NEW ORLEANS â€” A federal judge did not adequately explain the terms and consequences of a plea agreement resulting in an 18-year federal prison sentence on drug and sexual assault charges for disgraced former NFL star Darren Sharper, lawyers for Sharper said in appeal briefs filed Friday.
Sharper pleaded guilty or no-contest to rape or related charges in four states where women accused him of drugging then assaulting them. A 2015 "global" plea agreement in state courts in Arizona, Nevada, California and Louisiana â€” and federal court in New Orleans â€” was expected to result in a nine-year sentence.
But U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo in New Orleans said the sentence was too light and rejected the bargain. Sharper opted to maintain his guilty plea and prosecutors noted that he was co-operating in the federal case against two Louisiana co-defendants.
Prosecutors and Sharper's lawyers worked out a new agreement, which didn't specify a sentence. At a hearing last year, Milazzo, who noted that he may have assaulted as many as 16 women in multiple states, sentenced Sharper to 18 years and four months.
Sharper had pleaded guilty in federal court in New Orleans to giving drugs to three women with the intent of raping them. A Louisiana state judge later sentenced him to 20 years on state rape charges â€” a sentence that lawyers at the time would likely result in about 18 years being served. Online records show no appeal so far in the state case.
Lawyers hired to pursue Sharper's appeal filed their brief Friday at the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. They argued that Sharper risked jeopardizing his plea agreements in all jurisdictions had he withdrawn his guilty plea after Milazzo rejected the initial deal. Thus, they said, Sharper was "forced to plead by coercive factors out of his control."
They also said Milazzo did not adequately explain all of the rights Sharper was waiving in the final plea agreement and "failed to question Mr. Sharper as to his exact understanding of the rights he was waiving and giving up."
Sharper's lawyers also argue that calculations on applicable sentencing guidelines in a pre-sentence investigation considered by Milazzo were in error because they involved 16 victims, even though the New Orleans-based federal case involved only three.
The appeal asks for "all applicable relief" but does not specify whether Sharper seeks a lower sentence or to withdraw his federal guilty plea. It says that the nine-year sentence in his original plea "certainly reflected the seriousness of the charges."
No hearing date has been set for the appeal to be heard by 5th Circuit judges.
Kevin McGill, The Associated Press