Fooch's Update: Aldon Smith has a court hearing at 1:30 p.m. PT today (Wednesday, May 21). Seems as good a time as any to bump this back up top.
Aldon Smith was scheduled to head back to court for a two part appearance on Monday. The April 29th preliminary hearing was adjoined to the pre-trial conference already on calendar for Monday. It was reported the hearing was further continued to May 21. What exactly does that mean?
We do not know exactly why the hearing was continued, but the the DA and the counsel for Smith may have requested to put it over because of plea bargain negotiations.
At the prelim, the prosecution usually only presents enough evidence to convince the judge there is probable cause to hold the defendant for trial. The defense has the right to cross-examine prosecution witnesses both to find out more about their observations and to test their demeanor. This prelim hearing gives both attorneys information they can use to improve their positions in plea negotiations or whether to proceed to trial.
The judge identifies the strengths and weaknesses of both sides and attempts to get both parties to resolve the matter out of court. If no agreement can be reached, the court schedules the periodic pretrial hearings and a trial date. The fact the DA has agreed to a second continuance creates the inference that there is likely a plea agreement on the table. At the same time, there may be a few evidentiary loose ends both sides want clarified.
It should be noted the felony weapons charges had not been mentioned and were not even investigated by the Santa Clara Police Department or the DA, until after civil suits from victims of the house party shootings were brought against Smith and Delanie Walker. It is possible the civil suit brought new facts or evidence to light which prompted the DA to file charges.
However, possession of assault weapons is a specific-intent crime. Specific-intent means the DA must prove that Smith knew, or should have known, the guns were illegal and intentionally possessed them with such knowledge. As I have stated previously, the charges will be difficult to prove. Yet, I suspect the DA would use some of the facts brought forth in the civil suit to attempt to show Smith shows a general indifference to the law and/or disregards the law routinely.
The situation with the shooting at his house paints Smith in an unfavorable light. So, from a legal standpoint, one of the first elements to be resolved are the civil suits. Fortunately for Smith, his attorneys have settled one of the civil cases. It is a good development for Smith, because settlements like these come with confidentiality agreements. This is a legal contract between the parties that outlines the confidential material, knowledge, or information that the parties know, but wish to restrict access to or by third parties (including acting as a witness in alleged criminal cases).
Even though there is a settlement, it does not mean Aldon Smith is guilty of anything and he has not admitted any wrongdoing. Essentially, the agreement is to give money to the plaintiff to go away. It means nothing with regard to Smith and the allegations. He admits to nothing.
For Smith, this is the best way to handle it. It takes a potential witness from the DA and the information alleged in the lawsuit cannot be used against him in the criminal proceedings. While he is done with one of the plaintiffs, Smith has to settle the case with the other one. I suspect a settlement is also in the works and will be forthcoming shortly, and perhaps it could be the reason for the delay of the criminal hearings.
If the DA recognizes he will lose the ability to present certain witnesses and/or allegations of the civil suit, coupled with the fact the felony weapons case is so difficult to prove, he may want to reach a plea agreement for a lesser charge. At this juncture, both sides are finding out what evidence can be presented. If some testimony or evidence cannot be heard by a jury, the perimeters of the actual charges change -- and so does a potential plea deal.
The DA could seek to bring up the LAX incident to use against Smith. I suspect he would attempt to show Smith knows certain things are wrong, but shows a disregard for the law. You may recall the LAX airport bomb report is considered a wobbler, meaning legally the crime could be considered a felony or a misdemeanor depending on the circumstances. Smith's legal team has already succeeded in downgrading the case to a misdemeanor. And, as of today, no charges have been filed. If Los Angeles DA is looking to charge as a misdemeanor, Aldon's attorney is probably working diligently to push to dismiss the case. If it is dismissed, it takes one more thing away from the Santa Clara DA.
While the felony weapons charges are for possession only, to get a conviction, the prosecution must show Smith knew (or should have known) the guns were illegal and possessed them with that knowledge. Since the DA has to prove his state of mind, he could attempt to show Smith has a pattern of utter disregard of the law.
Plea bargain negotiations were likely impacted by Smith's LAX situation. Although Smith is not looking at more than a misdemeanor for the LAX incident, we don't know how the Santa Clara DA is feeling about Aldon's inability to stay out of trouble. Clearly, there are many moving parts to the legal ramifications of Smith's legal woes. However, it appears to me his attorneys are diligently defending all aspects of both the civil and criminal cases. They are doing a great job.
The impression from a legal standpoint is we will see the charges wrapped up into some sort of plea agreement. The plea may require Smith to attend some classes, rehab, or something to that effect. But, my opinion it is very unlikely Smith will see any jail time.
Once the legal ramifications are dealt with, Smith must address his potential NFL suspension. However, if the charges are downgraded, it will be difficult for the NFL (based on precedent) to suspend Smith for a substantial period of time, as has been suggested by some in the media. It is more likely that Smith plays the majority of the 2014-2015 season.