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Breaking Down Johnny Manziel’s Conditional Dismissal: How the NFL Could Still Play a Role in the Ex-NFL QB’s Rehabilitation

Dallas County Prosecutors recently agreed to conditionally dismiss a misdemeanor assault charge against ex-Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel. Manziel was arrested earlier this year and charged with a Class A misdemeanor for allegedly striking his then-girlfriend Colleen Crowley. The Conditional Dismissal Agreement, which sets forth the terms of the dismissal, was agreed to and signed by Manziel’s cowboy-hatted attorney Jim Darnell and Assistant District Attorney Jerry Varney on November 29 and entered by the County Criminal Court #10 on December 2.

Not surprisingly, this announcement lead many to argue that Manziel received special treatment because of his star factor. While that’s entirely possible, this sort of deal in this type of case is not uncommon. According to Dallas criminal defense attorney Danny Clancy, defendants in misdemeanor assault cases frequently reach deals to complete certain requirements in exchange for having their charges dismissed. A conditional dismissal is different than simply pleading guilty or no contest, which would result in a conviction and a criminal record.

Steps Towards Dismissal

According to the Agreement Manziel reached with prosecutors, the dismissal will only become final if he completes each of the following steps within 12 months:

  1. Complete an anger management course approved by the court;
  2. Attend a domestic violence victim impact panel;
  3. Participate in the NFL’s Policy and Program on Substances of Abuse or a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program approved by the court if the NFL’s program is unavailable;
  4. Have no contact with Colleen Crowley.

Regarding item 3 of Manziel’s required steps, the NFL’s Policy and Program on Substances of Abuse includes a drug intervention program available to NFL players. I can only assume that this is the program to which the Conditional Dismissal Agreement is referring.

The intervention program is available to a player if one of the following situations applies: (1) the player has a positive drug test; (2) the player engages in certain behavior which demonstrates physical or psychological signs of substance misuse, which may include an arrest for substance abuse; or (3) self-referral. Manziel is not currently employed by an NFL team, but the Policy applies to all “Players” as defined in the Preamble of the NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement. The Preamble to the CBA includes players who “have been previously employed by [an NFL Club] who are seeking employment with an NFL Club.” Manziel recently stated that he still wants to play, so it would appear that he falls in this category and could participate in the intervention program.

Staying out of trouble

In a statement, the Dallas County DA’s office clarified that it is Manziel is responsibility for making arrangements to complete the required treatment at court-approved locations. The DA’s office will monitor Manziel’s progress during the next 12 months and dismiss the case if he complies with all steps. If Manziel fails to meet even one of the requirements or “is charged with a new offense,” the court will consider the Agreement broken and will prosecute him for the alleged assault against Crowley.

Interestingly, the bit about being “charged with a new offense” could prove problematic for Manziel. On November 28, Austin, TX bartender Eric Newton filed suit against Manziel in Travis County for punching Newton on September 6 at private party. This is a civil lawsuit, not a criminal charge, so it does not constitute a violation of the Conditional Dismissal Agreement. But a criminal charge for the incident is still possible, as the statute of limitations on such a crime would probably be two years. It’s not clear if a police report exists. Manziel’s answer to the lawsuit is due December 19.

NFL Discipline

Now that a deal on Manziel’s case has been reached, it’s likely that the NFL will pick up its investigation of the incident and move towards suspending Manziel. As I wrote back in March, Manziel will likely receive a six-game suspension since the League’s Personal Conduct Policy calls for a “baseline” six-game suspension for violations of the Policy involving domestic violence. The fact that Manziel was not convicted of assault could play a factor in the NFL’s decision, but the League’s investigation is independent, so a conviction is not a prerequisite for a suspension.

Of course, whether such a suspension even matters depends on whether Manziel is ever able to get back in the league. The chances of that happening appear slim, but who knows? He has at least one successful fan named Derek Carr offering his help.

About John Sigety

John lives in Frisco, Texas and works as a commercial litigator for Hiersche, Hayward, Drakeley & Urbach, P.C., a full-service firm located near Dallas, Texas. John graduated from Tulane University Law School in 2012 with a certificate in Sports Law. He also served as a managing editor for The Sports Lawyers Journal and published an article in the Willamette Sports Law Journal entitled The Cost of Fair Play: An Examination of How Salary Cap Proposals Have Affected Past Collective Bargaining Agreements and Will Affect the Coming NBA Bargaining Negotiations. John graduated from Brigham Young University in 2008 with a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science.

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