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Corner pleads no contest to stolen vehicle charges

ATLANTA -- Veteran cornerback Juran Bolden, who last month signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars as an unrestricted free agent after spending most of his career with the Atlanta Falcons, was sentenced to three years of probation and a $3,000 fine here Thursday after pleading "no contest" to stolen vehicle charges.

"It was a mistake, it's over with, and what happened today allows me to move ahead with my life, both personally and professionally," Bolden said. "You're not ever going to see me back in a situation like this again."

By definition, the "no contest" plea entered in Fulton County (Ga.) Superior Court means that Bolden neither admitted to nor denied the allegations against him.

Bolden faced felony charges for allegedly driving a stolen vehicle and possession of marijuana. He was indicted Feb. 20 for an incident that occurred in October. The district attorney opted not to file drug charges.

Negotiations on the plea agreement have been ongoing between Bolden's attorney, Kim Stephens, and the district attorney's office. Stephens repeatedly had termed the incident "a misunderstanding." If Bolden remains arrest-free for the term of his probation, his record will be totally expunged.

When the Jaguars signed Bolden to a five-year, $13.4 million contract last month, team sources indicated they expected his legal difficulties to be resolved quickly. The club was cognizant, a Jaguars spokesman said, of the charges when it began negotiating with him as a free agent.

The six-year veteran, known for long dreadlocks and a physical playing style, contended that he gave an acquaintance a $10,000 down payment on a GMC Denali but did not know the vehicle was stolen. He also insisted that marijuana seized from the vehicle, less than an ounce, did not belong to him. Local police have been unable to locate the person from whom Bolden said he purchased the car.

There is no denying Bolden's impressive size (6 feet 2, 207 pounds), rare speed and physical nature. A late bloomer, and a player who has matured markedly the last few seasons, Bolden started a career-high eight games in 2003, ousting Ray Buchanan from the Atlanta lineup and arguably having his best season.

Bolden has seven interceptions over the past two seasons and finally is starting to fulfill the potential the Falcons saw in him when they chose the onetime Mississippi Delta Junior College standout in the fourth round of the 1996 draft.

The cornerback has had a nomadic professional career, leaving school early to sign with the CFL, then opting out of his contract there to enter the NFL draft. He played in Atlanta 1996-98, moved to Green Bay halfway through the '98 campaign, then to Carolina that same season. In 1999, he appeared in seven games for Kansas City but then returned to the CFL for three years before signing again with the Falcons in 2002.

Always a standout special teams performer, Bolden, at this relatively late point of his career, has really come on as a cover cornerback. The peripatetic Bolden has appeared in 39 games and started 15 of them, with 14 of the starts coming in 2002-03. He has 64 tackles and seven interceptions.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.