Yesterday I spoke with our legal expert Wes about Larry Johnson’s recent plea deal. Below is the complete transcript of our discussion.
Ryan Jones: What are you thoughts on the deal Larry Johnson made in court yesterday?
Wes: It looks like Larry Johnson and his attorneys managed to strike a pretty good deal in resolving what had become a very well-publicized incident. Despite claims that Larry acknowledged in open court that there was enough evidence to convict him on two counts of misdemeanor assault, one wonders what the DA’s office really had. Typically young assistant district attorneys will always take the conviction–especially in something this high-profile–but only if they’re confident they have their case in order. As with one of Larry’s previous cases, you have to wonder if the key witnesses were ever going to testify, or if they were otherwise motivated to stay home that day.
RJ: Other than maybe some witnesses having second thoughts about testifying are there any other reasons the ADA would push for a plea?
W: An ADA never pushes for a plea unless they’re worried about losing at trial altogether. Typically plea arrangements are reached where the defendant knows he’s guilty of something, but would like to take care of the situation early and avoid public embarrassment. The DA will usually concede the issue where they know they have a deficiency in the case, usually in the form of direct evidence. Here, that might be a reluctance of testimony on the part of a crucial eye-witness. It’s hard for me to imagine another scenario where this doesn’t go before a jury.
RJ: So if this were John Smith charged with the same simple assault do you think the outcome would have been different?
W: No, not at all. Plea deals happen all the time. But they generally only happen where there’s a small hole in the state’s case that can be exploited. In this case, you just wonder what evidence wouldn’t have stuck in court. In particular, I’m wondering why Larry conceded any amount of guilt to a greater charge while pleading to a lesser offense.
RJ: I’ve been vocal about my doubts that Larry Johnson can uphold the terms of his probation, specifically staying out of the clubs and away from alcohol. If he violates his probation, what would the repercussions be?
W: The repercussion would depend on the terms of his probation. From what I’ve read, he’s been ordered to avoid alcohol, and stay out of Kansas City bars and nightclubs after 9PM. I find the last part interesting because it specifies the location. I would presume the same standards apply in New York, but that’s not clear from what’s been reported.
RJ: For the sake of argument lets say Johnson gets charged with another simple assault in three months. Will this plea play a role in that case and vice versa?
W: Given Johnson’s track record, you certainly can’t rule out the possibility, and any new incident would be in violation of Johnson’s probation. These disturbing the peace charges would not be dismissed, and a judge would likely choose to exercise the maximum penalty and jail Johnson for being in contempt of court. Though evidence of prior crimes would not necessarily prove Johnson guilty of a new offense, one has to believe that a judge would view the habitual nature of Johnson’s behavior unfavorably. It would be unlikely that he could strike another plea deal, let alone one as favorable as this one.
RJ: Finally, if were representing Larry Johnson what would your advice be to him going forward?
W: Be good, Larry. Please, please be good.