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Johnny Manziel, Domestic Violence Allegations: 5 Lessons

Tomorrow, the Dallas Grand Jury will hear from a prosecutor as the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office present its case against Johnny Manziel. The Grand Jury will hear the DA’s evidence that the former NFL quarterback physically assaulted his girlfriend, Colleen Crowley, at the Hotel ZaZa in downtown Dallas back in January 2016 and again in his car as they were driving back to her home in Fort Worth.

UPDATE:  On April 25, 2016, an indictment was issued for Johnny Manziel on misdemeanor assault.  For what that really means, continue reading:


manzieldomestic violencecharges

Media Coverage of Texas Football Star Johnny Manziel

This case is getting lots of national media coverage because these allegations are being made against a talented and famous athlete — the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner and 2014-2015 quarterback for the Cleveland Browns, Johnny Manziel. And Manziel’s fate may be getting even more coverage here in Texas since he’s a native of Tyler; a graduate of Tivy High School down in Kerrville; and an All-American and AP Player of the Year during his time playing for Texas A&M University.

He’s a native Texan who made it big and now looks to be in trouble. The Browns released him last month: Manziel’s currently a free agent.

Manziel Past Arrest and Plea Deal

And he’s not new to the criminal justice system: he was arrested back in June 2012 after a two-o’clock in the morning fight in College Station, and charged with three misdemeanors related to the scuffle.

Ultimately, his defense lawyer made a plea deal with the prosecutors there. He pled guilty to one charge, guilty of failing to identify himself to police, and the other two charges were dismissed. Under that plea agreement, Manziel also had to pay a $2,000 fine and a couple of hundred dollars in court costs. He was willing, as part of the deal, to spend 2 days in jail, but the judge ruled that the time he spent behind bars right after his arrest was sufficient (”time served”).

Protective Order Against Manziel by Girlfriend

In February, Manziel’s ex-girlfriend, Colleen Crowley went to court and convinced a Texas judge to enter a protective order that legally prohibits Johnny Manziel from coming near Miss Crowley for two years. The protective order was based upon, in part, Crowley’s testimony that Manziel had told her to “shut up or I’ll kill us both” after allegedly assaulting her on January 30. The Fort Worth Police Department police report included a statement by Crowley that Manziel had forced her to get into his car after hitting her and that he also hit her several times as they drove to Crowley’s home in Fort Worth that night.

Back in January, Johnny Manziel was NOT arrested. According to the Dallas Police Department, they undertook the appropriate investigation after getting the Fort Worth police report and didn’t find sufficient evidence that supported an arrest. Within the week, the Dallas Police Department issued another statement: now they WERE instituting an investigation into what had happened.

Concern and Worry Over Johnny Manziel

That same day, Manziel’s agent quit. His dad, in an interview with the Dallas Morning News, worried about his son and if he would live to see Christmas this year.

Sports fans around the country are worried and watching to see what is going to happen to Johnny Manziel. See, yesterday’s Bleacher Report, “Johnny Manziel: Why We Cannot (and Should Not) Look Away,” and USA Today, “Armour: Time to save Johnny Manziel’s NFL career might have come and gone.”

5 Lessons From Manziel’s Domestic Violence Case

From a criminal defense perspective, there are several lessons that can be learned from what is happening in the prosecution of Johnny Manziel. Here are a few of them:

1. The police didn’t arrest him.

No one wearing a badge with either the Fort Worth Police Department or the Dallas Police Department went to find Mr. Manziel and cuff him for violations of the Texas Penal Code based upon the allegations made by Miss Crowley. They still haven’t.

Which is curious, because it would appear that if you read her statement to police all by itself, it’s arguable that the police had enough probable cause to arrest Johnny Manziel. Maybe.

2.  This isn’t a felony case.

The charges that Johnny Manziel would have faced if arrested by the police in January? Probably misdemeanor charges. Misdemeanor charges are less serious than felony charges. For more on the differences, read our discussion here.

3. If charged, he defends against a misdemeanor charge.  

If the prosecution wins its arguments before the Dallas Grand Jury, then it will still be a misdemeanor assault charge that he must fight. Under the Texas criminal statutes, the maximum penalty here will be a $4000 fine and a maximum time behind bars of 1 year in jail  – not prison. For the difference that is real prison time, read our earlier post.

4. The prosecutor declined to arrest.

The prosecutor has the power to get someone arrested, but this power has not been exercised either.  Under Texas law, the Dallas prosecutor could have filed an “information,” which is a charging document and the basis for an arrest.  It is only when someone is facing felony charges that under the Texas Constitution, the District Attorney’s Office must get an “indictment” from the grand jury.  (Article I, Section 10 of the Texas Constitution.)

So, no information in this case.  Instead, the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office is taking Miss Crowley’s statement, along with its investigation results (things like medical records and witness statements) to the Grand Jury.

Neither the police or the D.A. have exercised their ability to arrest Johnny Manziel. Instead, they’re dumping everything in front of the Grand Jury and leaving it up to them to decide.

5. The Grand Jury can end this with a “no bill.”

The Grand Jury can “no bill” here, which means that they will also opt not to have Manziel face criminal charges. To learn more about how this works, read our earlier post on the grand jury process here.

If the Dallas Grand Jurors decide that Manziel should not be indicted, that’s the end of this story. No more avenues are open for criminal charges to be made against him based upon this domestic violence allegation made by his ex-girlfriend.

If the Grand Jury votes to indict, then the police go out and arrest him based upon an arrest warrant, and then the criminal case proceeds through the criminal justice system. Which means it’s got to bear scrutiny and it might still end up dismissed by a judge after a defense lawyer gets a chance to argue Manziel’s side of things.

The Real Fight Against Injustice Here: Defending Against Chatter

Here’s the reality of the system:  Manziel’s defense lawyer doesn’t get to present a defense until, and if, there are charges filed against him. The defense does not present arguments to the Grand Jury. Only the prosecutor does that.

To hear what Manziel’s arguments might be in this domestic violence allegation, what counters and explanations that may well exist, charges would have to be brought against him.

So, not only is Johnny Manziel innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt IF he is arrested and charged, Mr. Manziel has not even been charged or arrested by the Fort Worth Police Department, the Dallas Police Department, or the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office.

And yet, he’s been tried by the media as a guilty man. He’s lost his job with the Cleveland Browns, he’s lost his agent, he’s been debated and discussed in connection with domestic violence for months now in the national media.

Mr. Manziel has been to rehab; he may be facing serious personal and professional problems, granted.  However, from a defense standpoint in this domestic violence case, there’s a big argument that there is injustice here.


For more information, check our our web resources as well as Michael Lowe’s Case Results and his article:


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