UPDATE: Cunningham pleads not guilty. Neighbors heard yelling before arrest, he poured gasoline on victim’s clothes before throwing them out the window.]
Some are calling this revenge porn’s most high profile story. The story broke yesterday that Jets linebacker, Jermaine Cunningham, 26, was arrested on December 29, 2014 under New Jersey’s law for invasion of privacy in the third degree. Reportedly, he was charged with “spreading sexual images” and also with possession of a loaded gun discovered in his Audi’s glove compartment and destruction of clothing.
Unfortunately the prosecutor and defense counsel are being very tightlipped. We do know that the victim and Cunningham were in a “dating relationship” per Mark Spivey at the Union County, N. J. prosecutor’s office.
The arrest occurred one day after the season ended for the ill-fated Jets. On this very day, the team’s ownership also fired its head coach and general manager. So conveniently there was no pressure on the NFL or the Jets to decide whether to suspend or fire Cunningham, thus sparing them any of the controversy we saw earlier this year with the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson cases.
Ordinarily I’d suspect that the timing of the arrest one day after the season ended was an example of the notorious “cover-up culture” between the NFL and law enforcement. However, journalists say the arrest was prompted by a contemporaneous 911 call from nearby his home. Moreover, the combination of factors (i.e. dating relationship with the victim, revenge porn, ripped clothing, a loaded weapon, a 911 call from near the defendant’s home) make this look like police were responding to an emergency situation, one containing many elements of domestic violence. (Though we advocates for victims of revenge porn will tell you that revenge porn alone constitutes domestic violence.)
Based on Cunningham’s recent performance, he may be one pig that won’t be making money from the pigskin much longer. He was a regular starter in 2010 after being drafted by the Patriots, but has seen little action lately. NFL stats show that in 2013 he was on the field for only two games for the Jets, and a torn Achilles tendon in August 2014 benched him since then. When drafted, he signed a four year contract and is about to become a free agent. Given his miserable performance on the field and his brutish violent behavior off, his career is likely over, regardless of whether he is sidelined by the 3-5 year sentence from the revenge porn alone. Considering the NFL’s recklessly apathetic treatment of domestic violence and the scrutiny it received for that, the Jets must penalize Cunningham even if it ends up later being moot on account of him not finding a team to adopt him. Those stiffer penalties that Goodell introduced post-Rice are applicable now, including suspension until a 26 week rehab program is completed.
In New Jersey revenge porn is NOT technically a felony, but that’s only because New Jersey’s criminal laws, unlike those in most other states are not divided into felony misdemeanor groupings. Instead crimes are categorized by degree – first degree crimes being the most serious, fourth degree being the least. Though if found guilty, he faces 3-5 years for this third degree crime, he stands to serve less time if he pleads it out, as one NJ fellow with a similar charge did in early 2014, taking a six month prison sentence.
Let’s see if Cunningham’s defense skills play out better for him in court than they do on the field.