Deshaun Watson’s lawyer argues that grand jury findings should end NFL’s investigation

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Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson has opted not to cooperate with HBO’s treatment of the 22 civil cases pending against him. His lawyer, Rusty Hardin, has been speaking to select members of the media in recent days in an effort to do that which Hardin claims he isn’t trying to do — win the battle in the court of public opinion.

Most recently, Hardin appeared on a podcast with Tulane law professor Gabe Feldman. During the interview, Hardin argued that the decisions made by a pair of grand juries in Texas should be enough to get the NFL to take no action against Watson.

“If we’re going to say, as everybody in the system does, that a prosecutor can get a ham sandwich indicted if they want . . . that would mean that when they choose not to take extra consideration given to that,” Hardin said.

That argument is flawed, however. A prosecutor both can get a ham sandwich indicted — and can get a ham sandwich not indicted. Because it’s a one-sided presentation of evidence, the prosecutor has wide latitude to nudge the grand jury in whichever direction the prosecutor wants it to be nudged. The prosecutor, thus, can push toward an indictment. The prosecutor also can push toward no indictment.

Why would the prosecutor want no indictment? Because the prosecutor may not want to have to try to win one or more of those cases under the ridiculously high standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

Prosecutors don’t like to lose. Prosecutors, in some situations, may not to want to have their hand forced and/or their hands tied by a grand jury that finds “probable cause” in a case where the evidence nevertheless is rife with reasonable doubt, which easily can happen in a case of conflicting versions of events told by two people with no third party present to break the tie.

In Watson’s case, it’s not known (because the process happened in secrecy) whether and to what extent the prosecutor tried aggressively to get one or more indictments.

Despite Hardin’s argument, he nevertheless realizes that the nature of the allegations may result in the NFL taking action.

“It’s going to be very hard for the NFL to have the courage to do what I think should be done, which is no finding,” Hardin said. “That all remains to be seen, some time this summer.”

The Personal Conduct Policy gives the league broad latitude when it comes to identifying potential misconduct. Despite the allegations that Watson faces in civil court and the evidence presented to the grand jury in the criminal complaints, the league’s policy prevents not only “assault and/or battery, including sexual assault or other sex offenses” but also “conduct that poses a genuine danger to the safety and well-being of another person” and “conduct that undermines or puts at risk the integrity of the NFL, NFL clubs, or NFL personnel.”

Thus, it’s possible that the league will choose to punish Watson under the same reasoning that applied in 2010 to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. As Goodell told Roethlisberger regarding alleged misconduct in Milledgeville, Georgia that resulted in a six-game suspension (reduced to four): “I recognize that the allegations in Georgia were disputed and that they did not result in criminal charges being filed against you, My decision today is not based on a finding that you violated Georgia law, or on a conclusion that differs from that of the local prosecutor. That said, you are held to a higher standard as an NFL player, and there is nothing about your conduct in Milledgeville that can remotely be described as admirable, responsible, or consistent with either the values of the league or the expectations of our fans. . . . Your conduct raises sufficient concerns that I believe effective intervention now is the best step for your personal and professional welfare.”

To the extent that Goodell follows the precedent created by the Roethlisberger case, Watson could be in line for a suspension even if, as Hardin wants, the grand juries’ decisions are in some way regarded as dispositive as to the 22 claims made against Watson.

14 responses to “Deshaun Watson’s lawyer argues that grand jury findings should end NFL’s investigation

  1. The grand jury determines guilt.

    The NFL determines if you have hurt the brand.

    News flash, he’s hurt the brand and he’s going to get suspended.

    Stop trying to equate two things that are not connected.

  2. Did Rusty take off his big red nose and floppy shoes before making that statement?

  3. Ummm. Let’s talk to Zeke Elliot and find out how not being charged impacted his punishment. And Watson’s alleged transgressions are far more numerous and arguably worse than Elliots’. However, I suspect Watson will get a pass or maybe a slap on the wrist from the NFL when he should lose a full season, if not two, for his despicable behavior.

  4. They have to suspend Watson for 6-8 games because what he did was much worse than Big Ben. Not sure what Hardin is trying to say.

  5. 22 women and not 1 male massage therapist was solicited.

    That’s the evidence.

    This isn’t a he said/she said. All the stories from all 22 women are almost exactly the same.

  6. “All the stories from all 22 women are almost exactly the same.”

    22 women represented by the same attorney. It’s not much of a shock that their stories would align.

  7. So Crates says:
    May 24, 2022 at 1:52 pm
    The grand jury determines guilt.

    The NFL determines if you have hurt the brand.

    News flash, he’s hurt the brand and he’s going to get suspended.

    Stop trying to equate two things that are not connected.

    A grand jury doesn’t determine guilt. A grand jury can only return an indictment.

  8. NFL does not suspend good QB’s as that hurts rating. Which in turn negatively impacts bottom line $$$. At most a token suspension considering he has 22 accusers and NFL can’t just say move along nothing to see here.

  9. As far as what the NFL ‘should’ do here we can argue it all day long. But in the end this is the NFLs league and they can do what they want with it. So in the end the NFL alone will be deciding what the NFL will do.

  10. If the prosecutor believes a crime may have been committed, they indict the ham sandwich. If they don’t get an indictment, then at least they’ve upheld their legal duty. To simply pick and choose “how hard you want to try” though is a dereliction of duty on their part.

  11. Most prosecutors are elected and many have higher political aspirations. It would take a pretty awful case to get them to walk away from the publicity of a celebrity trial. It’s true that the prosecutor may have wanted to have the Grand Jury take the political hit for not bringing charges, but most prosecutors would want to bring the case for the high profile it would give them, if there was a case, even a questionable case, to bring. Apparently there wasn’t.

  12. He wasn’t even charged.

    Regardless of the way it played out, the grand jury reviewed the evidence and decided it wasn’t enough to take to trial.

    22 stories and not none of them tried in court? And none of them called the police after any of the massages?

    No one called the police. No one.

  13. Tonight will go along way with public perception. Watson was offered the opportunity to defend himself. He chose not too. First question to Watson why 22 woman and no men? Seems like a pattern here. We’re you expecting more than a massage.

  14. Some people have a very narrow, male-centric and uninformed view of sexual harassment and sexual assault. Calling the police (or not) in these cases doesn’t prove or disprove anything. Sexual assaults often go unreported because the victims know that they’ll be dragged through the mud (as we’re seeing in the Watson case) and the man won’t get the same treatment.

    As a society, we should stop looking for excuses for aggressive men (mostly) who feel they can abuse women without repercussions.

    And to Florio’s point – the sheer volume of these cases would mean a huge amount of work for the DA’s office with no sure chance of victory. Lack of evidence is often a problem with sexual assaults and the primary thing the accusers have going for them is numbers. 22 women with similar stories (and come on, drop the nonsense that these are 22 women making up stories to get a payday) is more solid than a few.

    The Grand Jury decisions don’t label Watson innocent by any means. That’s a misperception that needs to be better understood by more people. Also – if a judge decided to throw out these 22 cases, the public outcry would be huge.

    He may not have criminal charges pending, but it’s silly to look at this situation and only see what you want to see. What’s the simplest explanation, anyway? It is NOT that a shady lawyer (and Buzzbee sure seems shady) got 22 women to fabricate stories about Watson. The simplest explanation is that Watson did these things.

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