Ched Evans: Release, Retribution and RehabilitationJohn Mehrzad, Seyra Dagadu
In April 2012 Ched Evans, the former Wales and Sheffield United striker, was convicted of raping a 19-year-old woman in a hotel room in Rhyl, Denbighshire. It is a shocking and a wholly unacceptable crime for him to have committed.
Last month Evans was released after serving half of his 5-year prison sentence. Upon his release, and following a request from his union and the PFA, Sheffield United offered Evans the opportunity to train with the club. It was, though, emphasised by the club at the time that no decision had been made about whether to offer Evans a new contract.1 However, following days of stinging public criticism of the club from pressure groups,2 local politicians,3 sponsors,4 celebrities5 let alone members of the public,6 the club retracted its training offer to Evans.7
It is in that high-profile context that this article will consider how the law operates in relation to convictions of Evans’ kind as well as looking at policy arguments about the rehabilitation of offenders, especially within the world of football.
Modern society, by way of its criminal laws, believes that an offender should be punished for their crime - the more serious the offence, the stiffer the punishment. However, it has also recognised that once the punishment has been served, the offender should be rehabilitated back into society having served their “time”. 8
In terms of the approach to the punitive aspect of a conviction, an effective checklist is followed by the presiding judge to determine the appropriate sentence. Even for a very serious crime such as rape, the law distinguishes between the worst possible types of circumstances and others that do not fall into that category. That distinction, or range of approaches, takes into account, first, the level of harm to the victim and, secondly, the culpability of the accused: Sexual Offences Definitive Guideline: Rape and assault offences, 2013. As to the level of harm, consideration is given to a number of factors, including the vulnerability of the victim, their age and the nature of the offence itself.9 In relation to culpability, the actions or attitudes of the offender in committing the crime are also taken into account: Sexual offences Definitive Guideline, 2013.10 It is only once those two steps have been undertaken that the appropriate sentence is determined.11
In Evans’ case, the category range for a rape conviction was four to seven years.12 Taking into account aggravating and mitigating factors, he ultimately faced a five-year prison sentence.13 Evans appealed against this decision on grounds that it had been inconsistent and, therefore, unsafe. His appeal was, however, rejected by the Court of Appeal.14 Evans was later released automatically after serving half of his five-year sentence.15
It is important to emphasise that Evans has always maintained his innocence and has never expressed any contrition for the offence he was found to have committed16, including continuing his application to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which acts as the first step to a second appeal.17
In order to assist former offenders, Parliament intended by way of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (“ROA”) to re-integrate them without the heavy stigma of their former conviction. In summary, under that legislation, once a prescribed period has elapsed from the date of the offender’s conviction, the conviction is then “spent” and the offender becomes a “rehabilitated person”.18
However, for ex-offenders, such as Evans, who have been sentenced to over 30-months for sexual offences, their sentence in never spent.19 In other words, if asked, he is obliged to disclose his previous conviction when seeking employment. Of course, due to his own high-profile past as a professional footballer who was convicted of rape and the recent furore around his proposed training with Sheffield United, Evans is always likely to be associated with his crime in any event.
The rehabilitation of offenders is a major issue in society. It is one thing having a statutory basis for rehabilitation. It is quite another to achieve it. The Prisoner Reform Trust’s Surveying Prisoner Crime Reduction Survey 2013 reveals that offenders, when asked which factors would be important, most stressed the importance of having a job (68%). However, in 2012-13 only 26% of prisoners entered employment on release from prison.20 Around 1 in 5 employers (who honestly responded) have said that they did exclude or were likely to exclude offenders from the recruitment process.21 Based on those statistics, rehabilitation for past crimes is very far from being achieved even if the “punishment” has already been served. It is a truism that a criminal conviction and certainly the related prison-sentence are major barriers to employment. In other words, they have a “discriminatory” effect.
However, some high-profile employers have made a point of employing ex-offenders as a matter of policy. In their view, by doing so they are doing society a favour rather than undermining it. For example, the key-cutters Timpson’s, despite initial criticisms, boasts that it is company policy to work with ex-offenders22 and, in particular, makes the point that a real sense of loyalty can be engendered from extending a second chance to others. Virgin has also adopted a similar policy23.
Following Evans’ release, he is back into society and, just like anyone-else, is permitted to look for and carry out work. However, it seems that society – by way of some politicians, local leaders and celebrities – does not believe he should be allowed to train at a professional football club (let alone play for it). Sheffield United has been roundly criticised for even making its training offer.
Other footballers have however been re-employed, and even welcomed back, after convictions; Duncan Ferguson was jailed for three months for assaulting John McStay during a game in 1994 and Tony Adams was jailed for four months for drink-driving. In other sports, American footballer Plaxico Burress was sentenced to two years24 on a firearm offence. He re-signed with the Steelers after his release. In 2007, the Atlanta Falcon’s quarterback Michael Vick was sentenced to 23 months in jail for his involvement in dog fighting operations25. He too returned to the sport. Mike Tyson, the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world during the 1980’s was convicted of raping an 18 year old beauty queen in an Indianapolis hotel. He later made a comeback on release from prison and has stared in several Hollywood movies.26
The above rather begs the following questions; whether there is something fundamentally different about being a convicted rapist which means Evans should be treated less favourably than, say, a person who committed a different, albeit very serious criminal offence? Should a high-profile football club, with responsibilities to its cross-gender supporters and to the local community, treat serious offenders differently than other employers? Do the responsibilities of professional footballers mean that once a particular boundary is crossed, there is no coming back?
Based on Evans’ case, it seems that society and now Sheffield United believe the answer to at least some, if not all of those questions, to be “yes”.
EDITORS NOTE, 21 APRIL 2016: Ched Evans has had his conviction for rape quashed at the Court of Appeal in London, but will face a new trial.
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About the Author
John is recognised as a leading barrister specialised in employment, commercial and sports law, practising from Littleton Chambers where he is the Head of the Sports Law Group.
Seyra Dagadu has a keen interest in Commercial Law and the profession of sports. He has a background in Law and Business from the University of Warwick where he also played football winning both the league and varsity cups.