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August 21, 2013NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The wheels of justice are turning in the ongoing legal cases against four former and one current Vanderbilt student athlete. At approximately, 9:00 a.m. this morning in courtroom 6a before Judge Steve Dozier, some of that progress made its way to a public forum.
Junior wide receiver Chris Boyd was formally arraigned for allegedly aiding one of the four former VU football players avoid legal action for allegedly raping a student on campus. Three other former Vanderbilt student athletes were also allegedly involved in the incident.
The indictment states that Boyd:
...between the 23rd day of June, 2013, and the 26th day of June, 2013, in Davidson County, Tennessee and before the finding of this indictment, with knowledge or reasonable ground to believe that the offender, to Wit: Brandon Robert Vandenburg had committed a felony, and with the intent to hinder the arrest, trial, conviction, or punishment of the said Aggravated Rape, provided or aided in providing Brandon Robert Vandenburg with any means of avoiding arrest, trial, conviction or punishment, in violation of Tennessee Code Annotated 39-11-411, and against the peace and dignity of the State of Tennessee."
In the criminal law arena, an arraignment is a standard first process that brings the defendant into the court system, and is usually -- and is in Boyd's case -- a formality. Roger May, of May & Ryan, PLC entered an appearance representing Boyd and requested that Boyd not be allowed to appear, which was the case.
On behalf of Boyd, Mr. May waived formal reading of the indictment (again, the usual process) and entered a not guilty plea on behalf of Boyd.
The scheduling order was set and the case was assigned to Judge Dozier's court for disposition.
September 19 was set as the first discussion date. October 4 is the motion deadline, and October 10, the trial date.
What it meansIf Boyd's case follows the normal procedures, Mr. May will be in discussions with the District Attorney's office to negotiate a deal. Typically the Assistant District Attorney will begin discussions at the first discussion date, but based on the high profile nature of this case, it is my opinion there will be ongoing discussions taking place now.
Based on my experience, I would be surprised if an agreement was not reached before the September 19 discussion date.
In an arraignment, no formal presentation of information or evidence is made. Therefore, we cannot yet know what facts the District Attorney believes they have as grounds for a conviction.
That said, the hurdle to obtain an indictment for accessory-after-the-fact under the statute, T.C.A. 39-11-411, is very, very low. For example, Boyd could have violated this statute for just saying to the accused: "I would delete that picture."
To get a conviction, however, The D.A. must prove: the crime occurred; the accessory (in this case, Boyd), knew the crime had occurred; and Boyd had "the intent to hinder the arrest, trial, conviction or punishment of the offender;" and provided aid, warned, or did something else to keep the police from apprehending the suspects.
Best/worst case scenariosObviously, it goes without saying that everyone wants justice in any case of this nature. Whomever is guilty of charges should pay the price.
Because this is obviously a very high profile case, it is difficult to predict which way the D.A. will tend to lean. That said, in past high profile cases -- like the one in which former Tennessee Titan quarterback Steve McNair was indicted for driving under the influence -- May negotiated a deal with the D.A. for a lesser charge after McNair's arraignment.
It is reasonable to assume that this meeting between May and the D.A. is likely to happen soon. We should hear the outcome shortly thereafter. If a plea deal is reached and Boyd's charges are lessened to something under a felony or dismissed entirely, that would clear Vanderbilt to reinstate Boyd under Chapter 3 of their Student Conduct Code, which requires suspension of any student that has been indicted for a felony.
Theoretically, if this happens, Boyd could then immediately re-start his college career at Vanderbilt.
Obviously the worst case is for this matter to go to trial, as this would then extend out to the full length of the legal action against Vandenburg. That said, based on my experience, this would be extremely unlikely. According to information I have received, Boyd's alleged actions appear to fall far short of what I have ever seen as being a felony-level crime.
This is a very unique, high profile case. Therefore, we will likely see movement in one direction or the other fairly quickly.
Alan D. Hall is an attorney in private practice in middle Tennessee, and previously was the Inspector General for the Tennessee Department of Human Services.