Patriots cornerback Alfonzo Dennard could be spending the foreseeable future behind bars. A Nebraska jury today convicted him of assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest.
The assault charge is a felony that carries a maximum of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The misdemeanor resisting arrest charge could tack on an additional year of incarceration and $1,000 fine. On April 11, Dennard will be sentenced by a judge, nearly a year to the day after the incident in question.
It was the weekend before the 2012 NFL Draft, and Dennard, then a student at the University of Nebraska, was out late with family and friends at a bar in the city of Lincoln. Outside the establishment, Dennard was involved in an altercation with another student, and police intervened. That's when Dennard was said to have punched one of the officers and then resisted being arrested.
The 23-year-old Patriot and his defense team claimed that Dennard didn't realize it was a policeman whom he struck because the officer approached him from behind. Dennard testified that he thought he was being attacked by a civilian and merely tried to push the officer away from him.
For the past week, a jury heard Dennard's case and apparently didn't buy what he was selling. However, Dennard was found not guilty of a misdemeanor assault charge on his fellow student, but now faces as much as six years in prison and $11,000 in fines for the other two convictions.
I'm not a lawyer, but I have served on criminal juries in the past. In my experience, sentencing depends entirely on the personality of the presiding justice. Given the relatively routine nature of this late-night, alcohol-tinged incident, and that it was a first-time offense for Dennard, I'm guessing the judge won't give Dennard the max.
Not knowing the judge at all, though, I can't begin to speculate on how biased, one way or the other, this person might be toward Dennard. Maybe the judge will be more lenient toward him because he's a former Cornhusker player and now NFL star; or perhaps the judge is a toughie who wants to set an example precisely because of those "celebrity" factors. It would be irresponsible to speculate any further. We'll just have to wait until April to find out.
This unfortunate development for Dennard and the Patriots could have an impact now on how the team uses its franchise and/or transition tags in the coming days. One player thought to be a candidate for either tag is cornerback Aqib Talib. NFL teams have until Monday, March 4 to apply the tags to one or two of their free-agents-to-be, in an attempt to retain their services for at least one more season at contracts equal to roughly the average of the top 5 (for the franchise) and top 10 (for transition) player contracts around the league at a particular position.
If New England was intending not to tag Talib before today's verdict, they might now be reconsidering given Dennard's uncertain future and the remaining lack of quality depth/talent at the position. To be safe, the Patriots may have no choice but to franchise or transition Talib now.