Seahawks fans have been following cornerback Quinton Dunbar’s armed robbery allegations with great scrutiny, so his recent decision to turn himself in and plead not guilty is an intriguing development in this bizarre legal case.
As strange as the situation seems - a multimillionaire NFL player accused of robbing someone to cover a gambling debt - Michael Grieco believes the facts of the case are clear, and soon, Dunbar’s name will be as well.
Grieco, who is legally representing Dunbar in this case, is confident in his client’s innocence, telling 710 ESPN Seattle that he expects the cornerback to “walk away from this exonerated.” The attorney has also been sharing alleged details in the case via Twitter, questioning the credibility of Dunbar’s accusers.
So if Dunbar is innocent, why did he turn himself in to the authorities?
According to a local legal expert, turning himself in doesn’t prove his guilt, nor does it negate his potential innocence: it’s simply the smart thing to do, legally speaking.
I spoke with a Seattle lawyer, who prefers to remain anonymous for this interview, for an informed analysis on Dunbar’s current legal situation and how things may play out for Seattle's new cornerback.
Aryanna Prasad (AP): Why did Dunbar turn himself in to the police?
Seattle Lawyer (SL): The short answer is that he probably turned himself in because his lawyer told him to do so. But ultimately Dunbar's primary concern is making the charges go away as quickly as possible so that he has a chance to play in 2020. Ideally that means convincing the prosecutors they don't have a case or taking a plea deal to some lesser charge and agreeing to a minimal sentence, hopefully one without prison time. None of that will happen while he is flouting a warrant. If he wants to move the case forward, it is in his best interest to cooperate, at least to the extent that he submits to the warrant and charges are formally filed. If he doesn't turn himself in he just extends the case even further and potentially risks additional charges.
AP: Why is turning yourself in seen as an admission of guilt rather than standard legal procedure in this situation?
SL: I don't think turning yourself in should be seen as an admission of guilt. If anything, the opposite is true - in many cases, prosecutors will introduce evidence that someone evaded arrest as conduct indicating a guilty conscience. If there is a warrant out for your arrest for a crime that you did not commit, turning yourself in (after getting an attorney) is the first step in getting the charges dropped. Prosecutors are not going to listen to you or negotiate a plea deal with you while you are disobeying a lawfully-issued arrest warrant.
AP: What do you imagine the next step would be for Dunbar’s legal team?
SL: The next step for Dunbar's legal team will be trying to get the case dismissed or getting a plea deal that Dunbar is willing to accept. The broad strategy underlying both of those goals is convincing the prosecutors they don't have a case, and that could be true - if the five witnesses are willing to testify that Dunbar didn't commit the crime, the state's case will be difficult to win. Dunbar's team also might file a formal motion to dismiss to dismiss the case, though I think it's unlikely a motion to dismiss would succeed under these circumstances. But if the prosecutors insist on going to trial Dunbar wouldn't have much to lose. In the meantime I'm sure there will be some plea deal negotiations. Dunbar might be willing to plead to a lesser charge if it means no prison time and he can potentially play in the fall. Of course, if he chooses to do so, he would not be the first NFL player with a criminal record.
AP: If you had to guess, what kind of plea deal do you think Dunbar might be offered in this situation?
SL: No idea, frankly. Plea deals depend on many factors, including the typical sentencing range for the charges at issue, how strong the case is, how good the defense team is, and what kind of internal policies the prosecutor's office has in place—some prosecutors' offices are more lenient than others. To be sure, the charges here are pretty serious. I don't know about Florida law, but in Washington, the typical sentencing range for a crime like this would be around 3-5 years at the low end, assuming the defendant has no prior convictions. From the prosecutors' perspective, Dunbar allegedly robbed people with a gun. That is a serious offense, so it's hard to imagine Dunbar getting any sort of plea deal offer that doesn't include some prison time. But on the other hand, if the five main witnesses have all recanted, the state's case will be hard to win, if it does go to trial. It may be that the state is open to some creative alternative in order to get a guilty plea and avoid an embarrassing loss.
AP: Do you find that this case is similar to any other NFL or pro athlete legal cases? If so, which case(s)?
SL: Off the top of my head, I can't think of anything specific. One thing that does make this case unique is there are five witnesses who initially said Dunbar committed the crime but now, apparently, say he didn't. Witnesses do recant sometimes, but having all five witnesses recant is somewhat unusual. I have not read the witnesses' affidavits, but I'd be interested to hear their explanations for recanting. If this does go to trial, the outcome will largely depend on whether the jury believes the witnesses' explanations for why they changed their testimony. Generally speaking though, I think most prosecutors would prefer not to go to trial if their only evidence is testimony from a witness or witnesses who changed their mind. It is way too easy for a skilled defense attorney to exploit that on cross-examination, and the defense need only show a "reasonable" doubt to win.
AP: Is there anything you feel the media coverage of this case has incorrectly portrayed, legally speaking?
SL: From the coverage I have read, I don't think the media has incorrectly portrayed this case. I've read the police reports and I've read the statement from Dunbar's attorney. The media has, in my opinion, accurately represented what is in those sources. Unless and until we have more facts about what happened, there simply isn't much else to go on.