Preliminary trial for 49ers' Reuben Foster set for May 17

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- San Francisco 49ers linebacker Reuben Foster on Tuesday entered a plea of not guilty to three felony charges, including domestic violence, stemming from an incident involving his former girlfriend on Feb. 11.

Foster's plea, which was entered by his attorney at the Santa Clara Hall of Justice, opens the door for a potentially expedient trial, with his preliminary hearing now set for noon ET on May 17. That preliminary hearing is crucial as it will be used by Judge Nona L. Klippen to determine if the case will go to a jury trial.

If, at that time, it is determined that Foster's case will proceed, Foster would be arraigned again and then have to enter another, more formal plea. A jury trial would be required to take place within 60 days after that preliminary hearing.

Foster is facing charges of domestic violence, forcefully attempting to prevent a victim from reporting a crime and possessing an assault weapon stemming from a Feb. 11 incident involving his now former girlfriend Elissa Ennis.

Last month, Ennis recanted her initial domestic violence allegations through her attorney, Stephanie Rickard. In that statement, Ennis said injuries she initially attributed to a fight with Foster were actually the result of an altercation with another woman that happened around the same time.

Ennis' statement also said there was video of the incident which would prove her story to be true. That video was turned over to prosecutors on April 27 and resulted in last week's plea hearing being pushed to Tuesday so the state could review it more closely.

Santa Clara County deputy district attorney Jim Demertzis and Josh Bentley, Foster's attorney, declined comment after Tuesday's proceedings.

If convicted of all charges, Foster could face up to 11 years in prison.

Even if Ennis does testify that Foster did not harm her as her recantation indicated, the district attorney's office could still pursue the case based on medical records, emergency phone calls and witness accounts. It's also possible that the gun charge could be pursued further, even if the domestic violence charges don't make it to trial.

A hearing has been set for Friday related to collecting medical information, which would make that evidence admissible in court. Foster has been excused from appearing there.

Foster, meanwhile, has not taken part in any of the 49ers' offseason program as he and the team awaits legal resolution. General manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan have said that if the domestic violence charges against Foster prove true, he will not be part of the team.

"We can promise you guys, if there's someone who ever hits their significant other, girlfriends, some person like that, that person is not going to be on our team," Shanahan said on April 26. "I feel strongly about that. I know John does. I know our ownership does. That's how we feel about it. Obviously, Reuben is on our team right now, so we're waiting to see how that goes. But, if that's something that we felt he did or ended up happening, you guys will see how we feel."

Foster is also awaiting resolution of a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge in Alabama. His next hearing on that matter is set for June 20 in Tuscaloosa.