Plea bargain seen as unlikely in Kobe Bryant case

Updated: August 25, 2003, 8:46 PM ET

EAGLE, Colo. -- Kobe Bryant is almost certain to risk a trial on a sexual assault charge for one simple reason: The NBA superstar probably won't like any plea bargain prosecutors offer.

Any deal would include some sort of admission by Bryant to a sex crime, legal experts say. Even if it's a misdemeanor, the 25-year-old Bryant would have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life and undergo therapy.

None of that seems likely for the Los Angeles Lakers guard who says he is guilty only of adultery with a resort worker.

"I think the overwhelming odds are you're going to see one of three things: a trial where he gets convicted, a trial where he gets acquitted or under some scenario the district attorney decides to dismiss the case," said Dan Recht, a Denver attorney and a past president of the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar.

State laws enacted in the past several years toughened punishments for many sex offenses, including the felony sexual assault count Bryant faces.

Lawmakers also have made it more difficult for defendants to erase an allegation of certain sexual offenses -- including the charge against Bryant -- by requiring sex-offender registration and other conditions even if the defendant pleads guilty to a lesser crime that does not include a sex offense.

Under Colorado law, many sex offenders on the registry are included on an Internet Web site that displays their picture, identifying information and details of the crime. They are required to provide authorities with up-to-date information on where they live and work.

Bryant is accused of raping a 19-year-old worker at a resort lodge where he stayed in nearby Edwards on June 30. He is free on $25,000 bond and due to return to Eagle for an Oct. 9 preliminary hearing.

His attorney, Pamela Mackey, has said that she intends to take the case to trial and has not discussed a plea bargain with prosecutors. Krista Flannigan, a spokeswoman for District Attorney Mark Hurlbert, said such negotiations would be premature until there is a plea.

Either side can begin plea-bargain negotiations at any point. Prosecutors are required to consult with the alleged victim and listen to her concerns before offering a plea-bargain proposal.

Some legal analysts said agreements often are reached shortly before the preliminary hearing, offering the defendant or accuser a chance to end the case without having details aired in open court.

However, other analysts said defense attorneys often wait until after a preliminary hearing to consider plea-bargain offers because the hearing gives them a chance to learn about the strength of the prosecutor's case and possibly cross-examine witnesses.

"It's unusually early for parties to work things out, but then this is an unusual case," said Loyola Law School-Los Angeles professor Stan Goldman.

"The question is, how much is the prosecution willing to go down and maintain their reputation, and how much is Kobe Bryant willing to plead to and maintain his career?" Goldman said.

The majority of criminal cases in Colorado end with a plea bargain, Recht said. But he said relatively few sex-offense cases go that route because of the intensive probation and the recent sex-offender registration and treatment requirements.

The deals prosecutors can offer under the law are so unattractive that most sex-offense defendants choose to risk trial for the possibility of acquittal, former Denver prosecutor Karen Steinhauser said.

Reducing Bryant's charge to a lower degree of felony sexual assault still would require him to register as a sex offender and participate in probation and treatment, Denver criminal defense attorney Craig Silverman said.

The possible prison sentence would drop from four years to life to two years to life, and the maximum term of probation would drop from 20 years to life to 10 years to life, Silverman said.

Reducing the charge to misdemeanor unlawful sexual contact would eliminate the possibility of prison and bring a much shorter term of probation, Silverman said, but it still would require sex-offender registration and treatment. And reducing the charge further isn't likely.

"The problem is, if Kobe Bryant gets a non-sex-assault reduced charge, it sets a precedent here in Colorado," Silverman said. "Every defense attorney who represents an accused rapist will ask for the Kobe Bryant special."


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