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UFC light heavyweight champ Jon Jones faces up to six months in jail for a battery charge stemming from an alleged incident at a strip club, but veteran defense attorneys doubt the case will hold up.
“Assuming it all actually happened, I would love to defend him,” attorney David C. Serna told MMA Junkie. “I don’t know if there’s any kind of crime here.”
Jones is due in court Aug. 20 for a bond hearing rescheduled from June after a warrant was issued for his arrest for non-appearance. His representatives claim he only became aware of the charge after being notified by a media report.
Jones, 31, is accused of getting physical with a cocktail waitress during a daytime encounter April 19 at TD’s Eubank in his hometown of Albuquerque, N.M.
Among the allegations made against Jones, the waitress told police she was slapped in her vagina, put in a choke hold and spun around in the air by the UFC champ.
Battery is classified as a petty misdemeanor in New Mexico, the lowest level of criminal offense, meaning Jones’ case will not be prosecuted by the district attorney’s office, but rather the police officer who filed a criminal summons against the fighter. The procedure is the result of a compromise between legislators and state attorneys to avoid overloading the judicial system, Serna said.
“It is odd, because typically you’d want the cop to be a witness,” Serna said. “In this case, he can’t be a witness, because he’s also the prosecutor.”
Serna said the officer, listed in court records as Jonathan Cortez, can do the same things as an attorney would, such as giving an opening statement or calling witness. He’s required to follow the same rules of evidence and can even cut plea deals before the case proceeds before judge Victor Valdez in Albuquerque Metropolitan Court.
“It’s just like a typical trial, although I guess it’s more like ‘People’s Court,’” Serna said. “Some cops are used to doing these officer-prosecuted cases. Others aren’t, so others are at a severe disadvantage if they don’t know the rules evidence.
“They’re held to the same standard as any lawyer. So if the defense lawyer is making all kinds of objections based on admissibility, and the cop doesn’t know what to do, a lot of these cases fall apart.”
Per New Mexico statutes, the officer won’t be allowed to bring Jones’ previous brushes with the law into court. Plea deals in Jones’ hit-and-run and drag racing cases have allowed him to avoid felony convictions that could have factored into his current case.
Serna said the officer has to prove Jones committed “unauthorized touching” of the alleged victim in a “rude, angry or insolent manner” to meet the definition of battery. He sees several points in the summons that could be attacked by a defense attorney.
Among them, Serna said the alleged victim’s claim that Jones slapped her genitals is undercut by her request for money for the act. A claim Jones put her in a rear-naked choke is contradicted by her statement requesting to do the same to him. He said her claim that Jones lifted her up and spun her around could also be construed as play rather than “unauthorized” touching.
“I think there’s big problems with these allegations, even if you assume them all to be true,” Serna said. “I don’t think it meets the definition of battery.”
The alleged lack of notice claimed by Jones’ reps could also provide fodder for a defense attorney on the “depth or competence” of the investigation into the charge, Albuquerque-based defense attorney Roman R. Romero said.
“There’s something blatantly missing: his side of the story,” Romero said. “This is a fight town. We love our fighters. Everyone knows that during the relevant time period, Jon Jones is prepping for a very important fight. Super easy dude to find. Anyone could have walked into Jackson-Wink and found him wrestling, if you’re actually looking for him.”
A judge will assess the level of danger Jones presents to the community at his bond hearing next month before determining a “release that ensures his safety and safety of community,” Romero said. Jones has already posted bond on the charge.
Romero said the fighter’s defense attorney could immediately challenge the charge by questioning the probable cause used to file it.
“I’ve been in the game a while, and I know that the case takes various twists and turns based on the investigation,” Romero said. “There’s always two sides to every penny, right?”
It’s not yet known whether the alleged victim is cooperating with police. Multiple requests for comment to the Albuquerque Police Department went unanswered.
On Twitter, Jones has dismissed the charge as a distraction and targeted a return to the octagon in December.
UFC president Dana White on Friday voiced his support for Jones, claiming he’s seen video from the strip club.
“Some of the videos are coming back. I’ve seen some videos (of what happened). I don’t want to talk about it, because I don’t want to hurt his case or whatever, but it’s unfortunate that, when you’re famous, these type of things happen to you,” White told TSN’s Aaron Bronsteter. “From what I’ve seen so far, when it all surfaces and comes to the top … how should I word this … looks good for Jon.
“Looks very, very good for Jon Jones. It’s quite sad actually.”
Dana White on videos he's seen of the incident involving Jon Jones: "When you're famous, these type of things happen to you" pic.twitter.com/MoWzMrOXlR
— Aaron Bronsteter (@aaronbronsteter) July 27, 2019
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