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Legal Look: Ryan Malone's arrest and his NHL future

Eric Macramalla, TSN Legal Analyst

4/13/2014 11:06:37 PM

On Saturday at 3:23am et, Tampa Bay Lightning forward Ryan Gregory Malone was arrested on charges of cocaine possession and driving under the influence.

Malone was pulled over by a Tampa police officer when his 2014 Chevrolet Suburban struck a curb. A search revealed 1.3 grams of cocaine in Malone's right back pocket. Breathalysers recorded blood alcohol content of .112 and .116. Florida law considers a driver impaired at 0.08 so he was well over the limit.

Two seasons removed from a 20 goal season, the 34 year old Malone has struggled this season with 15 points in 57 games.

Malone's arrest report may be viewed here.

The charges laid on Malone are very serious, particularly in the case of cocaine possession. In the state of Florida, if a person is convicted of possessing less than 28 grams of cocaine, he can face up to three years in prison, two years of probation and a $5,000 fine. As well, pursuant to Florida Statute 322.055, any person convicted of possession of cocaine will have their driver's license revoked for two years. It's not unusual to see plea deals in these circumstances, which include no jail time and probation.

Common defences to cocaine possession include illegal search and seizure as well as Malone saying the cocaine wasn't his. Based on the facts as reported to date, these would seem to be difficult defences to successfully rely on. The cocaine was found in his pocket on a night when he was allegedly intoxicated and driving erratically. Still, while things don't look terribly promising for Malone, we should not assume guilt.

As far as the NHL goes, the Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program kicks in. Collectively bargained between the NHLPA and NHL, the Program is designed to address substance abuse among NHL players. The Program contains a graduated treatment plan which is designed to discourage substance abuse among players and to provide players with time away from the pressures of the game while undergoing treatment. Players that have taken part in the Program include Brian McGrattan and Jordin Tootoo.

As a first step under the Program, a player must submit to a mandatory medical and psychological evaluation. Based upon the results of this examination, recommendations are made as to the course of treatment, which may include rehabilitation.

According to the Program, a player who is convicted of a criminal offence involving substance abuse will be suspended without pay while undergoing treatment. That player would be eligible for reinstatement only upon the recommendation of doctors. If the player doesn't follow through on treatment, he can be suspended without pay for 6 months while undergoing treatment, and reinstatement once again only happens if doctors recommend it.

So where are we on Malone? While there are a number of scenarios that could play out here, it's possible that we see Malone cut a plea deal to avoid prison time. He could also be suspended without pay by the NHL and enter a rehabilitation program, which would effectively bring his season to a close. However, in keeping with a more unlikely scenario, should doctors conclude that Malone does not need treatment and the charges are dropped, Malone could find his way back on the Lightning.

The circumstances as detailed in the arrest report are certainly discouraging and do not bode well for Malone. Ultimately, at this point, the focus should be on helping a young man get better.