San Francisco 49ers player Aldon Smith today appeared in Santa Clara County Superior Court to plead no contest to three felony assault weapons charges and two misdemeanor DUI allegations and will be sentenced by a judge in San Jose on July 25.
Smith, 24, did not make a deal with the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office to plead to reduced or fewer charges but agreed to change his previous not guilty pleas to the felony and misdemeanor charges, Deputy District Attorney Brian Buckelew said.
“People have the right to change their plea at all times and what happened right now is that the defendant Mr. Smith changed his plea on all counts,” Buckelew said.
“So, it wasn’t a negotiated plea deal with the district attorney’s office,” Buckelew said.
A no contest plea is the legal equivalent to an admission of guilt in criminal cases, but it does not constitute admitting guilt in civil lawsuits, Buckelew said.
Judge Daniel Nishigaya, who presided over the case today, “took the no contest plea and found the defendant guilty of everything,” Buckelew said.
But Buckelew said that Smith’s change of plea could work in his favor with the judge.
“Traditionally when people change their pleas, especially before the preliminary hearing, there is an acceptance of responsibility that is factored in by the sentencing court, and I don’t see why this case would differ in any way from that,” the prosecutor said.
“It’s important that Aldon Smith stepped up today and took responsibility for both cases,” he said.
Smith faces a potential sentence ranging from no custody time to up to four years and four months in prison, although under a new law the time could be served in county jail, Buckelew said.
Smith, the 49ers’ star linebacker whose multimillion-dollar contract was recently extended for a year by the NFL team, appeared in court at about 3:25 p.m. today wearing a light gray suit with no tie. He was accompanied by several other men.
He waited in the back row in the audience and then stepped forward beside his lawyer Josh Bentley at the defendant’s table before Judge Daniel Nishigaya.
He answered with a firm “Yes, your honor,” to Nishigaya, who asked him a series of procedural questions, but fumbled a couple of times when saying “no contest” to the five criminal charges.
Smith also agreed not to contest an infraction he received for switching his California license plates on the pickup truck he was driving when he was arrested after crashing into a tree and skidding on the lawn of a home in San Jose at about 7 a.m. last Sept. 20.
Nishigaya set a sentencing hearing on the criminal counts for July 25.
The 49ers star linebacker then exited the court into a side room, used for attorneys to talk to clients, in order to avoid members of the news media trying to follow him.
Smith entered his no contest plea to charges he possessed three assault rifles, a .308 caliber Armalite AR10-T, Bushmaster ARC for 5.56mm bullets and a .223 caliber Bushmaster Carbon-15 in his rented home in an unincorporated area outside of San Jose in 2012, prosecutors said.
Sheriff’s deputies found the three rifles, which Smith bought in 2011 in Arizona but which are illegal in California, in his home along with large-capacity magazines of bullets on the floor of his bedroom and other live and expended bullets of various calibers in his bedside table.
The discovery of the guns was part of an investigation by sheriff’s deputies into a party at Smith’s home in 2012 where gang members showed up, someone fired a shot into Smith’s garage and Smith himself fired two shots from a .45 caliber handgun into the air to disperse the crowd that had gathered.
49ers player Chris Culliver and former team player Delanie Walker also attended the party.
At one point at the party, Walker fired several shots from Smith’s handgun into the air. An unknown person fired shots that wounded a pair of innocent partygoers. In another incident, a man stabbed Smith in the leg but the wound was not serious.
The two partygoers who were shot, one of whom was wounded twice, filed suit in Superior Court in San Jose against Smith and Walker last year. One of the defendants reached a settlement with Walker but Smith remains a defendant with both plaintiffs, according to the civil court’s website.
In Smith’s separate DUI case, he pleaded no contest to misdemeanor driving under the influence with a blood alcohol level of 0.14, almost twice the legal limit, and driving with a blood alcohol level of .08 or above.
San Jose police also arrested him for possession of marijuana, but that charge was not filed.
Jeff Burbank, Bay City News