Henry Ruggs has dominated headlines in recent days after he was in a car accident that killed a woman and her dog, as well as severely injuring his passenger. He was driving 156mph just before the wreck, breaking down to 127mph right before impact, and was tested at a .161 BAC, more than twice the legal limit in Nevada.
Ruggs’ accident marks the fourth active NFL player in the last 25 years to be involved in a drunk-driving incident that resulted in death. The Las Vegas police tweeted that “Ruggs will be charged with DUI resulting in death, and according to USA Today, conviction on these charges could result in a sentence of two to 20 years in prison, under Nevada Law, which identifies the charge as a Class B felony.
All three previous players not only got lighter sentences than the average citizen would, all three returned to the NFL.
Here is the latest information that I could find for average sentencing, it comes from the United States Sentencing Commission and its Quarterly Data Report from Q3 of 2020.
All three players were arrested, prosecuted and charged with manslaughter… so it is all apples to apples… and, the average sentence being 51 months for manslaughter, the median sentence was 54 months.
Let’s round down, for good behavior, 4 years. Of those cases, 82% of the convicted did their time in a prison, 7% in jail.
So, how did the NFL players stack up with that?
** In 1998, Leonard Little pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter after he hit and killed a woman while driving with a .19 BAC — nearly twice the legal limit of .10 at that time. Little was given no jail time. He was sentenced to just four years of probation; was ordered to perform 1,000 hours of community service, and sentenced to 90 days in a city workhouse.
He went on to play 10 more years in the NFL.
In between 1998 and his retirement following the 2009 season, he was arrested in 2004 for a DWI after he failed three field sobriety tests. He was convicted of misdemeanor speeding but acquitted of DWI, and got two more years of probation. No jail time.
** In 2009, receiver Donte Stallworth pleaded guilty to DUI manslaughter after he struck and killed a construction worker. Stallworth had a blood-alcohol level of .126. Stallworth struck a plea deal and received a sentence of 30 days in the county jail (which he served just 24 days), plus 1,000 hours of community service, two years of community control, and eight years of probation.
Unlike Leonard Little, he actually was disciplined by the NFL and missed the 2009 season. But… he returned for the 2010 and 2011 seasons before retiring.
** In 2014, Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Josh Brent was convicted of involuntary manslaughter after driving home from a night of partying in December 2012 — with a .18 BAC, more than twice Texas’ legal limit of .08 — when he lost control of his car and crashed, killing his teammate, Jerry Brown. Police documents state that Brent was driving at least 110mph, and may have been driving as fast as 134mph before the crash.
Brent had previously pleaded guilty to a charge of driving under the influence on June 2, 2009. He was sentenced to two years’ probation and 60 days in jail for that incident.
While awaiting his trail for killing his teammate, he was sent back to jail after it was revealed that he had failed a drug test.
And for that second offense, which killed his teammate, he was sentenced to a total of 180 days in jail and 10 years of probation.
So… with the average sentence being 51 months for manslaughter, we have three NFL players serving a combined 204 days.