Greg Hardy Goes Free at a Price
Less than seven months after being convicted of domestic abuse, Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy will walk after state prosecutors dropped charges when his accuser failed to appear in court yesterday for his appeal. The Charlotte Observer reports that Hardy "is believed to have reached an undisclosed civil settlement" with the woman, who has been out of touch with the District Attorney's office since November.
This situation provides some clear counterpoints for anyone who insists that the NFL should stay out of domestic violence cases, that they should just be left to play out in the courts. The league has so far waited to act on the charges, placing Hardy on the commissioner's exempt list -- essentially a paid suspension -- as the trial process moved along. Under the NFL's new personal conduct policy, it will likely conduct its own investigation to determine whether Hardy warrants further discipline -- a decision that previously rested almost solely on the outcome of criminal proceedings.
But if indeed Hardy was able to buy himself out of these charges, it speaks not only to the justice system's inadequacy in dealing with these cases but also to the unique nature of incidents involving professional athletes. A judge did convict Hardy of assaulting his then-girlfriend last summer, but under North Carolina law he's entitled to an appeal in a jury trial. After the first trial, the victim reportedly told prosecutors she did not want to go through another, which apparently is incomprehensible to certain reporters and fans.
This tweet from ESPN's Adam Schefter isn't helping, and pretty much sums up just how seriously domestic violence is really taken throughout the NFL:
So if you take the victim's reticence to testify for the second time as some kind of commentary on the validity of her accusations, I'm here to help you out. It's well within a victim's right to refuse to testify, and they often do, even after bringing charges. There are a number of reasons for this. Here are just a few: the belief that the relationship can be reconciled; the fear of retaliatory attacks; concern for what the testimony might do to her reputation; simply not wanting to have to relive traumatic events.
When the accused is a professional football player, these reasons multiply tenfold. Victims now have to worry about fan backlash, public scrutiny, teams placing them at fault -- everything that we saw happen to Janay Rice.
One might also wonder just how we tell the difference between between "settlement" and "witness tampering," which is a felony under North Carolina law. We can speculate all we want, but it's a very difficult thing to discern. “If you have proof of quid pro quo, then you’ve got some possible criminal liability," Richard Boner, a retired North Carolina judge, told the Observer. "It’s the district attorney’s call. There’s a fine line."
Knowing the external pressures that might cause a domestic violence victim to refuse to testify, many states and big cities have instituted "no-drop" policies requiring the prosecution to continue to pursue a conviction once charges are brought, with or without the accuser's cooperation. North Carolina isn't one of them.
While we should never consider any domestic violence case as"typical," there are atypical challenges when a trial involves a famous, rich athlete -- and they almost always make things harder for the victim. Having earned $13.1 million this season for playing just one game, Hardy was in a position to cut a check to a woman who already had gone through the ordeal of one trial, if that is what happened.
There is also the complication, particularly if the couple decides to stay together, that the victim has a stake in the assailant continuing to get his astronomical paychecks. Janay Rice said it was a legitimate concern, and we should take her at her word. But we should do so with the understanding that an NFL player's financial position gives him even more leverage over his victim than the average attacker.
As the media's framing of Hardy's alleged settlement shows, such financial advantages invite increased scrutiny of the victim, not the the accused. Upon learning that the prosecution had not been able to track down Hardy's victim, the Charlotte Observer checked her Facebook page and reported she apparently made recent trips to Atlanta, New York and Vail, Colorado. What news value does this have, other than to discredit here as a gold-digger?
In any case, the dropping of charges against Hardy means that a man who was found guilty by a judge of strangling a woman, threatening to kill her, and throwing her on a bed full of assault rifles could very well end up on an NFL roster next season. Things are shaping up a lot like last season.
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