The fact that subpoenas are being issued for a grand jury regarding the 10 criminal complaints against Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson has significance. However, beyond confirming that prosecutors have officially commenced the process of gathering evidence for eventual submission to a grand jury, the recent news from Mark Berman of Fox 26 in Houston doesn’t shed much light on the broader situation.
Watson’s camp has believed that a grand jury will inevitably consider the allegations against Watson. The sheer volume of complaints — 22 civil lawsuits and 10 criminal complaints — makes it difficult if not impossible to not present the evidence to a grand jury.
As we understand it, it’s not a grand jury that specifically has been convened for the purposes of exploring the allegations against Watson. Instead, it’s simply part of the normal process of preparing cases for potential presentation to the four separate grand juries that consider potential indictments of alleged crimes in Harris County, Texas on a quarterly basis.
It’s possible that the subpoenas that have been issued target only documents relating to the allegations, and not testimony. If the subpoenas aren’t targeting testimony, there are no dates set for such testimony to be presented to a grand jury. If that’s the case, the formal presentation of evidence to a grand jury may not happen for months.
The grand jury proceedings are secret; rarely if ever does any information emerge from that process, beyond the final result. As to Watson, it’s believed that the prosecutor will not call the alleged victims to testify, relying instead on interviews and other information. If the grand jury believes that it needs to hear from the alleged victims, the grand jury could ask for the alleged victims to testify. It’s also believed that the prosecutor will present a package of evidence from Watson’s camp, in the interests of providing both sides.
It’s unusual for a criminal defendant to attempt to produce anything to a grand jury. In Texas, where the prosecution has no right to secure pre-trial evidence from a criminal defendant, it makes sense strategically to hold all cards until trial, using exculpatory evidence as a way to establish reasonable doubt, and then some. For Watson, however, there’s real value in potentially cutting off an indictment, if the grand jury decides based on the evidence submitted that the standard of probable cause hasn’t been met.
Although only felony charges can be submitted to the grand jury, the grand jury has the ability to issue misdemeanor charges instead. Likewise, the prosecution has the discretion even after indictment on felony charges to strike a deal pursuant to which Watson pleads guilty to one or more misdemeanors.
The biggest point to remember for now is that there’s no timeline, and that the criminal process definitely doesn’t care about the football calendar. With no team likely to trade anything of value for Watson while the criminal process is unresolved, the Texans will soon have to make a decision about Watson’s status pending further developments.
Two primary options exist: (1) shift him to injured reserve and pay him not to play; or (2) tell him it’s time to start getting ready to earn the contract he was given last year, unless and until the league office puts him on paid leave. The Texans reportedly are hoping he comes to the conclusion that it’s time to suit up and play without being pressured to do so.