Fordham Law

Law professor: Plaxico Burress might get off easier if he weren't a celebrity

James A. Cohen in USA Today Sports, July 28, 2009

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Plaxico Burress' celebrity has shined attention on weapons case that an average citizen would be unlikely to garner. Manhattan DA Robert Morgenthau said this week he will insist on Burress doing jail time for the weapons charges the former Giants receiver faces.

Fordham University law professor James A. Cohen said there are mitigating circumstances that, if not for Burress' public profile, might warrant less zeal from the prosecution.

For example, Burress at one point had a permit for the weapon and could make the case that he was using it for protection because he felt he was a target as a celebrity. "He's not getting the benefit of that because the star athlete cuts against that," Cohen said. "It's because he's a star athlete that Morgenthau needs to send the message that you can't go out and carry a gun.

"If he were not (a celebrity), my guess is he would get a better deal."

Burress' legal fate, Cohen said, "depends on who's prepared to play the game of chicken the longest."

At trial, Burress' lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, would need to convince a judge to allow him to present evidence that would be favorable to Burress, such as him carrying a gun because he felt threatened. But that could be a gamble.

"If the judge has some independence and appears to have some sympathy that (Burress') situation is different, then you might want to take the chance," Cohen said. Getting an unsympathetic judge, however, could leave Burress facing a long prison sentence.