Why Bringing Manziel's Case To A Grand Jury Is Out Of The Ordinary
Since he entered the NFL, much about Johnny Manziel has been complicated -- both on and off the field.
Most recently, the 23-year-old quarterback was accused of assaulting his former girlfriend at a Dallas hotel in January. After weeks of investigation, the Dallas police department delivered the matter to the local prosecutor's office, packaging it as a Class A misdemeanor. Dallas police's recommendation? Send it to a grand jury.
A grand jury sounds official, a place where something meaningful would be done. But in actuality, presenting Manziel's case to a grand jury would be unnecessary, and any potential benefit would be unclear.
Here's the skinny on grand juries: They're special largely because they decide whether to bring charges against someone. A grand jury is composed of citizens who review documents, hear testimony and decide on charges. If the required number of jurors votes "yes," the prosecutor can file charges against the accused, and the court case can begin.
In Texas, only felony offenses must be reviewed by a grand jury. Lesser offenses, such as misdemeanors, don't -- the prosecutor can simply skip the grand jury and file misdemeanor charges in court. The process is pretty smooth and simple.
So why would the Dallas police urge the prosecutor to send Manziel's misdemeanor offense to a grand jury if Texas grand juries only have to review felonies?
Your answer's as good as mine.
Grand jury review isn't necessary in Manziel's case. Even the Dallas District Attorney's Office indicates that bringing a misdemeanor case before a grand jury wouldn't be the norm.
The standard procedures outlined on the D.A.'s website -- and the practices explicitly laid out in its domestic violence pamphlet -- indicate that the prosecutor should bypass the grand jury and file the misdemeanor charge against the Browns' quarterback. Bringing the grand jury into the mix also adds further delay to a case that's already been suspected of being unnecessarily delayed. Plus, if nine of 12 grand jurors don't vote to charge Manziel, the prosecutor likely will close the case without the public ever knowing what happened.
That's the tricky thing about grand juries: They operate in secret. Any testimony about Colleen Crowley's alleged injuries wouldn't be reviewed on appeal, the prosecutor's presentation of the facts from that Dallas night wouldn't be called into question, and so on. The integrity of the grand jury case can't be held in check like it can in a public trial. Society simply must trust that, regardless of the outcome, the prosecutor who went to the grand jury did her best to present and explore the evidence.
This isn't to say that there's no benefit to grand jury review. It can be used as an investigative arm to gather information not otherwise available. However, whether further investigation into Manziel's case is needed is unclear. The Dallas police said they have hotel video capturing portions of that night, as well as Crowley's medical records, her sworn statements about the events and her statements that a judge reviewed before granting her a protective order to keep Manziel away.
The Dallas prosecutor's decision to send Manziel's case to the grand jury is discretionary. And this is a high-profile case involving a controversial player in the NFL who happens to be third-generation Texas elite.
We can only trust that her decision is for the better of the people and in furtherance of justice, even if the decision makes the matter more complicated.
Adrienne Lawrence has a B.S. and M.A. in criminal justice, as well as a J.D. from The George Washington University Law School. She completed the M.A. specialized journalism program at USC Annenberg in 2015 focusing on multimedia sports journalism. She practiced law from 2008 to 2015 before joining ESPN in August 2015.