By Steve Kallas
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By now you know that New York Knicks point guard Raymond Felton was arrested and arraigned Tuesday in state criminal court in lower Manhattan. He was charged with two felonies: criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree (a Class D felony), and criminal possession of a firearm (a lesser Class E felony).
Felton was released on $25,000 bail, was told via an order of protection to stay away from his soon-to-be ex-wife for six months) and to return to court on June 2. His wife’s attorney apparently brought a loaded Belgian pistol, alleged to be Felton’s, to the 20th Precinct on West 82nd Street just before the Mavericks-Knicks game on Monday. Felton surrendered to the police a few hours after the game.
Felton was initially charged with, among other things, criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree, a Class C felony, which is a more serious charge than what he ended up being charged with during his arraignment 18 hours later.
When asked why the Class C felony charge didn’t stick, New York criminal defense lawyer and former Bronx Assistant District Attorney Joseph Heinzmann said, “When police arrest an individual, they suggest charges to the prosecutor. Though the police suggested second-degree possession, the facts as reported do not support that charge as a matter of law. The prosecutor filed charges that fit the facts as alleged.
“For second-degree possession to be appropriate, there are significant facts that would need to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt for there to be a conviction on that charge. Based on what has been reported to this point, there is no possibility prosecutors could make a case for second-degree possession, which is likely why they declined to file that charge,” Heinzmann added.
And that’s great news, in a bad situation, for Felton.
Why? Well, the reason that Plaxico Burress went to jail was because he was charged with a Class C felony. The New York County DA’s office would only allow someone to plead down a Class C felony to a Class D felony, which still required, as you will recall, two years imprisonment.
That’s why Burress was imprisoned. And there is at least a chance that Felton won’t be since no Class C felony was charged at his arraignment.
There are a number of differences between the Burress and Felton cases. Burress committed the crime by bringing an unlicensed gun into New York City in his waistband and accidentally shot himself.
In Felton’s case, the unlicensed gun was in his apartment where his estranged wife is living. Although the weapon was not licensed or registered in New York and was filled with ammunition, it will have to be proven that it was his gun. So far, Felton hasn’t admitted to anything.
So the Burress case and the Felton case, although both involve New York City athletes charged with gun offenses, are really apples and oranges.
WILL FELTON DO TIME?
It’s a fascinating question. While it was pretty clear back when Burress got into trouble that he was going to do some time (three-and-a-half years if he went to trial and lost under the Class C felony charge and two years if he would plead to the lesser Class D felony charge), the Felton case is in a different and lower category.
Once you get to being charged with a Class D felony (criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree) and an even lesser Class E felony (criminal possession of a firearm), you at least have a chance to engage in plea negotiations to either avoid being imprisoned or at least keep that term of imprisonment to less than Burress got and maybe even less than a year.
So, while there may be a fine and some kind of community service or maybe just probation, if Felton does have to do some time, any term of imprisonment will be less than Burress’ two-year sentence.
It’s true that the Class D felony could be punishable by up to seven years and the Class E felony could be punishable up to four years, but for that to impact Felton he would have to have a criminal record, which he does not, according to reports.
CAN FELTON PLAY NOW?
From a legal perspective, the answer to that question is yes. He’s met bail and can go to Miami and play Thursday night. The NBA’s collective bargaining agreement does not allow the team or the NBA to do anything with respect to a player suspension simply because he was arrested and charged.
Remember, Felton is innocent until proven guilty.
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