Since the allegations made against Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson first became public last July, no single day thus far will be more consequential in determining his future in the NFL than Friday.
In a courtroom in Harris County, Texas, a grand jury will convene Friday and hear evidence and testimony in regards to 10 criminal complaints filed against Watson last year for charges ranging from misdemeanor indecent exposure to felony sexual assault.
At the same time, Watson will be deposed under oath in some of the 22 civil cases filed against him concurrent with the criminal charges filed. Eight of the 10 women who filed criminal charges have also filed civil suits against Watson.
For many who have been following Watson’s legal issues and how they pertain to his ability to take the field in 2022 or beyond, Friday’s proceedings may present more questions than answers.
Here is a breakdown of what to expect Friday in both criminal and civil actions.
Criminal case: The grand jury is expected to decide on indictments Friday
On Friday, a panel of 12 men and women will serve as the grand jury, hear prosecutors present evidence, and listen to the testimony of eight of the women who have filed criminal charges against Watson. The cases stem largely from the accusations of sexual misconduct during massage sessions, according to Houston police records.
The New York Times reported Tuesday that several of the women who have filed charges were subpoenaed to testify Friday.
Upon hearing all evidence and testimony Friday, the 12 jurors will then decide whether to indict Watson on any of the charges brought against him. In Texas law, if nine of the 12 grand jurors return a “true bill” to indict, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg could choose to proceed with a criminal case.
In Texas, indecent assault is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and up to a $4,000 fine. Sexual assault is a second-degree felony, punishable by between two and 20 years in prison.
It is possible that the grand jury’s decision on whether to indict will be made as early as Friday.
Civil case: Watson to be deposed but will plead the fifth amendment
While the grand jury is hearing the criminal cases against Watson, who has denied any wrongdoing, the civil cases against him will also move forward Friday. In all, 22 civil cases have been brought against Watson, and he will be deposed under oath Friday.
But because the civil and criminal actions will be taking place simultaneously Friday, Watson’s lawyer, Rusty Hardin, said he will instruct his client to plead the Fifth Amendment to all questions in the civil cases, as to not incriminate himself while the criminal case is ongoing. The depositions should take several days, which could allow for Watson to begin answering questions, provided the grand jury has concluded its work.
“I’m not going to let him answer questions from anybody before that grand jury has made its decision. There’s not a lawyer in the country that would,” Hardin told ESPN. “Once the grand jury process is concluded we intend for him to start answering questions in depositions.”
NFL future: The grand jury holds Watson’s fate
To this point, although Watson was held out of all games in the 2021 season by the Texans, he has not been formally disciplined by the league. That could change based on what testimony emerges Friday, although grand jury testimony must remain secret unless those who testify voluntarily choose to reveal what they said.
If a criminal indictment is handed down Friday, it is hard to imagine the league not placing Watson on its commissioner’s exempt list. Previous examples of players on the exempt list include Michael Vick (2009), Adrian Peterson (2014), and Kareem Hunt (2018).
Even in the absence of a criminal indictment, the league may still choose to place Watson on the exempt list until the civil cases are completed. That could put Watson’s availability for the 2022 season in jeopardy, as civil cases tend to unwind much slower. In Watson’s instance, a pre-trial conference related to the civil suits won’t take place until May.
How to get help: In the U.S., call the RAINN National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to connect with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.