Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott just had his 6-game suspension reinstated by the NFL for his alleged domestic violence incidents with his girlfriend. Although the incidents were reported in 2016 and charges were never filed, the NFL conducted their own investigation and decided to impose their own discipline with a 6-game suspension in 2017. It’s difficult to determine what really happened, especially as Elliott has constantly denied the allegations. However, the mere fact that charges were not filed does not mean that violence did not occur. When a prosecutor has to decide whether to file charges, they have to use the reasonable doubt standard of evidence.
That means, a prosecutor can only file charges they believe then can take this case to trial and prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. However, there are lots of cases where a defendant may have committed the act, but there isn’t enough evidence to convict him. The best example of that is OJ Simpson’s acquittal in the murder of his ex-wife. Nobody really believes OJ was innocent, but there wasn’t enough evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to convict him. In this case, the prosecutors decided ahead of time there wasn’t enough evidence to convict Ezekiel Elliott so he wasn’t charged with a crime. But that doesn’t mean that the prosecution believes Elliott is innocent.
In California, if a person was arrested for a crime but then never charged with that crime, and that person was actually innocent, then they could file a motion for factual innocence under Penal Code section 851.8. If such a motion were granted, their arrest record would be sealed and eventually destroyed, and their would be finding from a judge that they are innocent of the crime. If such an option were available to Elliott, he may have been able to fight the suspension with that. Without that finding, anybody can always claim they are innocent if charges were never filed, but there is no proof either way.
Obviously the NFL applied a much lower standard of proof to their own investigation and it decided there was enough evidence to warrant disciplinary actions.