March 31, 2011

The Jerry Sandusky Investigation, and What It Could Mean Legally for Penn State (updated w/Sandusky's Statement)

Jerry Sandusky (Photo:
To be blunt, here in the sports blogosphere, particularly those who focus on college football and such, it's not all that often we're faced with covering a story of any kind like the one that was brought to light today by the Harrisburg Patriot News (HT:SS). What the PN is reporting today is that longtime (1977-1999) Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky is being investigated for indecent assault against a teenage boy:
According to five people with knowledge of the case, a grand jury meeting in Harrisburg has been hearing testimony for at least 18 months about the allegation, which was made in 2009 by a 15-year-old from Clinton County.

The teen told authorities that Sandusky had inappropriate contact with him over a four-year period, starting when he was 10.
We all kind of decided that it's not our place to dive into passing judgement on anything or anyone, especially at this point. But this isn't good for anyone associated with the football program, even Joe Paterno, who was one of those subpoenaed in the recent grand jury meeting.

What we rather wanted to do here is touch on what exactly is happening from a legal standpoint, and where it could go from here. The reason for this angle is that we're fortunate enough to have Jeff on our team, who many of you already know is a lawyer, albeit not a criminal lawyer. Still, he has an exponentially greater knowledge of law and the court system than we do.

I asked Jeff for some lay speak on this investigation, considering I'm not well-versed in the law, never mind Pennsylvania law specifically.

"From here, it's anyone's guess: the grand jury could indict Sandusky on a myriad of charges, or they could decide that the evidence does not warrant a charge. It should be noted, though, that this is strictly a criminal matter. Further, state law changes allow any child-victim born after August 1984 a 50-year statute of limitations," Jeff told me via email today.

He went on to add that what it amounts to is that Sandusky is not immune from prosecution until the child-victim decides to file charges, which in this case would place the cut-off year after Sandusky's 99th birthday. So basically, this could be a gorilla in the room the rest of Sandusky's life.

Civilly, Jeff also said, the victims--if you read the PN report, there are now two official accusers--could sue Sandusky. That would differ from criminal court, which was the first path we mentioned in the section above.

In terms of the university's liability, Jeff said that while premises liability does hold owners of property accountable for the actions that take place on the property, it would be extremely difficult to prove Penn State liable for what allegedly happened.

"Basically, the victim would have to show that Penn State knew or had reason to know that Sandusky was acting inappropriately or in an illegal manner on their property, and did not stop it. Barring an admission by Paterno or other person(s) in charge, this is hard to show."

The other way that Penn State could be held liable is through respondeat superior, holding that employers are responsible for their employees' actions taken during the course of employment. However, like premises liability, Jeff said this would be a tough sell, barring an admission from Penn State, because "it would be difficult to say that Sandusky was acting in his course of employment by taking a shower with or illegally touching in any way minor children."

So that's where things stand for now. More could come out soon, but maybe not. It took since the first incident in 1998 for the investigation to get this far, and we all know the law is agonizingly sluggish at times. But it's done this way in the name of getting it right and justice served according to the law.

Unfortunately, the court of public opinion is also a major force among us common folk. And there are many out there right now reading that Patriot News report having made up their minds about Sandusky and the allegations against him.

We here at are not saying anything about Sandusky's guilt or innocence. In this nation, the accused is innocent until found guilty. We must respect the law and let the justice system work. But we also though that it would be good to shed a bit of light into what exactly is going on, and help us (raising my hand) understand it a little more.

So stay tuned. There is sure to be more coming from this. And when or if the day comes that this is all resolved--no matter the verdict--we will absolutely give it fair and equal coverage as the events reported today.

Update: Jerry Sandusky released a statement today through his laywer, which can be read HERE.

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  1. Also, he's not even technically "accused" yet. This could be the last we hear of it, or it could be the beginning of a huge problem. We'll see.

  2. That's why this is so uncomfortable. I don't think the papers were wrong to run the story. But I worry that regardless of what happens, too many people are making up their minds as we write.

  3. You say the accused r innocent until proven guilty. Mr sandusky ADMITTED to taking a shower with a young boy he had just met a few hours earlier. He further ADMITTED to the penn state police to taking a shower with a 2nd child. This happened in 1998 and is a matter of police record. Psu police investigating a famous psu employee for an incident that happened on psu campus. Result? No charges filed but "allowed" to retire. No surprize there.