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August 20, 2009

Plaxico Burress cuts a plea deal requiring two-year prison term for his gun possession

As detailed in this New York Daily News article, "Plaxico Burress took a surprise plea bargain Thursday that will land the talented but troubled wide receiver behind bars for two years." Here are more legal details and some notable reactions:

The unexpected agreement with the Manhattan district attorney came nine months after Burress, 32, shot himself through the thigh with an illegal .40-caliber Glock in a crowded nightclub. "Do you wish to plead guilty?" asked state Supreme Court Judge Michael Melkonian as a chastened Burress stood before him. "Is that what you want to do?" "Yes, sir," replied the subdued star, who returns to court Sept. 22 for his official sentencing. He's expected to begin his jail term the same day.

Once he reports to jail, Burress - if he avoids trouble behind bars — should serve about 20 months, said his lawyer, Benjamin Brafman.... Burress, whose deal included two years of probation, pleaded guilty to a reduced count of attempted criminal possession of a weapon....

Ex-Giants teammate Steve Smith, speaking at the team's Albany training camp, said he felt bad for Burress. "I think they wanted to set an example with him, which sucks," the fellow receiver said. "He didn't hurt nobody else."

Mayor Bloomberg, who had called for Burress to receive at least 3 1/2 years in jail, wouldn't second-guess the plea bargain deal. "I believe the laws should apply to everyone, and the district attorney should treat everyone the same," the mayor said in Queens. "You'll have to ask the district attorney whether or not he would have made the same deal with anybody."...

Brafman, outside court, said Burress decided to take the plea after an "agonizing period of discussions."  Burress "decided he wanted to put this behind him as quickly as possible," Brafman said. "This is a perfect example of how bad judgment sometimes has very bad consequences."

Brafman said Burress — who will leave a son and a pregnant wife behind when he goes to jail - intends to resume his football career after finishing his time. "I'm disappointed," Brafman said. "This breaks my heart."

Burress — who caught the game-winning touchdown in the Giants' 2008 Super Bowl win over the Patriots — testified before a grand jury last month in a "Hail Mary" attempt to beat the rap.  He was indicted on two counts of weapons possession and reckless endangerment.  The 6-foot-5 Burress had faced 3-1/2-to-15 years if convicted.

As regular readers know, I thought Burress should have been aggressively pressing a Second Amendment defense to these criminal charges.  That approach, however, would have produced a lot of uncertainty as to his fate, but it still seems to me worth pursuing.  But, with Burress surely having limited time to play pro football in light of his age, I suppose I understand his decision to seek a quick plea.  I have a hard time understanding, however, why Burress was unable to secure a better plea given data  (reported here around the time of his arrest) that nearly half off all persons who plead to the lesser charge of third-degree criminal possession of a weapon — a crime that has no mandatory sentence — did not serve any prison time.

I cannot help but wonder if the recent activity in the criminal cases involving Michael Vick and Donte Stallworth also played a role in Burress's decision to plead guilty.  Specifically, Vick served a lot more time in prison, and this fact likely played a role in the NFL's decision to let him resume playing football as soon as he was released.  Stallworth, in contrast, got a light sentence from the legal system, and the NFL followed up with a long ban from the league.

Some related posts on the Burress cases:

August 20, 2009 at 02:48 PM | Permalink


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I do have problems with this as far as the plea not appearing to fit the facts. Isn't a judge supposed to reject such pleas, at least in theory? You have highlighted a few (admitedly rare) case of judges rejecting pleas of that nature.

He didn't attempt, he succeeded.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Aug 20, 2009 3:30:36 PM

I think Goodell has done a terrific job suspending players, and it has happened so much the last 2 years I think the young guys will start to take note, hopefully.

At least it will teach kids to not shoot themselves in the leg with an unregistered firearm accidentally, because you will serve 2-5 years in prison first offense.

Posted by: New York Giants Picks | Aug 21, 2009 4:49:02 PM

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