Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor appears likely to play the 2005 season without suspension unless coach Joe Gibbs changes his mind and benches Taylor before his criminal charges are adjudicated.
Taylor's case, which involves two third-degree felony charges and a first-degree misdemeanor charge, is scheduled to receive an initial felony screening by the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office on Tuesday. The office will determine at that point whether to prosecute. If it does, a tentative court date would be set at the June 24 arraignment.
Ed Griffith, a spokesman for the state attorney's office, said the court date is "quite flexible." NFL players facing trial commonly request continuances until after the season, and Griffith said it wouldn't be wrong to expect the trial ultimately to occur next January or February.
Griffith stressed that "preliminary hurdles," such as gathering enough evidence, are the immediate issue and that a continuance "ultimately ... is a judge's decision." But he noted that failure to grant a continuance can boost the odds of an appeal, something judges try to avoid.
The likelihood of a continuance is significant given Gibbs' statement Monday that placed the burden of Taylor's punishment on the NFL. Gibbs dismissed Taylor for the remainder of the offseason program and prominently referenced the league's personal conduct policy.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello yesterday made clear the league won't punish a player who hasn't been convicted of a crime. In some circumstances, he said, a team will suspend a player before the case is adjudicated, as Gibbs did following Taylor's DUI arrest in October.
Asked whether the Redskins might suspend Taylor if the case hasn't been resolved by season's start, Gibbs replied, "We haven't talked about anything like that. We have no plans for anything like that. What we're hoping is that Sean can get his personal situation squared away, and we're giving him time to do that."
Thus, barring a significant turn of events, Taylor is in line to join the team July 31, when players report to training camp.
The question of suspension is one of several lingering issues in the wake of a June1 incident in which police said Taylor pointed a gun at two victims and physically assaulted one. On Saturday, he was charged with two counts of aggravated assault with a firearm and one count of simple battery.
Still uncertain is the exact nature of the incident's second phase, which was first reported yesterday in The Washington Times. After Taylor attacked the two victims, there was a retaliation in which shots were fired at him, two sources familiar with the investigation said. Police still have not made any arrests in connection with this phase.
At next week's initial felony screening, the state attorney's office will determine whether there is enough evidence to prosecute. If not, the case will be dropped. If so, the office will name one of three prosecutors in Judge Mary Barzee's division to handle the case.
The prosecutor ultimately would decide critical matters like whether to apply Florida's "10-20-Life" law, which dictates stiff mandatory minimum sentences. Based on the charges, Taylor could face a mandatory term of at least three years in prison.
Redskins players in recent days have expressed a mixture of disappointment in Taylor and a reluctance to say much before the situation plays out.
"Obviously, you have to be disappointed," quarterback Patrick Ramsey said. "But also you've got to hope for the best and hope it's not as bad as you hear."
Notably, running back Clinton Portis declined comment on his former University of Miami teammate. In recent weeks Portis defended Taylor's decision to train in South Florida and spurn the Redskins' offseason workout program.
"I don't know nothing about nothing," Portis said. "I just got in from out of the country. I didn't even know what happened."
Notes -- An NFL source said the Redskins likely will have to keep players out of Redskin Park for several days as punishment for last week's apparent violation of "organized team activity" rules. However, it does not appear that Washington will lose any actual OTAs, of which there are five left between today and June 15.
Gene Upshaw, executive director of the NFL Players Association, met with Gibbs at Redskin Park. Gibbs later said teams are permitted to conduct one-on-one blocking drills -- one of two key questions about Washington's practice regimen -- but the union and league remain concerned about the level of contact they saw on redskins.com.
"We're still gathering information," Upshaw said as he exited. "I can't talk about it until we resolve it." ...
The Redskins expect cornerback R.W. McQuarters, who has visited about a half-dozen teams since being cut by the Chicago Bears, to decide where to sign in coming days.
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