Go directly to jail

By Adam Sullivan

Baltimore Ravens star running back Jamal Lewis is heading to the clink for 4 months sometime after his 2004-05 NFL season grinds to a halt for his involvement in a federal drug conspiracy case in the summer of 2000. Following that, Lewis will do some time in a halfway house and perform 500 hours of community service. More immediately, Lewis will serve a two game league-imposed suspension and forfeiture of salary for those games. He is a convicted felon of his own admission, bargaining his plea of guilty in exchange for a reduced sentence to be served conveniently in the pro football off-season, and will not appeal his suspension by the NFL commissioner’s office.

Which is precisely what he ought to do.

This is standard operating procedure for many of those in troubled legal waters. Don’t fight the law ‘cause the law might win. Regardless of how innocent Lewis might have believed himself to be, he did a smart thing. These charges threatened his professional football career and his freedoms in general. So what you do is plead guilty to a lesser charge. You plead no contest. You sell out someone in your posse, tell ‘em you’ll remember them when they get out. You pay whoever you’ve gotta pay, shut them up, and try not to make the same mistake again. You settle the matter as quickly as possible. Don’t drag yourself through the mud if you can help it. It’s nothing that doesn’t go on every single day in courts across the country. There’s a very specialized legal term for this: it’s called ‘Trying To Save Your Own Ass’.

Now, “Trying To Save Your Own Ass” works in different ways for different people. Not shockingly, as is the case with almost every other circumstance, it works much, much better for people with money. Rich people are just like everyone else in that they are free to use what resources they have available to them to settle their legal issues as they and their counsel see fit. The difference is that rich folks’ pool of available resources is deeper and wider than most ordinary people ranging from financial advantages and quality of the legal team they can assemble to public sympathy and popularity in the community. It is unfair, of course, but it is as it is.

Jamal Lewis has plenty of money and a lot to lose. He was basically entrapped by an undercover FBI agent working to bring down a cocaine distribution ring operating in and around Atlanta, and made some cell phone calls to an old friend who was “looking,” if you know what I mean. The deal never went down, but Lewis’ involvement was enough for the government to try to prosecute him.

Luckily for Lewis, he didn’t have to ask around much to get the inside track on his defense counsel, Ed Garland, an Atlanta attorney evidently specializing in Getting Baltimore Raven Pro Bowlers Named Lewis Off The Hook with the Feds. That’s right, Garland is the same lead counsel who got linebacker Ray Lewis out of the whole stabbing mess at the Super Bowl in Atlanta a few years back. Obviously, Garland knows how to play the “TTSYOA” game as well as anyone, and J. Lewis can afford his services. They hatched a plan, got the prosecution on board, and avoided a lengthy trial, which might have dragged on for months and could have resulted in 10 years minimum in prison for Lewis.

As it turns out, Jamal’s headed to a minimum-security prison for four months. This way all he’ll be able to do is pushups, situps, and maybe pull-ups if he can score a cell with some exposed piping. Try to get some windsprints in the yard and hit the weights. This is arguably the best running back in the NFL, certainly the biggest and most physical of the elite backs, who is probably going to stage a 4-month, one-man training camp to pass the time.

(Now, the guy on the other end of this column is a Bengals fan from way back, and this is frighteningly bad news. The guy just runs right over Cincinnati every year, they simply cannot tackle him without help, and now he’s going to be in the best shape of his career. Nothing better than a 2,000-yard back with a chip on his shoulder playing for a division rival.)

What redeems Jamal Lewis to some degree is that he’s not getting off scot-free. At least Lewis will be doing some time. He’ll take his reduced punishment like a man. Jamal Lewis is headed to jail and will carry this felony conviction with him to the grave. There is no reason to speculate that the judicial system or the prosecution failed anyone in his case, not when some of these high profile trials involving pro athletes, are littered every step of the way with question marks about procedural mishandlings, resulting in bogus acquittals, unsolved murders, or negotiated settlements that no one feels are entirely on the up-and-up (see OJ, Kobe, even Ray Lewis).

Jamal Lewis participated in a cocaine deal that never went down. He copped a plea, will face the music, and it will be behind him sooner rather than later. Like it or not, pro athletes ain’t the squeakiest, cleanest bunch, but we need to remember that they’re people, and regular people do stupid things on a fairly regular basis too. Just because these guys usually manage to serve lighter sentences or get off altogether shouldn’t really be held against them. I definitely can’t afford to pay Johnnie Cochran, F. Lee Bailey, Ed Garland or any other high profile criminal defense attorney’s fees, and I doubt most people reading this column can either. But those who can DO, and do so for a reason. Maybe it isn’t the noblest of outcomes, but Lewis’ life will be back to normal in a year or so and the prosecution got the guilty plea they wanted, so everyone goes home happy. Especially Ed Garland, I would imagine. Maybe the Ravens can just keep him on retainer. n