Q&A: Burress’ guilty plea and sentence

Yahoo! Sports

In the following Q&A, Yahoo! Sports legal analyst Craig Silverman addresses former New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress’(notes) guilty plea on a weapons charge in New York and the subsequent two-year prison sentence on Thursday.

How surprised were you by the guilty plea and two-year prison sentence agreement?

The guilty plea did not surprise me. The elements of the crime were so very easy to prove. A trained chimp could have prosecuted this case successfully and not even Perry Mason could have won at trial as Burress’ defense attorney. The prosecution could dictate practically any result it wanted. Conviction of the original charge carried huge prison time for Burress and the district attorney gave him a deadline of today for accepting the deal or going to trial. Talk about some bad choices!

I was somewhat surprised at the severity of the sentence. This is Burress’ first offense and he obviously got injured and self-punished in the process of committing the crime. I expected a plea bargain but there was not a great deal of bargain in this plea for Burress.

Does this strike you as an unusual, excessive punishment?

This is excessive for some jurisdictions but not New York City where gun crimes have long been treated harshly. There is a lot of luck involved in the criminal justice process. The place where the crime is committed often dictates the severity of the sanction. When it comes to good luck and bad, Burress could have killed himself or another person when that gun went off in a crowded club. Of course, the fact the gun slipped and fired is one very bad luck drop for this usually steady handed wide receiver.

What was it about this case/incident that made the prosecutor so intent on getting a two- or three-year sentence?

There is a huge urban vs. rural split in this nation when it comes to guns. Nowhere is that more pronounced than in New York City, which has had a long history of disdain for unauthorized guns and gun crimes. In the crowded environment of America’s biggest city, it is regarded as extremely dangerous for a person without a permit to have a gun – especially a loaded gun – on his person.

There was also political pressure from Mayor Bloomberg that was pretty extraordinary. I think Burress’ fame cost him in that regard. At the same time, Bloomberg’s harsh attitude reflects the views of most people in his city and is shared by the Big Apple prosecutors.

Why was Burress the only one indicted in the incident?

I think Burress put the other people around him that night in a tough spot and that the prosecutors and maybe even the grand jurors recognized such. None of these people apparently had prior knowledge that Burress had a gun. They also may have been ignorant of New York City’s tough gun policies. While ignorance of the law is generally no defense, prosecutors possess discretion and it appears the DA decided to punish only one person. Further, Burress apparently stood up at the grand jury and acknowledged his own wrongdoing without throwing anybody else under the bus.

How much time do you think he’ll actually serve?

State court sentences are rarely as long as first stated. There are overcrowding and budget issues that lead to substantial early release for good time and earned time. If I had to bet an over-under, I would expect Burress to be behind metal bars closer to one year than two.

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Updated Thursday, Aug 20, 2009