The 24 Deshaun Watson trials present a key evidence question: Can evidence of other allegations be introduced?

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The 24 cases pending against Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson will be resolved via 24 trials. In each of those trials, a key question of evidence will need to be addressed. And the answer will dramatically impact the length of each trial.

How much, if any, evidence of the other claims made against Watson will be admissible in each trial?

During Friday’s interview with Sports Radio 610 in Houston, attorney Rusty Hardin addressed that complication, within the context of whether they believed that the trial of the claims made by Ashley Solis could happen between mid-July and the start of training camp. (The parties have agreed that there will be no trials between August 1 and March 1.)

“We’ll do Solis if you will agree that you’re not going to try to introduce the evidence of the other 21 in this trial and let the allegations and the evidence stand alone on this one case,” Hardin said regarding his communications with attorney Tony Buzbee. “Because if you’re going to try to get all these other cases in to poison the water and the judge rules that you can, there’s no way these cases will not take several months to try. . . . You would have like 21 mini-trials.”

Hardin said Buzbee wouldn’t agree to that. Which means that a ruling from the trial judge in each case will be necessary as to whether evidence of other allegations can be introduced in any, some, or all of the cases.

It’s an issue arising squarely under what’s widely known as Rule 404(b) of the various rules of evidence, federal or state. Rule 404(b) generally prohibits evidence “of any other crime, wrong, or act . . . to prove a person’s character in order to show that on a particular occasion the person acted in accordance with the character.” In other words, evidence of other allegations against Watson can’t be used for the purposes of arguing to the jury, “If he’s accused of doing it in all these other cases, he must have done it here.”

Rule 404(b) contains a key exception: “This evidence may be admissible for another purpose, such as proving motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, absence of mistake, or lack of accident.”

That’s where Buzbee may have an opening. He’ll argue not that he’s using the other claims in an effort to get the jury to think that, for example, 24 people can’t all be wrong or lying or conspiring (although it’s a key collateral benefit) but that the claims go to the question of Watson’s motive, intent, preparation, plan, the absence of mistake, and/or the lack of accident.

For example, to the extent that Buzbee will try to prove that Watson arranged massages with so many different women with the intention that those massages would become sexual and the plan to try to make that happen through his words and actions during the massages, that evidence would go directly Watson’s motive and intent in arranging each of the sessions.

Hardin’s best practical argument against 404(b) evidence is the threat/promise of the 21 mini-trials! No judge wants to preside over a case that spirals out of control, with multiple other plaintiffs testifying and being cross-examined and a one-week trial literally requiring, as Hardin said, several months. Each trial could potentially become as convoluted as the Seinfeld finale.

That said, there’s surely a more economical way to do it. The answer could be driven by the specific defense that Watson, through Hardin, employs. If Watson ultimately admits (as Hardin seemed to do on Friday) that he arranged massages with the hope that they would become sexual and that he tried to steer things that way, the fact that he allegedly crossed the line with others becomes less relevant. If, however, Watson tries to say that he had no desire or plan or motive or intent to secure any sexual activity under the guise of a legitimate massage and that any conduct suggestion otherwise was a mere mistake or accident, the door flies open to Buzbee’s ability to show out often Watson engaged in that supposedly accidental behavior.

For example, if an alleged shoplifter claims that a candy bar fell into his pocket when he accidentally brushed against the display, the fact that he had been accused by 23 other stores of shoplifting and used that same defense in every single instance makes the other claims relevant to proving that there was no accident.

That’s why Hardin’s comments from Friday are so important. Even though he won’t be testifying at trial, he’ll be the architect of the defense. At some point, he’ll need to put his cards on the table. Will Watson admit he was hoping the massages would become sexual and that he actively tried to make that happen? Or will Watson insist that he did nothing of the sort, ever? Those and other specific strategies will shape the question of whether Rule 404(b) evidence eventually is allowed at one or more or all of the trials.

There’s another important wrinkle here. The ruling made in the first of the 24 cases quite possibly will be appealed through the Texas court system. The judges presiding over the other 23 cases may decide to press pause on all of them until the appellate process is resolved and a conclusive answer is obtained. This would delay the entire litigation by months, if not years.

So, yes, Watson should have settled these cases last April. Or last October. Or in March, when he was traded to Cleveland. Or right now.

39 responses to “The 24 Deshaun Watson trials present a key evidence question: Can evidence of other allegations be introduced?

  1. Sure looks like a pattern of behavior to me.

    Watson appears to have a preference for a certain type of scenario.

  2. What will happen first: Colin Kaepernick signs with a club or Watson completes a pass in a game while wearing a Browns uniform.

  3. Pretty obvious at this point that the Texans played this thing perfectly and both the Browns and Watson played it horribly wrong. I’ve bagged on the Houston front office but man gotta give them huge credit on this thing. Imagine getting completely out of the Watson situation with such a giant haul of picks!!

  4. The only thing preventing settlement is the hubris of Watson and his attorney. This ain’t a Johnny Depp scenario. There are 23 claimants. The likelihood of a reputation rehabilitation is much less likely that it being cratered even further. Those two need a strong dose of reality.

  5. The only reasonable solution for the NFL is to suspend Watson with pay until all of the allegations are fully resolved. Then the NFL can review the results and issue any necessary punishment.

  6. Tony Buzbee will not bet interested in two dozen separate trials each taking potentially many months or even years to work their way through the system any more than the judge would be. Most (maybe all) of the plaintiffs are likely ready to move on as well, and that is something Watson might be able to use to his advantage. Unfortunately for him Buzbee trolled Hardin for over a year and yesterday Rusty swallowed the bait, hook, line and sinker.

  7. Watson needs to get this issue settled before he steps onto a field in a Browns uniform. It is an embarrassment to the Cleveland Browns and the NFL.

  8. Nice Seinfeld finale reference.
    Buzbee should call Babu to the stand to wag his finger at Deshaun for being a “berry bad man”

  9. The Browns thought that this would have a happy ending after sign Watson.

  10. Welcome to the intersection of bad personal judgment and bad legal counsel. With proper counsel, evidentiary considerations must necessarily factor into settlement considerations and for many reasons, these cases should’ve been settled long ago.

  11. 30 years ago a friend and I were charged with identical felonies. I (was truly not guilty), took a misdemeanor plea deal, paid a fine, 30 day suspended jail sentence, and clean record after one year’s probation. My friend (was truly guilty with three eye-witnesses), was offered the same plea deal as me, but decided to be arrogant and take the high road and fought the charge. He was convicted and sentenced to seven years. Deshaun shoulda settled, especially now that it looks like he’s guilty of at least some of the charges.

    Shoulda, coulda, woulda…

  12. Watson had his contract structured so that he would barely lose any money even if suspended for a year.
    He got full pay last year.
    He will be treated far better than a player who gets a 2 game suspension.
    Is that justice?
    The NFL should let him play the full year at his 2022 salary then in 2023 “when all the facts are in” issue the punishment.

  13. Nope…allegations can’t be used. Not unless those allegations have been proven in court and at that point they aren’t called allegations anymore. Hearsay. What can be done is having the people making those allegations testify in court.

  14. Arguing the morality or this guy or if he’s a scumbag (I happen to think he is) is not the real issue. The issue is, “was this a smart football decision by the Browns”? So you have to ask yourself, based on everything you know about this guy, can he win you a championship, and even if you really believe he can, is it worth to have a dude like this as the face of it all? To me the clear answer is “no” – based on his limited past, you have no real answer of his on field value and even if it does equal a Super Bowl win – how much have you sold your soul to get it?

  15. Can you not post other NFL news other then this trash 3 times daily? Write about something, hell write about why the 50 yard line is the middle of the field….better read then this junk….

  16. If 18 of the 22 were willing to settle for 100K, why not offer 250K with an NDA. I’m sure Buzbee would be happy with 1/3 of that.

  17. How are you a professional athlete, let alone a quarterback, and you strike out with 30 women?

    That’s an even worse batting average than me and I’m not worth 1/1,000th of the money he is.

  18. Watson should be desperately trying to settle.

    Theres a chance that he only gets one year of suspension – if the cases are all cleared before the season starts.

    That said I think the NFL resents him structuring his contract to be suspension proof so hell probably still get more than a year suspended.

  19. I know it’s their job, but what’s going through an agent’s mind when they’re faced with having to make some kind of moral judgment call like this? There’s a TON of circumstances pointing to your client (allegedly as of now) being a sexual predator, yet you’re tasked with getting him a blockbuster deal with a team you know you’ll have to do business with again at some point.

  20. How can Watson or any QB expect to play at a high level in the NFL while all this is going on. I can’t imagine a Watson being the same QB he was in Houston and playing at that same level.

  21. Very often what makes perfect sense is not how the law works or isn’t even legal. You can’t introduce evidence of other charges or other events at a trial. A lawyer in my state was disbarred finally after doing it repeatedly over and over at multiply trials over the years. He would get the jury to hear it and then the judge would sustain the objection and admonish the jury to ignore it. It was a pattern of behavior to influence the outcome of his trials. Finally someone put two and two together and he got burned. Many of these resulted in appeals and requests for a mistrial. All bad. In this case it seems particularly relevant that there are 20+ other cases but still is not OK to introduce it. That “loophole” is unlikely to fly, because no matter what is argued, the reason this was introduced is too clear. I can’t even imagine 21 trials and 21 mistrials and 21 appeals. I’m already sick of this and it’ll be going on forever if they don’t stick strictly to the law.

  22. Let’s face it: there are those who simply want Watson punished and there are those who don’t. Each for various reasons that justify their personal grievances about sports athletes, race, or legal injustice, etc. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that no one is “doing this” to Deshaun Watson. He is not a victim. There are TWENTY-FOUR women who are potential victims of his intentional actions. And even if only half of them are truthful, that means TWELVE women were victims of Watson. And even if half of those are truthful, that’s SIX women that are victims of Watson. How many is enough for you to see the problem here?

  23. What if none of them are truthful? Suppose Buzbee told the women that they could get some quick money…and that there was no downside because even if they “stretch” the truth, it’s still a she said-he said…so they couldn’t be found guilty of lying in court.

    I ws just playing devil’s advocate because it’s far more likely that at least some of the women are being truthful. BUt we have seen politicians get accused of the same things, by as many or more women, with no consequences.

  24. I don’t think I’ve ever seen four posts on the PFT opening page about one player. PFT should just start a separate website dedicated to him…

  25. I’m not sure I would want to even shower and change clothes around this guy in a locker room…

  26. Can anyone explain how dysfunctional the Cleveland Clowns are?

    Yes. Promise to pay 280m to a player that has 24 lawsuits filed against him.
    This was not a Browns QB until they decided they wanted they wanted to be part of his mess. Ah, this is so Cleveland LOL!

  27. There’s no plausible explanation that a professional athlete with access to the highest level of physiotherapy, and whose livelihood is largely dependent on his physical well-being, would separately contract with over 40 massage therapists (24 accusers, 18 that will speak on his behalf), that we know of, over the internet, not knowing the skill level of each. He’s got a serial-disorder is the only explanation. My guess is that he absolutely crossed the line, the line that the rest of us are aware of, however he’s been coddled, always told yes, since early school…he does not have the same sense of right and wrong that the rest of us do, he probably truly thinks he did what he’s entitled to do, what he’s been taught he can do. That, and or he’s convinced himself, ala OJ, that nothing happened.

  28. The mistake here is for the idiot DeeShawn for not settling with the first noise makers at the very beginning. Seal their mouths with NDA’s and it is likely none of the others would have ever come forward and no sports journalist these days is competent enough to do research. Maybe it would have cost him about $150,000 for each and it would be done. He’s an idiot.

  29. So Watson at one point offered the plantiffs $100,000.00 each to go away. Doesn’t that admit guilt to the man that appears to have no clue? Just based on that he needs to be suspended and when he loses these civil cases be suspended again or banned from the NFL. If any regular guy did this he would have already been serving time.

  30. 250-500k would have made this all go away but he got cheap and will cost a small fortune now.

  31. The Houston Texans might be celebrating before week 1 of the 2022 season. Goodell has almost no choice but to suspend Watson for much, if not all, of the 2022 season; the blowback will be intense if he does anything less. The Browns 1st round pick (now the Texans) in 2023 might turn out to be quite the asset, especially in a draft that is going to have HIGH value QBs coming out and more so if Davis Mills (only 11 starts at Stanford, looked really good at year end last yr, would have been 1st QB in April’s draft if he had stayed 1 more yr in college) proves he’s the guy in Houston. Texans might be able to flip that pick (or use it on a QB if needed) into another haul of picks.

  32. Watson’s goose = cooked
    Cleveland Browns = cooked
    Houston Texans = no worries, all good

  33. This just sounds worse and worse as the months move on. No way Watson plays in 2022, and at this point, with 24 trails ahead of him?? it’s sounding like less than 50/50 he plays another down in this league. Too much questionable info is already coming out and it just feels like his lawyer is sounding less and less confident.. constantly having to explain weird statements.

  34. Watson is scum. Sorry Cleveland.

    I hope all the women win their suits and they each divvy up equally 98% of watson’s whole salary under his new contract.

  35. Your comment is awaiting censorship. This is a preview; your comment will be visible after it has been approved by our liberal censors says:

    I guess it would suck to be the 1st trial. The closer you get to 24th, the better you are going to be with regard to evidence from previous trials

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