Fully recovered from the broken arm he suffered in Super Bowl LIII, New England Patriots safety Patrick Chung may now have broken the law.
The 32-year-old veteran was indicted on a felony charge of cocaine possession on Aug. 8 following an offense allegedly committed at his residence in Meredith on June 25. Chung, according to the Belknap County Attorney’s Office, knowingly possessed the cocaine. No information beyond the contents of the indictment were provided by the attorney’s office.
The only other details of the case thus far have come from Jim Murray of 98.5 The Sports Hub, who reports police entered Chung’s home after an alarm was tripped on the suspicion of breaking and entering. Upon entering the home, police discovered the cocaine, which led to an investigation and later the indictment.
Bottom line: Chung has not been arrested and faces only a single charge, but also a great deal of uncertainty.
Here are the next possible steps in his legal case, his standing with the NFL and in New England.
Cocaine possession is a Class B felony in New Hampshire, one of the toughest states in the U.S. on drug-related offenses. Chung could earn up to seven years in jail, though Sports Illustrated legal analyst Michael McCann, a professor at the University of New Hampshire’s law school, notes he could instead receive probation and/or a fine as a first-time offender.
Either way, it should be a while before any sentence is passed.
First, Chung is scheduled to be arraigned on Wednesday.
Chung will appear at his arraignment unless his attorney successfully requests to waive the arraignment or appear on his client’s behalf. Provided the arraignment is held, Chung or his attorney will announce a plea. If Chung pleads not guilty, the case will proceed to trial.
Chung’s team will then become entitled to all the state’s evidence against him and scrutinize every step of the authorities’ investigation from the time they entered the house up until they secured an indictment. The case will hinge on a number of factors, including whether Chung was present at the time the cocaine was discovered. If Chung was not present when police made their discovery, the state must establish he had constructive possession of the drug.
Convicting a defendant of constructive possession requires proving beyond reasonable doubt he had (1) knowledge of the nature of the drug, (2) knowledge of its presence in his vicinity and (3) custody of the drug and exercised dominion and control over it. The Belknap County Attorney’s office maintains Chung “knowingly” possessed the cocaine, but would not clarify any further.
A trial date has already been scheduled for March 16, 2020, with a pretrial hearing set for Feb. 12; dates both after the upcoming NFL season will conclude with Super Bowl LIV on Feb. 2.
According to The Boston Globe, the league intends to wait until Chung’s case is resolved before passing its own sentence, meaning the longtime safety can expect to play out the season.
Player punishments do not require precedent in the NFL. Commissioner Roger Goodell wields his hammer at arbitrary times and with varying levels of force. He is nothing if not consistently inconsistent.
The most relevant section of the NFL/NFLPA’s conduct policy to Chung’s case describes law violations involving substances of abuse. It states: “ ... players convicted of or admitting to a violation of law ... relating to use, possession, acquisition, sale, or distribution of Substances of Abuse other than alcohol, or conspiring to do so, are subject to discipline as determined by the Commissioner.”
First-time offenders usually serve a four-game suspension, unless “aggravating circumstances” are discovered, at which point Goodell can levy increased punishment. If NFL’s investigative team determines Chung’s case is cut and dry, Goodell may act sooner than the courts do. In that event, Chung’s only recourse against a punishment perceived to be unfit would be to appeal ... to Goodell.
Then again, perhaps cut and dry leads Goodell to pass on punishment all together. In that instance, it would be up to New England to decide the future of its starting strong safety.
Unless Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft volunteer the information themselves, it’s impossible to know exactly when they learned of Chung’s legal trouble.
But considering Chung was indicted two weeks ago and the incident took place two months ago from Sunday, it stands to reason they were aware of the incident before he missed practice Tuesday. If so, New England allowed Chung to be a regular participant in practice and an active signal caller during preseason games while he waited on New Hampshire authorities. Nothing about Chung or the football operations in Foxborough seemed amiss. This would hardly indicate the team plans to release him.
Furthermore, the Patriots stood by Duron Harmon, Julian Edelman, Kevin Faulk and Ty Law after their brushes with the law in years past. Considering Belichick’s feelings toward Chung — he frequently praises his toughness, versatility and competitiveness and calls him one of New England’s best players — it appears unlikely he’ll become the abandoned exception.
On the field, former New York Jets safety Terrence Brooks should take Chung’s place in the secondary. Brooks replaced the 11-year vet for the majority of team periods Chung sat out during training camp. If Chung is sidelined again, either by the Patriots or the NFL, Brooks suddenly becomes a central, hard-hitting piece of New England’s defense that may soon miss one of its most senior members.