Colts owner Jim Irsay likely won't face jail time if found guilty, legal experts say
By Tim Evans and Bill McCleery, email@example.com
7:33 p.m. EDT March 17, 2014
Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay may be an influential billionaire, but he will not get special treatment in Hamilton County, two attorneys familiar with the court system said Monday.
Still, they added, it is unlikely that the 54-year-old will spend any time in jail if convicted. He was preliminarily charged with four felony counts of possession of a controlled substance and a misdemeanor charge of operating while intoxicated.
First, though, the Hamilton County prosecutor must decide whether to file formal criminal charges against the NFL team owner. And the prosecutor wasn't talking Monday.
Irsay, driving a late model Toyota Highlander, was arrested after he was stopped by Carmel police about 11:40 p.m. Sunday in the 13000 block of Horseferry Road. The area is south of Main Street, between Clay Center and Towne roads.
"During the course of the investigation, Irsay subsequently failed several roadside field sobriety tests," Lt. Joe Bickel of the Carmel Police Department said in a news release.
Multiple Schedule IV prescription drugs were found in pill bottles in Irsay's vehicle, the statement said, but they were not associated with any prescription bottles found in the vehicle.
Schedule IV drugs, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration website, have low potential for abuse and low risk of dependence. Examples include Xanax, Soma, Darvon, Darvocet, Valium, Ativan, Talwin, Ambien.
The four preliminary charges of possession of a controlled substance that Irsay faces are Class D felonies, each punishable by up to three years in prison. Operating while intoxicated is a misdemeanor. The police statement did not indicate that alcohol was involved.
Irsay was taken into custody Sunday and held overnight at the Hamilton County Jail. He was released about 1:30 p.m. Monday after posting bond and was accompanied by high-profile Indianapolis defense attorney Jim Voyles.
Irsay declined to comment when leaving but later took to Twitter to thank family, friends, fans and colleagues for their support and prayers.
"Impossible to tell u how much this means," Irsay said.
The Hamilton County prosecutor issued a short statement Monday but otherwise declined to comment.
"The fact that a defendant has been arrested or charged with a crime is merely an accusation, and the defendant is innocent until and unless proven guilty," the statement said. "Unless or until charges are filed, no further comment will be made by this office."
If the prosecutor does charge Irsay, and the team owner is convicted, Noblesville defense attorney Steve Stoesz said it is unlikely he would spend any more time in jail.
Stoesz said that prediction is based on the level of the preliminary charges Irsay is facing, the fact that he apparently does not have a relevant or extensive criminal history and the common practice in Hamilton County courts — not because Irsay is wealthy and influential.
"I've never felt," Stoesz said, "that you could buy your way out or use your name to get out of trouble here."
Jim Irsay ✔ @JimIrsay
Actually working,sorry naysayers..I don't drink...haven't in over 15 years..I know when your unhappy or jealous it's easy to b mean-spirited
12:39 AM - 21 Oct 2013
If anything, he added, it is possible Irsay's case could generate added scrutiny because officials don't want to give any appearance that the billionaire NFL team owner is receiving preferential treatment.
The driving while intoxicated charge appears to be the least of Irsay's worries, said Indianapolis attorney John Tompkins, one of the area's top DUI lawyers. Tompkins has handled many impaired driving cases in Hamilton County.
Tompkins said the arrest appears to be Irsay's first driving while intoxicated offense, so if he is convicted, Irsay can expect to lose his license for a period of 30 days to six months. If Irsay refused to submit to a blood test requested by police, Tompkins said, he could lose his license for a year.
In addition, Tompkins said Irsay would likely be required to serve one year of probation, submit to random drug testing and attend drug or alcohol awareness classes. He also would be required to attend a victim impact panel, where he would hear graphic stories about the real-life consequences of driving while impaired.
Tompkins said the court could impose other conditions based on Irsay's level of intoxication and the substances involved.
Far more serious, Tompkins and Stoez agreed, are the four preliminary felony drug charges Irsay is facing.
But those charges could go away, Stoesz said, if Irsay has a prescription for the drugs.
"It's not unheard of," he explained. "If he has prescriptions, there are no felonies."
Stoesz added that based on typical law enforcement practice in the county, the four drug charges suggest police found four different types of drugs in Irsay's vehicle.
The impaired driving charge also appears to involve drugs rather than alcohol. The Carmel police statement made no mention of alcohol and did not mention a preliminary breath test level, which is typical information included in such reports when alcohol is involved in a DUI case. A department spokesman said he could not confirm or deny whether Irsay was given a breath alcohol test at the scene or at jail.
Stoesz said it sometimes can be more difficult to get a conviction in drugged-driving cases because prosecutors must prove a person had a level of a drug in the person's system that would render the person impaired. That is not as clear-cut, he explained, as having a breath test that shows a blood alcohol level above the legal limit of 0.08 percent.
The most likely outcome, if Irsay does not have a prescription for the drugs, would be for him to take guilty pleas to DUI and one of the drug charges, Stoesz speculated. In such a scenario, he said, Irsay would probably be placed on probation for a year or two but not receive any jail time.
"That would not be Jimmy Irsay getting a break," Stoesz said. "That's what would happen with just about anybody under similar circumstances."