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January 2, 2010

Latest story of sports stars and guns creates great con law issue spotter

Regular readers know that I am giddy when I can "work" while reading the sports pages or listening to sports talk radio.  Thus, whether the issues involve famous athletes getting seemingly lenient sentences for drunk driving (see Donte Stallworth) or seemingly harsh sentences for the poor exercise of Second Amendment rights (see Plaxico Burress), the intersection of sports and crime always gets me going.  And the latest sports story making the police blotter has me thinking that constitutional law professors should be excited about the latest news coming from DC.   This New York Times piece, headlined "Wizards Gun Inquiry Focuses on Dispute," provides some key details:

The National Basketball Association and law enforcement officials are investigating the circumstances in which Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas carried unloaded firearms into the team’s locker room, and whether he presented any guns during an argument with his teammate Javaris Crittenton....

Arenas acknowledged storing three firearms in his locker and said he took them to the arena because he did not want them in his home after the birth of his third child.  When asked if he had showed the weapons to anyone, Arenas said: “Yes, I showed them to someone. I showed them to team security when I handed them to them and said give them to the police.  Yes, I took them out of this locker room.  I had to take them out to get them out of here to give to security.  You see they didn’t take the whole locker out of here.”

The District of Columbia police and the United States Attorney’s Office opened a joint investigation into the incident.  Their inquiry centers on whether Arenas produced any of the guns in a dispute with Crittenton before a practice at the Verizon Center on Dec. 21, according to Yahoo Sports.  The New York Post reported that both players drew weapons, which Arenas denies. “I wake up this morning and seen I was the new John Wayne.” Arenas wrote on his Twitter account, adding. “Media is too funny.”

The District of Columbia has a zero-tolerance weapons possession law similar to that of New York City, and it is a violation of the N.B.A.’s collective-bargaining agreement to carry weapons into an arena or facility owned by the league.  Charges have not been filed against Arenas, but if they are, he may face steep disciplinary action from the league....

Arenas, once the author of a popular blog, originally vowed not to interact on Twitter until his account reached one million followers.  Far short of that mark, his feed featured a flurry of activity in a 24-hour span that began on New Year’s Eve before news broke of the argument with Crittenton. “i understand this is serious...but if u ever met me you know i dont do serious things im a goof ball this story today dont sound goofy to me,” Arenas wrote....

Arenas signed a six-year, $111 million contract in 2008.  Before this season he played in only 15 games the last two years while battling injuries. 

He pleaded no contest to misdemeanor weapons and vehicle charges in 2003 after being charged with carrying a .40-caliber handgun and driving without a license during a traffic stop in California.  Shortly after, Arenas left the Golden State Warriors and signed a six-year, $64 million contract with the Wizards.  The N.B.A. suspended Arenas for the first game of the 2004 season because of the charge.  Arenas said he had registered the weapon in Arizona, but not in California.

Based on just this simple account of the facts, I can spot dozens of constitutional issues now surrounding this incident.  Obviously, Second Amendment issues are in play since Heller declared a constitutional right to possess guns (at least in the home) for self defense.  But how about the potential First Amendment issues involved in Arenas blogging about this on-going criminal investigation?  Or how about Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendment issues raised by whether the police can now search the Wizards' locker room and Arenas's home and by how police can question Arenas and his Wizard teammates?  And let's not forget all the structural constitutional questions in light of the overlapping local, state, and federal police-power interests in the District of Columbia.  Of course, the NBA is a private actor subject to few constitutional constraints on how it responds to this incident; but I think contract and labor law could become constitutional law if the NBA were to, say, forever ban Arenas from the league.

Of course, for sentencing fans, one needs to assume a crime before getting too invested in thinking about all the interesting legal questions this case raises.  Still, it is already fun to contemplate whether what Arenas says on Twitter could provide a valid basis for a sentence enhancement in some future sentencing.  Also, if Arenas gets quicky and severely "punished" by the NBA, how should that impact formal prosecution and sentencing decisions?  And what about the fact that Arenas appears to be a repeat offender (as well as a responsible father)?

I am sure there are even more great legal issues worthy of discussion as thoughts slowly turn from football to basketball during this time of the sports year.  Readers are, of course, encouraged to join in this game of fast-break criminal justice issue spotting. 

January 2, 2010 at 10:24 AM | Permalink


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I would be very surprised if locker facilities have any 4th amendment issues, at least when it comes to player's utilization of that space. I would be amazed if the league and team don't have contracts saying that the lockers are subject to search at any time. It wouldn't surprise me if the arena operator has that right as well. As for other searches, he may or may not have flapped his mouth enough to provide PC for an expanded search.

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