Morgan will try to complete diversion program after DWI charge

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON -- Saints wide receiver Joe Morgan, right, talks with District
Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON -- Saints wide receiver Joe Morgan, right, talks with District "E" Councilmember James Gray at a football camp at Joe Brown Park in New Orleans on June 22. Beset by a DWI arrest and a season-ending knee injury, Morgan says he now sees the past 12 months as a blessing in disguise.

Almost 10 months after being arrested on suspicion of driving drunk in Metairie, Joe Morgan — a wide receiver for the Saints for the past three seasons — agreed to try to complete a diversion program to avoid prosecution on charges related to the case.

Morgan opted for the program in 1st Jefferson Parish Court Judge Rebecca M. Olivier’s section on Tuesday. Morgan was invited to join the program by the District Attorney’s Office and must now work to complete its requirements, which are “rigorous,” said the player’s lawyer, Donald “Chick” Foret.

Typically, in Jefferson, diversion program participants are young and face nonviolent charges, and they are provided with monitoring and social services such as counseling as an alternative to being tried. It is not unusual for this to be offered to a defendant such as Morgan, who turns 26 on March 23 and is accused of first-offense DWI.

As a procedural matter, the DWI case against the player was dismissed after Olivier denied a joint request for a continuance on Morgan’s trial date, which had been set for Tuesday. The same was expected to happen to several other defendants in unrelated cases who were scheduled for trial Tuesday but were choosing diversion.

However, the D.A.’s Office can reinstitute the cases against Morgan and the others if it has to at a later date.

Foret said Morgan — who appeared in court wearing a dark business suit as well as a tie — would not be making any statements on Tuesday.

Morgan was arrested the morning of May 25 after a State Police trooper found him napping in his car, which had a flat tire and was pulled off to the side of the road near the intersection of Earhart Expressway and North Causeway Boulevard.

Troopers say Morgan failed a series of field sobriety tests and was jailed. He submitted to a blood-alcohol analysis and allegedly registered a .218, more than twice the legal limit to drive.

Morgan, who is free on $1,150 bond, pleaded not guilty in September to charges of first-offense DWI and having no driver’s license. First-offense DWIs can carry up to six months in jail and a maximum fine of $1,000.

Heading into his fourth year as a pro football player, Morgan will be the first to admit he’s had plenty of time to focus on his personal growth since his arrest. He tore his ACL during a preseason scrimmage in August and was placed on year-ending injured reserve.

It was the second time since 2011 he was forced to miss a year’s worth of action because of a preseason knee injury. Not required to travel to games or attend daily practices with the Saints, Morgan has said he participated in the NFL’s substance-abuse program and made that one of his top focuses outside of healing his knee.

“It made me realize, ‘Be better, be positive, they put us especially as football players to these high standards, to be huge role models,’” Morgan has remarked about his time off. “It ... really ... helped me mature.”

In 2012, the year Morgan did play, he caught 10 passes for 379 yards and three touchdowns. His mind-boggling 37.9 yards per catch would’ve easily been the most in the NFL if he would have had enough grabs to qualify to be ranked in the category.

“I was ready to play (last) year, I was ready to do so many things, and for it all to be taken away in training camp ... it’s hard,” Morgan has said.

Nonetheless, aside from rehabbing his knee and working through the league substance-abuse program, Morgan has said he got the invaluable opportunity to spend more time with his daughter, Justice. Justice is about the same age Morgan was (4) when his father was fatally shot in his hometown of Canton, Ohio.

The elder Morgan was 25 when he died in 1992.

Morgan started the 2014 offseason as a restricted free agent. But the Saints didn’t tender him, so he became an unrestricted free agent on March 11.

Morgan re-signed with the Saints on a one-year deal later Tuesday, the team announced.

It would’ve been difficult for Morgan to successfully complete the diversion program for which he had signed up if he left the New Orleans area, Foret had said prior to the team’s announcement.

Before joining the Saints as an undrafted free agent, Morgan played collegiately at both Illinois and Walsh, an NAIA school in Canton.

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Note: This story was updated since it was first published to provide more details.