No-contest plea: What it all means for Aldon Smith

No-contest plea: What it all means for Aldon Smith
May 22, 2014, 10:30 am
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Traditionally when people change their pleas, especially before the preliminary hearing, there is an acceptance of responsibility that is factored in by the sentencing court.
Brian Buckelew, Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney

In the wake of Aldon Smith’s appearance in Santa Clara County Superior Court on Wednesday to change his plea, there are a lot of questions about what it all means and what’s next for the 49ers star linebacker.

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions:

Did Aldon Smith strike a plea agreement?
No. Smith changed his pleas from not guilty on all charges to “no contest” on three felony weapons charges, two misdemeanor DUI counts, as well as another count for a license plate switch on the vehicle used during the DUI. The two DUI counts consist of the basic DUI, as well as having a blood-alcohol level of nearly twice the legal limit.

What does Smith gain from pleading “no contest”?
It brings a degree of closure to these cases in Santa Clara County without admitting guilt. Judge Daniel Nishigaya will proceed with sentencing (July 25, 9 a.m.) as if Smith is guilty. But, obviously, some level of leniency is expected due to the timing of Smith’s plea.

“Traditionally when people change their pleas, especially before the preliminary hearing, there is an acceptance of responsibility that is factored in by the sentencing court,” Santa Clara County Deputy DA Brian Buckelew said. “And I don’t see why this case would differ in any way from that.”

Said Smith’s attorney, Joshua Bentley, in a statement: “We are looking forward to the next court appearance and are confident that the Court will reach an appropriate sentence”

Smith could be sentenced anywhere from zero time in jail to four years and four months.

What’s the update on Smith’s other legal matter?
The Los Angeles City Attorney is reviewing the evidence before it decides whether to formally charge Smith with a misdemeanor of making a false report of a bomb threat or drop the case altogether. This matter stems from an incident at Los Angeles International Airport on April 13.

LAX Police Sgt. Karla Ortiz told that Smith passed through secondary screening and asked a TSA agent if he would be searched any further. When told no, Smith said, according to Sgt. Ortiz, “Why not? I have a bomb.”

However, as previously reported, Smith denied to 49ers officials that he ever said the word “bomb." The 49ers showed some level of trust in Smith when it picked up the fifth-year option of a non-guaranteed $9.754 million for the 2015 season.

Will the NFL suspend Smith?

The 49ers are expecting it, but it’s anybody’s guess how NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will handle the situation.

[REWIND: Aldon Smith 'focused on staying focused']

The only public comments Goodell has made about Smith came in October when asked him if Smith’s decision to miss five games while in treatment for substance abuse would be considered in any league-imposed discipline. Smith took a voluntary leave of absence after his DUI arrest on Sept. 20. (He pleaded “no contest” on Wednesday.)

“Certainly,” Goodell said on Oct. 26. “The issue here is not to discipline players. The issue here is to stop the behavior. And Aldon, to your point, has voluntarily said, ‘I need help.’ We are obviously there to support him, and the 49ers did a great job getting him into a facility to try to get that help. And so we all support that.

“So, yes, it will be factor, for sure.”

OK, so what has changed since then?

Smith was charged with the three felony counts of possessing illegal assault weapons more than two weeks before Goodell’s comment. After originally pleading not guilty, Smith changed his plea on Wednesday to “no contest.”

According to the DA’s office: “Smith purchased the assault weapons in Arizona on two occasions in 2011. Such weapons, as configured, cannot be legally purchased in Arizona by residents of California. Even if purchased in Arizona by an Arizona resident, such weapons are illegal to possess in California.”

The other change to Smith’s status since Goodell’s remarks stemmed from the April 13 incident at LAX.

According to the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy, “It is not enough simply to avoid being found guilty of a crime. Instead, as an employee of the NFL or a member club, you are held to a higher standard …”