Columnist image
Eric Macramalla

TSN Legal Analyst

|Archive

L.A. Kings defenceman Slava Voynov has been suspended indefinitely with pay following his arrest on suspicion of domestic violence.

The City of Redondo Beach Police Department issued a press release indicating that a female could be heard "screaming" and "crying" from Voynov's home, and that later that night, Voynov accompanied the alleged victim to the hospital where he was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence.

The Charges

Voynov was arrested pursuant to Section 273.5 of the California Penal Code. A person is charged under this section if he or she "willfully inflicts corporal injury resulting in a traumatic condition upon a victim".

"Willfully" means a person acted on purpose. "Traumatic" refers to any injury caused by the application of physical force. Traumatic injuries can be either serious or minor, and include broken bones, concussions, sprains, bruises and injuries from suffocation or strangulation.

A domestic violence crime under Section 273.5 is either a misdemeanor or a felony. A felony is the far more serious charge. The type of charge will depend on a number of factors, including the severity of the injuries sustained and whether the defendant has a history of violence.

With a felony, Voynov would be facing up to four years in state jail with an additional five years if great bodily injury was inflicted. On the other hand, a misdemeanor is punishable by up to one year in county jail.

NHL Suspends Voynov To Protect Its Reputation

As per Article 18-A.5 of the NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement, which deals with off-ice discipline, Voynov was suspended indefinitely with pay.

This section provides that the league "may suspend the Player pending the League's formal review and disposition of the matter where the failure to suspend the Player during this period would create a substantial risk of material harm to the legitimate interests and/or reputation of the League."

There is a misconception that since this language appears in the CBA, the NHLPA agreed to a suspension for suspected domestic violence and as a result it can't challenge the NHL's decision. That's not the case. The Union did indeed collectively bargain Article 18; however it did not expressly agree to a suspension for suspected domestic violence. The language in this section is certainly broad enough to capture the Voynov suspension. To conclude, however, that the NHLPA explicitly agreed to a player suspension in these specific circumstances is not accurate. It agreed to let the league protect its reputation. When and how it does that is open to interpretation.

NHLPA & A Grievance

The NHLPA could grieve this case with a view to getting Voynov reinstated. The NHLPA would argue that a suspension based merely on allegations fails to respect due process and the cherished principle of the presumption of innocence. While a presumption of innocence in certain circumstances makes us uncomfortable, the NHLPA would argue, it is the cornerstone of the judicial system and must be respected at all levels. Voynov is innocent until proven guilty, and the NHLPA would say that the NHL's actions are capricious, while also prematurely suggesting guilt.

The NHLPA would also argue that the NHL would not be materially harmed if it first waited for law enforcement to decide the matter.

Further, the NHLPA cares about precedent. By allowing Voynov's suspension to go unchallenged, it is mindful it may become more difficult to mount a meaningful objection in future for a similar case.

As well, the NHLPA may be concerned that other players may be falsely accused of wrongdoing by a former spouse or companion looking to extract revenge for a bad breakup, etc. Since a mere allegation of domestic violence may sustain a suspension, there is an incentive for a scorned lover to manufacture a story with a view to inflicting harm and embarrassment on a player.

Another Case: Semyon Varlamov

Despite being formally charged in November of last year with third degree assault after allegedly attacking his girlfriend Evgeniya Vavrinyuk, Colorado Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov was still permitted to play. The NHLPA would argue that this constitutes inconsistent treatment of its members and the only reason Voynov is being suspended is because the incident occurred post-Rice.

Ray Rice Changed Everything

The NHL could point to Ray Rice to support its position. Times have changed since the appalling video evidence of Rice's left cross surfaced. That video changed the way people react to domestic violence. Gone are the days when sports fans put up with it. The public sentiment is now one of complete intolerance and absolute scorn. As a result, the league could argue that allowing Voynov to play could tarnish or irreparably harm its reputation. That could translate into a loss of sponsors, season ticket holders and fans.

This argument falls squarely within the four corners of Article 18-A.5, which is designed to protect the reputation of the league. Is it a subjective interpretation? Depends who you ask. Is it unreasonable? No.

The league would also be clear that each case is considered on its own facts and that suspensions will not be automatic in cases of domestic violence allegations.

Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly acknowledged the changing times together with a belief that the circumstances were different than Varlamov.

"I think the landscape has changed for all of us over the past six months," Daly said in an email to thn.com. "But that's not the only reason for the difference in treatment. Circumstances were different in Varlamov. I can't get more specific than that."

Ultimately, the NHL would argue that it's taking the prudent approach, and while not ideal, the dramatically different landscape surrounding domestic violence forced its hand. While not without legal risk, the NHL's position is not unreasonable and may well withstand legal scrutiny.

Both sides, though, have good arguments. That generally happens when broad legal language is open to interpretation. And Article 18 is no exception.

Voynov Could Sue

As for Voynov, there is the possibility he could sue the NHL if ever acquitted. While remote, he could allege that his acquittal proves he did nothing wrong and his immediate suspension damaged his reputation and earning potential.

Domestic Violence: A Deportable Crime

In the U.S., the crime of domestic violence can lead to serious immigration consequences for defendants who are not U.S. citizens. Under a federal law called the Immigration and Nationality Act, a non-citizen can be ordered deported if he is convicted of domestic violence. So apart from prison time, Voynov could also be deported.

Victim's Refusal To Testify

Domestic violence in the state of California is not only considered a crime against the person, but also against the state. This means that a prosecutor has the authority to pursue criminal charges of domestic violence even if the alleged victim doesn't want to cooperate. A prosecutor has subpoena power, which means he or she can force the accuser to testify. It's generally preferable to have the victim's cooperation, but it's not necessary.

What's Next for the NHL?

A domestic violence policy.