Monday, March 30, 2009
Lawyer expects to get new court date
ESPN.com news services
NEW YORK -- A lawyer for New York Giants star receiver Plaxico Burress says a hearing in his gun possession case will be postponed.
Defense attorney Ben Brafman said Monday the wide receiver will show up to court Tuesday but "it's just a matter of getting a quick adjournment."
Burress accidentally shot himself in the thigh at a nightclub in November. He has been charged with criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree, a felony carrying a minimum prison sentence of 3½ years upon conviction.
Brafman would not say whether the hearing is being adjourned so a plea deal can be reached.
"I'm not going to get into that," he said.
Two independent sources with knowledge of the negotiations between Burress and the Manhattan district attorney told ESPN's Sal Paolantonio that Burress knows any lengthy trial on felony weapons charges would only delay his possible reinstatement to the NFL.
The district attorney's office has told Brafman that any plea deal would have to include jail time, the sources said. A sentence of longer than five months would make it difficult for Burress to return for the 2009 season.
Prosecutors commonly offer reduced charges in gun possession cases, considering past criminal history, arrest circumstances and the reason for having the weapon.
The 31-year-old wide receiver has no criminal record. The gun he was carrying had been licensed in Florida and that license only recently expired. The gun was not licensed in New York.
Statistics show that more than eight out of 10 people arrested in New York City in 2008 for the same charge Burress faces received a reduced charge, though some plea deals included jail time.
"This is going to be a close call," said Randy M. Mastro, a former prosecutor and deputy mayor under Rudy Giuliani. "He's got a pretty compelling story to tell. ... But at the same time, there's been a tremendous public outcry, particularly by some politicians, about this famous figure having a weapon."
ESPN reported last week that Burress' attorney had been in contact with prosecutors for months trying to avoid a lengthy trial. On Monday, The New York Times reported a plea deal was being seriously considered and it appeared likely to include Burress serving some jail time.
The district attorney's office has not commented.
Burress has not spoken publicly about why he was carrying a gun, but some have speculated that he was carrying it for safety reasons after teammate and fellow wide receiver Steve Smith was robbed at gunpoint three days earlier after being driven to his residence in a chauffeur-driven car.
"There's a pretty compelling story that there were traps in the circle of players which he traveled," Mastro said. "He has a story to tell the courts that is more sympathetic than the typical gun possession charge."
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has waged a long campaign against illegal guns, has publicly castigated Burress for illegally carrying the .40-caliber weapon. And there was talk of a cover-up by the Giants and the NFL after the Nov. 28 incident at the Latin Quarter; it took police nearly 12 hours to figure out Burress had shot himself and was hospitalized, and the player turned himself in three days later.
"He's a public figure, the case has become a notorious one," Mastro said. "His fame may not help him in this case."
Precedent is on Burress' side. Only about 14 percent of the people charged last year with criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree -- the same charge that Burress faces -- are ultimately convicted of that charge, said John Caher, a spokesman for the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services.
Of the 1,248 people in New York City initially arrested on second-degree criminal weapons possession in 2008, 184 were convicted of the charge. About half were convicted of a misdemeanor or violation, and the remaining convictions were usually lesser felonies with some jail time.
Reduced charges in similar cases include attempted possession or third-degree gun possession, which result in lesser or no jail time. It's not clear whether a plea deal will result in Burress serving any jail time.
Burress' Giants teammates have been supportive about his return, but they're concerned about the future of the team without him. The Giants lost four of their final five games after Burress was suspended, fined and placed on the nonfootball injury list, meaning he also could not appear in the playoffs. The Giants finished 12-5, losing at home in the playoffs to the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Giants, who signed Burress to a five-year, $35 million contract extension in September, have left the door open for Burress to return once his legal issues are resolved.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.