We learned on Tuesday that San Francisco 49ers fullback Bruce Miller has plead no contest to a disturbing the peace charge. He had originally been arrested on suspicion of spousal battery. The Santa Clara District Attorney's office formally charged him with misdemeanor vandalism, and that was subsequently reduced to disturbing the peace on what would seem to be a plea deal.
Miller's agent expects him back at practice this week when the 49ers return to OTAs. Miller was absent from the first two months of the offseason workout program, which Trent Baalke explained was to allow him time to deal with this situation, both legally and personally. Baalke's statement on Tuesday seemed to indicate the team is ready to accept him back.
The big question now is how the NFL will handle this. In his weekly chat, Matt Maiocco reported he spoke with a league official, and that person said the matter is under review. This does not mean he will end up being disciplined by the league, but they are going through their process to assess what to do with Miller.
The problem with that is the league's domestic violence policy is not remotely clear on the matter. The league instituted the new policy last year after grossly mishandling Ray Rice's domestic violence incident. After public backlash on that, the league announced a new policy that included a six-game suspension for a first time offender, and a lifetime ban for a second time offender (with a chance to appeal after one year).
The problem is that the league does not sufficiently clarify what constitutes a first offense. It involves a violation regarding assault, battery, domestic violence or sexual assault. It does not require a legal conviction, although that obviously would factor into a decision. Miller was initially charged by the police with spousal battery, but the district attorney's office formally charged him with vandalism.
Although the formal charge and his final plea are not to violent crimes, the league will be considering the details of the original arrest report, along with the final plea. Miller's agent said the "results of the investigation revealed domestic abuse did not occur [and] there was never any physical contact." While I do hope that is the case, the final plea and report does not necessarily represent exactly what happened. It could, but unfortunately we can never know for certain. He is going through a 16-week domestic violence counseling course as part of his plea. Considering domestic violence is frequently not a black and white issue, I would not put much stock in an agent's response at this point.
The league will look at all the details of the event, and according to the policy, will consider mitigating and aggravating circumstances. There do not appear to be aggravating circumstances, but the league also does not explain what would mitigate punishment. The first offense gets a six-game suspension, but as per usual, the commissioner has complete authority to make it more or less. The league's domestic violence policy is a step forward in some ways, but it also features a lot of the usual PR [site decorum] we have grown used to with the NFL.
I don't think anybody can say with certainty what kind of punishment Miller might receive. If he stays out of trouble and completes his 16-week domestic violence counseling course, I could see the league imposing a fine of some sort. Of course, they also seem to randomly impose punishment as they see fit, so if they ended up deciding to suspend Miller, I can't say that I would be entirely shocked.