Sheldon Richardson

Article by Daniel A. Levy, Esq.

Sheldon Richardson, the New York Jets’ Pro Bowl defensive lineman, was arrested July 14, 2015 in Missouri. The police allege that he was driving at 143mph, leading police on a high-speed chase, and when they finally caught him he had a loaded handgun underneath the driver’s side floor mat, the car wreaked of marijuana, and a 12-year-old was in the vehicle. In the end, it appears that Sheldon Richardson was only issued several traffic tickets and charged with resisting arrest (due to the chase, not any physical resistance), which is a misdemeanor in Missouri.

If the facts alleged are true, that appears to be some pretty egregious conduct on Sheldon Richardson’s part and the makings of a substantial criminal case. However, Richardson wasn’t really charged with anything very serious. One may look at this and conclude that Sheldon Richardson was very lucky. Truthfully, he was lucky that he was arrested in Missouri and not here in New Jersey!

This case is a good illustration of how New Jersey is far tougher on those accused as compared to other states. Here in New Jersey, Sheldon Richardson would easily be facing 10+ years in prison if it were proven that he did what he is presently accused of doing. But in Missouri, under these same facts, he is facing 1 year in jail for the misdemeanor resisting arrest (which realistically would result in a fine and/or probation and not a day in jail). How is there such a discrepancy?

First, the gun laws of these two states are polar opposites. According to a statement from the Missouri prosecutor, guns are legal in Missouri and Richardson did nothing wrong with his (despite the fact that he was on a high-speed chase and the gun was loaded and stashed under the seat). In New Jersey, guns are completely illegal to use or possess unless you are doing one of the very few things that are “exceptions” under the law and have a proper license. New Jersey would have seen this as an extremely serious felony and per the Graves Act there would be mandatory prison time and a mandatory period of parole ineligibility.

Second, eluding the police is not “resisting arrest” like in Missouri. Here, there is a separate crime of eluding, which is a felony. New Jersey prosecutes people involved in high-speed chases very severely. The fact that a gun was in the car at the time makes it even more serious.

The traffic violations would also be taken very seriously here in New Jersey. Most judges that I know would sentence a person going that speed (if they are guilty of course) to jail time. Moreover, under these circumstances a New Jersey prosecutor would likely have viewed this as reckless enough to charge Richardson under the criminal code, which would make it a felony and not just a traffic violation. And although no drugs were found in the vehicle, the police reported that there was a strong odor of burnt marijuana. Under these circumstances, New Jersey would likely have made a case for DWI (although it is unclear from the reports I’ve read whether Richardson appeared intoxicated), which, in New Jersey, could be prosecuted as a felony.

Finally, the courts in New Jersey would have likely charged Richardson with child endangerment. I know that the Missouri prosecutor specifically stated that they considered this but concluded that they would not have been able to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. That may be true under Missouri law. But here in New Jersey, the child endangerment laws are so broad that almost any reckless or negligent action could be construed as cruelty or neglect under the law.