Delay in hearing for Plaxico Burress

March 30, 2009 10:04:12 PM PDT
Plaxico Burress will return to court Tuesday in his gun possession case as his lawyers and prosecutors haggle over a plea deal and what punishment the New York Giants star should face for accidentally shooting himself in a crowded nightclub last year.

A law enforcement official with knowledge of the case said that Burress and prosecutors have been in active discussions about a plea deal, but remain at odds over the terms, with the District Attorney's office pushing for a stiffer punishment than what defense lawyers believe Burress deserves. The individual spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussions are ongoing.

Burress, who fired a bullet into his thigh at a Manhattan nightclub in November with a gun he'd stuffed in his waistband, has been charged with second-degree criminal possession of a weapon, a felony that carries a minimum prison sentence of 3 1/2 years in prison and a maximum of 15 years upon conviction.

His attorney Ben Brafman said Burress will appear in court Tuesday but the hearing will be adjourned. He wouldn't comment on a possible plea deal.

"I'm not going to get into that," he said.

Statistics show that more than eight out of 10 people arrested in the city last year on the same charge Burress faces received reduced charges, though some plea deals included jail time.

Former prosecutor Randy M. Mastro, a deputy mayor under Rudy Giuliani, said Burress' case was going to be "a close call."

"He's got a pretty compelling story to tell," Mastro said.

"But, at the same time, there's been a tremendous public outcry, particularly by some politicians, about this famous figure having a weapon."

Prosecutors, in offering reduced charges in gun possession cases, consider past criminal history, arrest circumstances and the reason for having the weapon.

The 31-year-old wide receiver, who caught the winning touchdown pass in the Giants' 2008 Super Bowl victory over the previously undefeated New England Patriots, has no criminal record. The gun he was carrying had a Florida license that only recently expired; it wasn't licensed in New York.

Burress has not spoken publicly about why he was carrying a gun, but some have speculated it was for safety reasons after teammate Steve Smith was robbed at gunpoint three days earlier.

Mastro said that would make for a "compelling story."

"He has a story to tell the courts that is more sympathetic than the typical gun possession charge," Mastro said.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has waged a long campaign against illegal guns, has publicly castigated Burress for 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 after it took police nearly 12 hours to figure out Burress had shot himself and was hospitalized; the player turned himself in three days later.

Precedent is on Burress' side. Only about 14 percent of the people charged last year with the same charge that Burress faces were ultimately convicted of it, said John Caher, a spokesman for the 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.

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 non-football 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 him to return once his legal issues are resolved.


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