Steelers' Bell hopes to get first-offender's deal

Joe Mandak
Associated Press

Pittsburgh — Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell waived his right to a preliminary hearing on marijuana possession and driving under the influence charges and hopes to enter a first-offender's program that could result in the charges being dismissed and his record expunged, his attorney said Wednesday.

Defense attorney Robert Del Greco Jr. said Bell is also being tested for drugs weekly under NFL rules and will likely face a two-game NFL suspension once the criminal case wraps up, probably early next year.

Bell, who starred at Michigan State, didn't comment before or after the hearing, but Del Greco described the player as "a 22-year-old who recognizes his mistake."

"By all indications from what I can tell, hopefully Le'Veon will never be standing next to a criminal defense attorney again," Del Greco said.

Bell and fellow Steelers running back LeGarrette Blount, were arrested Aug. 20 after a motorcycle officer in Ross Township, outside Pittsburgh, smelled marijuana coming from a vehicle the men were in with a female friend.

Police contend the players acknowledged buying and smoking some of the pot, though Bell told police he wasn't high when pulled over at 1:30 p.m.

Blount's preliminary hearing has been moved to Dec. 10 because of a scheduling conflict by his defense attorney, Casey White. White told The Associated Press that he's also spoken to Allegheny County prosecutors about whether Blount might also enter the first-offender's program, but said that and other aspects of the case remained up in the air.

Under the program, defendants don't plead guilty but are placed on probation, usually for a year. They can ask the court to dismiss the charges and clear their arrest record if they complete the probation without incident.

By waiving Wednesday's hearing, Bell acknowledged police have enough evidence for the charges to go to Allegheny County Common Pleas Court, where he must stand trial if the charges aren't resolved through the first offender's program or some other kind of plea.

The Steelers chose not to suspend either player when they were arrested the day before an exhibition game in Philadelphia. Both played in that game and in every game since.

Bell is the league's second-leading rusher with 542 yards in six games, averaging 5.2 yards per carry. Blount has 37 carries for 212 yards on the season.

According to a criminal complaint, Bell initially denied having any marijuana in the vehicle before the officer asked Bell, whose "eyes were red and glassy," whether they had smoked pot that day.

"It was about a minute ago," Bell replied.

When the officer asked what he meant, Bell said, "We smoked within the last two hours," and shortly thereafter all three occupants told the officer "they just picked up the marijuana and that they each pitched in to buy it."

Advised that he would be charged with driving under the influence, Bell claimed to be "perfectly fine," the complaint said.

But Del Greco said Pennsylvania has a "zero tolerance" standard for driving under the influence of illegal drugs like marijuana and a hospital blood test showed Bell had marijuana in his system after he was pulled over. Police seized about 20 grams — or three-fourths of an ounce — of marijuana in a plastic bag found in the car's console.

"I think he's dedicated to becoming a better person, a better player and a better teammate," Del Greco said. "Essentially, Le'Veon is a vastly talented 22-year-old with a huge and promising future and I think he's now committed to understanding that that future can only be realized if he doesn't implicate the criminal justice system."