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
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
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.''