drug test. Stallworth at least cooperated and accepted responsibility.

He did not intend to commit a crime the morning of March 14, when he hit 59-year-old Mario Reyes. Vick spent years intentionally maiming and killing animals.


There was also Florida Statute 316.193. For those of you who don't make a living trying to get drunk drivers out of trouble, that law requires proof that the driver helped cause the accident. There was a major question whether Stallworth did that, since Reyes was apparently jaywalking.

The accident could have happened if Stallworth hadn't been partying all night at Miami Beach .

You can bet his lawyers had a long list of expert witnesses willing to testify to that. So instead of going for the 15-year maximum sentence, prosecutors offered a plea deal.

"We have looked at the unique facts involved with this charge," State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said in a statement. "Mr. Stallworth's excellent pre-incident history of community service, abundant references to his good character, his lack of any traffic violations or criminal convictions, his full and complete post-incident cooperation with law enforcement and his willingness to accept complete responsibility for his actions."

Then there was Mr. Stallworth's willingness to open his wallet and give the Reyes family the old "out-of-court settlement."

Cha-ching.

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    Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo makes a pass during a practice session at football minicamp in Carrollton, Texas, Tuesday, June 16, 2009. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

    AP

    Dallas Cowboys cornerback Terence Newman (41) attempts to grab a pass as safety Kenny Hamlin (26) defends as they run through a drill at the NFL football team's minicamp in Carrollton, Texas, Tuesday, June 16, 2009. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

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    Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo drops back to make a pass during practice at football minicamp in Carrollton, Texas, Tuesday, June 16, 2009. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

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    Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, left, relays a play to quarterback Tony Romo (9) during a practice session at the NFL football team's minicamp in Carrollton, Texas, Tuesday, June 16, 2009. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

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    Dallas Cowboys quarterbacks Jon Kitna (3) and Tony Romo (9) drop back to make passes duringpractice session at football minicamp in Carrollton, Texas, Tuesday, June 16, 2009. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

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    Members of the Dallas Cowboys offensive line work out with training equipment during practice at football camp in Carrollton, Texas, Tuesday, June 16, 2009. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

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    Dallas Cowboys secondary coach Dave Campo, left, instructs cornerback Mike Mickens (33) during practice at football minicamp in Carrollton, Texas, Tuesday, June 16, 2009. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

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    Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo drops back to make a pass during practice at football minicamp in Carrollton, Texas, Tuesday, June 16, 2009. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

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    CARROLLTON, TX - JUNE 16: Running back Tashard Choice #23 of the Dallas Cowboys during mini camp at Standridge Stadium on June 16, 2009 in Carrollton, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Tashard Choice

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If it all leaves an O.J. taste in your mouth, do not totally despair. Stallworth can suffocate the legal system in cash, but he can't buy off the public outrage.

You know it's bad when even Cleveland fans aren't saying Stallworth has paid his debt to society. Now let the poor guy get on with his life.

(To be accurate, he hasn't paid his debt yet. He has about 23 days in jail left with gain time, two years of house arrest, eight years probation and must donate $2,500 to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, $2,500 to Parents of Murdered Children, pay $1,842.88 to the Miami Police Department, $813.14 to the Miami-Dade Police Department and $583 in court costs. MADD, by the way, doesn't want his money.)

He also has to live with the thought that he killed a man.

Unlike Vick, there's no reason to think Stallworth isn't genuinely remorseful. But that doesn't change the nature of the accident.

This isn't smoking dope or sneaking a gun into a nightclub or even drowning dogs for fun and profit. This is the kind of crime that gets people sent away for 15 years.

Regular people, at least.

It's natural to be mad, but I don't blame Stallworth for working the system. That got the wheels of injustice turning, and the lawyers, the prosecutors and the judge all just did their jobs.

Now it's time for Goodell to do his.
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