Plaxico Burress comes home today. It remains to be seen if he will ever again play professional football. Like many, I am rooting for him. But I have a different reason. Plax got a bad deal and his case highlights some of the defects in our justice system. Start with the charges. After placing his unlicensed handgun in the waistband of his sweatpants, Burress went clubbing. While entering the club, the gun slipped down his pants and discharged, causing a graze wound to his right thigh. An argument could be made that any man who would place a loaded weapon so close to his, um, gun, deserves to be punished. Here are the mitigating factors: Plax WAS previously licensed, albeit in Florida, to carry a weapon. Also, he has been harassed, confronted, and attacked before – – and not just by eager football fans. Let’s face it; he is a high profile target for thieves, bookies, mobsters, and high-level criminals. No one doubts that he was carrying the firearm for self-defense. Finally, and this is critical, he never fired the gun, and no one was hurt. The gun went off accidentally, and Plax did not really need medical attention.
But, Plax was not charged with a misdemeanor, or even a lower level felony. He was charged with Criminal Possession in the Second Degree – – which means he intended to use the gun unlawfully against another. That is a charge typically reserved for a guy who possesses a gun while committing a crime – – like robbery. It is extremely rare for someone possessing a gun, previously licensed, who does not intentionally fire it, to be charged with intent to use it unlawfully against another. It is classic overcharging – – occasioned by Mayor Bloomberg’s laudable but sometimes blind crusade against hand guns. It also did not hurt that the District Attorney’s office LOVES to see itself in the newspaper; nothing gets the press’ attention more than the arrest of a high profile celebrity.
When the dust settled, Plax had nothing to worry about. He hired a high-powered, uber criminal defense lawyer. Surely, such a brilliant, aggressive advocate would destroy the State’s case to the point where a plea agreement would keep Plax out of prison and back on the gridiron.
What is that? Plax was sentenced to the maximum 2 years and actually served more than 20 months in prison? How is that possible? That is roughly the same sentence served by Michael Vick, and animals were definitely harmed during the making of his video. Vick, whose rehabilitation I also strongly support, intentionally, maliciously, and brutally murdered other living beings. And did it over and over again. Even after he was warned.
Remember Johnny Cochran? He delayed O.J. Simpson’s trip to the hoosegow with a brilliant display of showmanship during O.J.’s first criminal trial. He was quickly branded the “Lawyer of the Century;” opening up affiliated offices throughout the United States. He was one of a handful of criminal defense lawyers who reached celebrity status before his death. Guess what? He lost almost every case since. And most of the earlier ones as well. He was a terrible lawyer who happened to benefit from the dumbest jury in modern history, coupled with an incompetent judge, and extremely distracted prosecutors. And, if my 14 year old son had those stars aligned, he too would have procured O.J.’s freedom.
Same with Plaxico. Many years ago, his current lawyer seemingly pulled a rabbit out of his hat, when he, along with Johnny Cochran, convinced a jury to acquit P-Diddy of weapons charges when no one actually saw Diddy with the gun and it was just found on the seat of a car in which Diddy was being driven. Indeed, most of the eye-witnesses denied ever seeing Diddy with a gun. Wow, with no evidence, no witnesses, and a gaping black hole of reasonable doubt, the legal dream team was able to secure Diddy’s acquittal. It didn’t matter. Both lawyers shot to the stratosphere of legal exposure. For Plax’s lawyer, a string of high profile clients, and well-publicized cases followed. Guess what, Plax’s lawyer lost almost all of them. His clients routinely end up in jail, often with little benefit to show for their astronomical legal bill.
Plax got played. First by a culture that requires him to carry a gun; then by a legal system that is more interested in press and headlines than in dispensing justice, and, finally, by a profession that credits the client list more than legal acumen and actual competence.
I am glad he is free and hope to see him catching footballs in the New Meadowlands stadium just as soon as the lockout is over.
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