In another example of how professional sports players are anything but angels, or icons that should be praised, a former New England Patriots football player received a two year jail sentence earlier this week in Norfolk Superior Court in Dedham, for the statutory rape of a 15 year-old girl who attended the high school where he was a football coach. Daniel Villa was sentenced earlier this week after he decided to plead guilty to charges of enticing a minor and statutory rape of a 15 year-old student at Walpole High School, where he worked as a football coach. In addition to the two year jail sentence (which Villa will serve in a County House of Correction, not state prison,) he was also sentenced to seven years probation, banned from working with children less than 16 years of age, and ordered to register as a sex offender with the Massachusetts Sex Offender Registry Board (SORB.)
In pleading guilty to the charges and avoiding a trial, Villa told the judge he was “Thirsty for a clear conscience.” While this may be true, and while Villa’s lawyer also said that his client wished to spare the victim and her family the additional pain that a trial would likely bring, it also seems that Villa’s lawyer did not feel that the former NFL player could prevail at trial. One of those reasons: Prosecutors say Villa sent the girl thousands of text messages, and the sexual acts cited, were alleged to have taken place repeatedly.
Statutory rape differs substantially from a “normal” rape or sexual assault charge. A charge of statutory rape does not necessarily allege that any violence or coercion took place, only that the victim was under the age of 16. The victim may have been an entirely willing participant in the sexual acts engaged in, and may even have initiated the alleged sexual acts, but Massachusetts law presumes that a person under the age of 16 does not possess the “capacity” to provide consent to sex. “Capacity” refers to the intellectual, emotional, mental and developmental skills necessary, to provide a knowing “consent” to such acts. Some people believe this legal theory is invalid and based on puritanical thinking that gave rise to many laws in Massachusetts that originated hundreds of years ago, but it is still the law and hence must be observed.
Deciding whether to advise a client to plead guilty to any charge, is a difficult one, but one that is always fact-dependent and circumstance-dependent. Given the amount of evidence that the Commonwealth had against Villa, it seems this plea was the best course of action to take. If Villa had elected to go to trial and been found guilty of the charges, he could have received a much lengthier prison sentence. As a Massachusetts criminal defense lawyer, I can tell you that while these decisions take a lot of intellectual and professional skill, they often come down to the skills of a poker player. Beyond knowing the law and being a skilled trial advocate, a truly good criminal defense lawyer needs to “Know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em.”