Criminal Law

Football's Plaxico Burress Sentenced on Gun Charge

Related Item

Plaxico Burress has returned to the NFL after a three-year absence. He has a new team, the New York Jets. And he has a new lease on his career and life.

For accidentally shooting himself with an unlicensed, concealed handgun, he served 21 months in prison. Now he doesn't even own a gun. Instead he's working with the National Urban League to warn children about the dangers of handguns.

Original Article

Former New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress said a tearful good-bye to his family this week as he headed off to prison. He began serving a two-year prison sentence for carrying an unlicensed gun in violation of New York law.

Rise and Fall of a Football Star

In February 2008, Burress was at the top of his game. In the Super Bowl's final minutes, he caught the winning touchdown pass that secured the Giant's win over the previously unbeaten New England Patriots.

Last November things went downhill. Burress fumbled a loaded gun in a crowded Manhattan nightclub and accidentally shot himself in the leg. The gun wasn't licensed in New York, and his Florida license had expired.

The incident led to criminal charges against Burress for illegally possessing a weapon and reckless endangerment. He faced a prison term ranging from a mandatory three and half years to a possible 15 years. Through plea negotiations, he struck a deal with prosecutors. He agreed to plead guilty to the lesser charge of attempted possession of a dangerous weapon in order to get a shorter two-year prison sentence.

Possession of Dangerous Weapons

Most states have laws that control the possession of guns and other weapons. New York law sets out four classes, or degrees, of the crime possession of dangerous weapons. The crime in the first degree is the most serious and carries the harshest penalties. The crime in the fourth degree is the least serious and carries less severe penalties.

The following sets out the classes of illegal weapons possession under New York law:

  • First degree: Possessing an explosive devise with criminal intent or possessing ten or more guns. A Class B felony punished with a 5 to 25 year prison term
  • Second Degree: Possessing a machine gun, a loaded firearm, or a disguised gun with the intent to use it unlawfully, or possessing more than five guns, or possessing a loaded firearm outside your home or business. A Class C violent felony punished with a 3 ½ to 15 year prison term
  • Third Degree: Possessing a bomb, bombshell, firearm silencer, or machine gun, or possession of three or more guns or an assault weapon by a convicted felon possesses. A Class D felony punished by a 1 to 7 year prison term
  • Fourth Degree: Includes possessing any firearm, electronic dart gun, electronic stun gun, certain knives, cane sword, billy, blackjack, bludgeon, plastic knuckles, metal knuckles, chuka stick, sand bag, sandclub, wrist-brace type slingshot or slungshot, shirken or "Kung Fu star." A misdemeanor punished by a prison term of up to one year

State Gun Control

Burress said he was carrying the gun for protection because a friend in the area had recently been robbed. Under New York law though, a general fear of crime is not a good defense against a charge for illegally possessing a dangerous weapon.

Gun possession laws vary widely state-to-state, and the penalties for carrying an unlicensed gun can be very severe. Before traveling with a gun, make sure you know the weapons laws and regulations that apply.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Do I need to have a license to carry a gun in my state?
  • Do I need to have a license to keep a gun in my home or business?
  • Can I get a temporary license to take a gun into another state?
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