Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Say it Ain’t So Plaxico! Under 2006 Law, Burress Looking at Prison Time

New York Giants’ Plaxico Burress, left, leaves Manhattan Supreme Court after his arraignment, accompanied by his lawyer Benjamin Brafman on Monday, Dec. 1, 2008.
A little less than a year ago, New York was cheering Plaxico Burress. The Giants’ wide-receiver had played an integral role in the team’s march to the Super Bowl, and had caught the winning touchdown pass in the crowning win against the Patriots.
Now it looks like Burress is about to get something else thrown at him: The Book. By now, even those who don’t know the gridiron from a waffle iron have heard that Burress got himself into a heap of trouble over the weekend by carting an unregistered and loaded handgun into a Manhattan nightclub and accidentally shooting himself in the thigh. And it looks like the penalty — aside from being suspended from the 10-1 Giants for the rest of the year — might be severe: possibly three-and-a-half years in prison.
The possible penalty is the result of a New York statute signed into law in November 2006 by then-Governor George Pataki. He and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg touted the law as a much-needed tough-on-crime measure. According to an NYT piece out Wednesday, defense lawyers at the time attacked the law as unduly harsh, largely because it eliminated exceptions and judicial discretion in imposing the sentence. One of the measure’s harsher critics at the time: Ben Brafman, a high-profile criminal defense lawyer (Mel Weiss was his client), who’s now been retained by Burress.
Brafman has continued to inveigh against the law’s fairness, telling the Times: criminal “laws. . . . that do not have exceptions for extraordinary circumstances are inappropriate . . . .” But Burress is still up against it. “Even if he pleads down . . . he would still face a minimum of two years in prison,” said another criminal-defense lawyer, Robert Gottlieb, to the Times.
Burress’s best shot is to avoid the “illegal possession of a loaded handgun” charge altogether. Though given the case’s high profile, says Gottlieb, that might be hard for Burress to avoid.

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