Philadelphia Eagle Indicted on Rape Charge – What to know about a grand jury and how would the case be different if he was charged in Pennsylvania
Our law firm defends person charged with crimes in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. While these 2 states share borders, bridges and, in many cases, follow the same professional sport franchises, they have very different criminal justice system. Recently, a grand jury in Guernsey County, Ohio indicted Philadelphia Eagles’ offensive lineman Josh Sills on rape and kidnapping charges. Sills is now on the NFL commissioner’s exempt list is not permitted to participate in team activities including the Superbowl next week
This case presents an opportunity to explain the grand jury system. Pennsylvania, unlike New Jersey and Ohio does not maintain a grand jury indictment system for the majority of its criminal cases except in rare circumstances.
What is a Grand Jury
A Grand Jury listens to the facts of the case and determine if probably cause exists for the charges alleged against the Defendant. Again, Pennsylvania, unlike New Jersey and Ohio, doesn’t employ this type of system. Criminal charges in the Commonwealth are initially brought before a District Magistrate or Municipal Court Judge (Philadelphia) to make a similar finding at the preliminary hearing. This means that if Sills was charged in Pennsylvania, he would be entitled to a preliminary hearing/
What is the grand jury’s procedure and what is the prosecutor’s role before a grand jury?
In Ohio, a grand jury decides whether the state has probable cause to bring felony charges against a person alleged to have committed a crime. Felonies are serious crimes such as murder, rape, other sexual assaults, and kidnapping to drug offenses, robbery, larceny, financial crimes, arson, and many more. These persons who must be citizens of the county where the grand jury sits. In addition, grand jurors must satisfy the ability to write, read and have no disqualifying criminal convictions.
All grand jury proceedings are not held in a courtroom or with a judge; unlike a preliminary hearing. The public cannot attend unless they are called as witnesses. It is extremely rare for the accused to appear before a grand jury or to have a chance to present evidence. At a preliminary hearing, defense counsel are permitted to appear and cross examine the prosecution’s witnesses. The defense lawyer can also present evidence and ask the court to dismiss the case for lack of evidence
At a grand jury, prosecutors are permitted to recite the relevant facts to the grand jury so that they can decide if probable cause exists to indict. Prosecutors however may also present documents with testimony from witnesses, including the accused. Defense lawyers along with Judges are not present in the Grand Jury room. In Texas, only the following are permitted, grand jurors, the Prosecutor, witness, a stenographer, and bailiff.
While the accused may be called as a witness before the grand jury, he or she can invoke his/her right against self-incrimination (5th Amendment). All grand jury proceedings are secret, and Prosecutors are only permitted to share information obtained from a grand jury with another grand jury, law enforcement agency or another Prosecutor when they need their assistance with the case.
Grand jurors are allowed to ask questions of the Prosecutor and can request production of other evidence if they think they need it. Grand juries are not trials and Prosecutors are under no obligation to present any evidence which would be exculpate the accused or in some way prove innocence.
The Deshaun Watson Case – Grand Jury
If you recall from my previous blogs, Deshaun Watson faced two (2) grand juries and neither found that sufficient probable cause existed for harassment and sexual misconduct charges against him despite reviewing police reports and hearing testimony from witnesses.
Watson, apparently invoked his 5th Amendment right during civil depositions, which occurred on the same day as the first grand jury convened. He allegedly answered questions, however, under oath, after the second grand jury declined to indict him. This did not happen in the Sills case. He was indicted and so his case will proceed to trial unless he accepts a plea deal.
How serious are the charges against Josh Sill?
Allegations and criminal convictions pertaining to sexual misconduct or sex crimes are obviously serious and expose a convicted person to state prison sentence; even if they have no prior criminal history!
In addition, New Jersey, like Pennsylvania, maintains harsh sentencing statutes for those convicted of these offenses. Further, registration requirements under Megan’s Law, subject convicted individuals to an additional requirement. New Jersey has Parole Supervision for Life (PSL). When a person is convicted of certain sex based offenses they are required to register under New Jersey’s parole supervision for life statute. They include:
- Aggravated sexual assault
- Sexual assault
- Aggravated criminal sexual contact
- Criminal sexual contact
- Endangering the welfare of a child
- Possession/distribution of child pornography
- Luring, kidnapping (judge’s discretion)
Registration As a Sex Offender and Future Prospects
Most people don’t even realize that a conviction for a sex crime may lead to registration under Megan’s Law. A sex crime conviction often makes it difficult to qualify for professional licensing, find a job, or even find a place to live. If you are a registered sex offender you must register with the local police and in some situations your information may be posted online in a sex offender registry.
Why is the Josh Sills case different than the Deshaun Watson case for the can’t the NFL make a decision on this case?
Unlike the Watson case, a grand jury has indicted Sills. The NFL’s personal conduct policy states that players, coaches, and team administration must refrain “from conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in the NFL”. The policy goes on to say that conduct by anyone in the league that is illegal, violent, dangerous, or irresponsible, damages the reputation of others in the game and undercuts public respect and support for the NFL.
Players convicted of a crime or subject to a disposition of a criminal proceeding (alternative to conviction program) are subject to discipline. Even if conduct however doesn’t result in a criminal conviction, a player found to have engaged in any conduct which undermines the integrity of the NFL is subject to discipline.
While Sills has not been convicted, the Grand Jury’s probable cause finding is enough for the league to suspend him or even ban him from play. He is currently on the Commissioner’s Exempt List which means he is still being paid. This all would change with a conviction!
Contact Our Criminal Defense Lawyers in PA & NJ
Please click here to contact our Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers. We offer free case reviews and serve the following areas in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Atlantic City, Camden, Cherry Hill, Chester, Conshohocken, Doylestown, Media, Norristown, Philadelphia, Pottstown, Salem, Upper Darby, Upper Merion, Upper Providence, Vineland & Woodbury areas.