One thing is clear about ex-New Orleans Saint Darren Sharper’s intricate, multistate plea deal: The fact he may serve as little as nine more years behind bars under a 20-year Louisiana prison sentence marks a severe deviation from state sentencing laws that require convicted rapists like him to serve at least 85 percent of their sentence, if not all of it, locked away.
Legal observers on Friday debated the legitimacy of the Louisiana piece of a “global” deal that Sharper’s attorneys and prosecutors hammered out last month across four states.
Some said it appears patently illegal under Louisiana law. Significantly, two Louisiana judges — one in state court and one in federal court — have yet to sign off on it.
But most agreed on a tree-falls-in-the-forest conclusion: If Sharper never falls under Louisiana state custody — which he won’t if he complies with the deal’s myriad conditions — it’s unlikely that anyone would be in a position to object.
Specifics of a deal crafted to resolve state and federal charges accusing Sharper of drugging and raping or attempting to rape nine women in four states were spelled out first by The News Orleans Advocate on Thursday.
They include sentences ranging from eight to 20 years in Nevada, Arizona and California for charges to which Sharper, 39, already has pleaded guilty or no contest.
Then there’s the 20-year sentence that Sharper has agreed to accept in Louisiana, in pending guilty pleas to two counts of forcible rape and a count of simple rape, each considered a crime of violence. Under the deal, the state sentence is 20 years “at hard labor without benefit of probation, parole, or suspension of sentence” — with a twist.
If he doesn’t mess up, Sharper would spend none of his time in a Louisiana prison. And he’ll spend only half that long behind any bars — including time he’s spent locked up since his arrest in Los Angeles in January 2014.
Instead, after 101 months in federal prison and less than a year in a California pen, Sharper would live free on parole in California for three to five years, then move to Arizona, where he’d be on probation for the rest of his life. Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro described those terms in an interview last week with WWL-TV.
Louisiana would consider Sharper’s time spent “in the custody, or under the supervision” of Nevada, California, Arizona or the feds as time spent “ ‘in custody’ for purposes of the Louisiana sentence” — meaning Sharper’s time on parole and probation would be counted as prison time under his Louisiana sentence.
Only if he fails to comply with the terms of the deal — which requires that he give a full debriefing to law enforcement, among other conditions — could he be forced to serve out his sentence in the Pelican State. In that scenario, he would receive credit only for his time behind prison walls.
Pam Metzger, a professor at Tulane Law School, called it “a strange formulation.”
“I’ve never heard somebody saying probation and parole in one jurisdiction is imprisonment in another,” Metzger said. “To my knowledge, it’s unprecedented.”
Louisiana law certainly allows for convicts to serve concurrent sentences in other jurisdictions and for that time to count toward sentences here. But the law only credits time in “a federal correctional institution or a correctional institution of another state” — not time on parole or probation.
It’s unclear how the Louisiana Department of Corrections will view the deal.
Darryl Campbell, the agency’s executive management officer, said no one on its legal team has been contacted about Sharper’s plea deal.
“Generally, jail credit is only time spent in actual custody,” Campbell said. “I don’t see where nine years would be what he would serve on a 20-year sentence. That doesn’t add up to me. I could see him getting credit for the time he served in custody. I don’t know how they would apply street credit.
“We’re going to use the laws as we understand them and interpret the sentence.”
Campbell said the Department of Corrections would wait until it receives the court’s sentencing paperwork before reaching any conclusions in Sharper’s case. How its opinion on his sentence might factor in is unclear. Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Judge Karen Herman and U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo still need to endorse their pieces of the multistate plea deal in their respective New Orleans courtrooms.
Herman last week postponed an arraignment for Sharper until June 15, making clear she would wait to take the retired All-Pro safety’s guilty plea until after his federal case is resolved.
Herman reasoned that in the state case, in which Sharper was indicted on two counts of aggravated rape and a count of simple rape, he faced the most severe possible sentence: mandatory life.
Sharper is accused of drugging and raping two women at his condo on Tchoupitoulas Street on Sept. 23, 2013. The simple rape count stems from a rape a month earlier at a hotel across the street, allegedly with the help of his co-defendant in both the state and federal cases, former St. Bernard Parish Sheriff’s Office Deputy Brandon Licciardi.
The global plea deal imposes heavy restrictions once Sharper leaves prison, including intensive sex-offender therapy, lifetime registration as a sex offender, limits on his Internet use, no alcohol use and consent to be subject to “penile plethysmograph” testing while on probation in Arizona.
Cannizzaro on TV last week defended the seemingly truncated prison term for Sharper, citing closure for the victims.
“Look, certainly they would have liked to see a greater sentence imposed. I understand that, and we have discussed that with them,” Cannizzaro told WWL-TV.
“But for all intents and purposes, these victims have been vindicated. They were in fact the victims of this man’s sexual assaults. They were not doing this for any financial gain, but simply they wanted to come forward and let the community know, ‘This guy violated us,’ and he is going to walk into the courtroom and plead guilty.”
One thing Sharper’s Louisiana victims seem to lose under the deal, Metzger said, is the right to weigh in at any parole proceedings for Sharper, assuming he remains out of state custody. “At a minimum, this eliminates their opportunity to speak before a parole board,” she said.
A glitch in Louisiana wouldn’t affect Sharper’s no-contest plea last month in Los Angeles to drugging and raping two women. That plea stands on its own, the global deal states. Sharper has yet to be formally sentenced there.
The question of how Sharper’s deal comports with state sentencing laws has buzzed around the criminal courthouse at Tulane and Broad since the general outline emerged late last month from a Los Angeles courtroom.
It seems to circumvent the state sentencing laws, said defense attorney Craig Mordock, who has been following the case.
“In Louisiana, if you plead to a sentence of 20 years for a forcible rape, you have to do it in jail,” Mordock said. “That’s why it’s not kosher. But the issue is, if (the state) never takes custody of him, who’s going to object to the sentence?”
On the other hand, Loyola Law School professor Dane Ciolino, a frequent legal commentator, said an outline of the deal described to him by The Advocate “does not sound like a problem to me.”
Nandi Campbell, Sharper’s attorney in New Orleans, declined to comment on the legal question of Sharper’s agreed-upon sentence.
Christopher Bowman, the spokesman for Cannizzaro’s office, did not respond to a request for comment.
Editor’s note: This story was changed April 12 to correct the spelling of “penile.”
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.