LINCOLN, Neb. — The sentencing for Alfonzo Dennard was essentially the best-case scenario. On Thursday, the Patriots cornerback was given 24 months of probation, a 30-day jail sentence to be served next March, and 100 hours of “law enforcement-related” community service.
Dennard was found guilty in February of third-degree felony assault on a police officer and misdemeanor resisting arrest, charges from an April 21, 2012, incident in downtown Lincoln.
Dennard had been out with friends and family, and, as the bars were letting out, he was accused of striking another college student, Ben Samani, and then police officer Ben Kopsa.
Dennard’s jail sentence is scheduled to begin March 1, 2014, but Judge Stephanie Stacy will consider any motion presented to alter the terms of the sentence, including further suspending or eliminating the jail time.
Dennard has no limitations on travel within Massachusetts and Nebraska, or traveling for work — i.e. road games. He will not miss any time in the coming season. The Patriots begin their offseason training program Monday, with mini-camps and training camp in July.
Though the felony conviction carries a maximum penalty of five years in jail or a $10,000 fine, there is no minimum sentence, and defense attorney Terry Dougherty made a case for why Dennard should receive only probation.
“This court, and you, are the last opportunity that Mr. Dennard has to receive credit for the way he has led his entire life except for a period of about five minutes out on the street on April 21,” Dougherty told the judge. “I’ve seen him weep over what happened that night. That’s how sorry he is.
“This isn’t just something he decided to come up with after he was convicted of something. He is sorry and he does apologize. If the Legislature can decide that third-degree assault can be handled as a felony and the Legislature can decide there are appropriate circumstances where probation can be given as a sentence for that offense, I tell you, this is that case, and that is what we’re asking the court.”
Dougherty also noted Dennard has already paid something of a fine because the arrest, which came just days before the NFL draft, led to his selection a few rounds later than he would have been otherwise, and the difference between the rookie deal he received and the one he could have received was at least $500,000.
Further, the attorney argued, Dennard has even been serving probation in a sense, since in the last year he has lived “under a microscope.”
With Nebraska football coach Bo Pelini present — Patriots coach Bill Belichick also wrote a letter of support for his player — Dennard, wearing a light blue shirt, stood and addressed Stacy.
“I do want to apologize for the night of April 21,” said Dennard. “That wasn’t me at all. I just want to apologize to my coaches and all my supporters and the Nebraska fans, and especially the officers, and most important my family.
“My mom worked hard for me to be in this situation. So I ask for probation and I will live by it.”
Before Stacy announced sentencing, she spoke directly to the 23-year-old Georgia native.
“Mr. Dennard, on April 21, 2012, you had a serious lapse in judgment,” she said. “You made some very foolish decisions. Your actions, your behavior that night had significant consequences both personally and professionally, and you don’t need me to recite those consequences; you are well aware of them. But there have to be legal consequences for your actions that night as well.”
Stacy said that Dennard’s age and education, her observations of his behavior during the pre-trial and trial process, as well as his lack of any previous aggressive or assaultive behaviors were all factors in her consideration.
She told Dennard that she included the jail time “because I think imposing a sentence in this case that does not include some term of incarceration for the crime of assaulting an officer would depreciate the seriousness of the crime.”
After Stacy assured that she would take up any motion to consider modifications to the sentence, she reminded Dennard that while he was inside her courtroom, he was treated the same way any other citizen would be, but once he walked outside of the courtroom, he ceased being just another citizen.
“There are a lot of people who are watching you — young athletes who will model your behavior, your attitudes, particularly about law enforcement,” she said. “I hope this order of probation gives you an opportunity to set a positive example and positively influence people.
“I encourage you take advantage of that. Good luck to you.”
After pulling on a red-and-white University of Nebraska letterman’s jacket, Dennard headed into the hallway where he was met by his girlfriend and their infant daughter. He declined comment to reporters.
Dougherty was disappointed Dennard received jail time.
“If this isn’t a probation case, I don’t know how you can ever have one, and I’m assuming the Legislature recognized you can have probation for this offense for some reason,” Dougherty said. “You’ve got a guy with a spotless criminal record and, what I guess I’d have to characterize as not a serious injury to the police officer, and is a very low risk for being a repeat offender. That strikes me as a guy that you can give probation to without any jail time.
“What he has to do now is abide by the terms of the probation, and the reason I asked the question about whether we can go back in March and ask her to consider an additional suspension of the sentence and perhaps not ever actually have him serve the 30 days was to let the judge know that I think he’s going to do fine and she ought to take that into consideration.”
Even though Dennard’s arrest came before he was an NFL employee, a league spokesman affirmed Thursday that his case will be reviewed under the personal conduct policy. The NFL Players’ Association likely would fight on Dennard’s behalf if he is punished, since the incident happened before he was drafted.
Shalise Manza Young can be reached at email@example.com
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