For much of the past two years, Lil Wayne's attorneys have argued that police could not prove that the weapon they found on the rapper's bus in July 2007 belonged to him. But, in a surprise move on Thursday, Wayne (born Dwayne Michael Carter Jr.) entered a guilty plea to a class "D" violent felony of attempted criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree.
The plea brings a one-year prison term, of which Wayne is expected to serve at least eight months. The lead prosecutor on the case, Joan Illuzzi-Orbon, told MTV News shortly after Thursday morning's court proceeding that despite a focus on the DNA evidence in the case in recent days, she did not think the guilty plea was "contingent" on the DNA.
"Possession is defined as actual possession or dominion or control. ... we said it was dominion and control," explained Illuzzi-Orbon. The latter phrase is a legal term that refers to something being available for immediate use.
In Wayne's case, the plea means that the rapper did not admit the gun was in his hand or immediate possession, but that it was on his tour bus and within his dominion (i.e. "control") because it was on his bus. His lawyer had argued during the course of the proceedings that the gun was not in Wayne's physical possession, as stated by the arresting officer, which explains why the plea deal was for dominion and control and "attempted possession," not actual possession.
Wayne's lawyer, Stacey Richman, said, "After ongoing negotiations, he opted to take the deal to take responsibility for the situation and I think it speaks of him that he's an individual with a strong constitution that he took that responsibility." She again noted that the .40-caliber gun was purchased by Wayne's manager, Cortez Bryant, who had a legal permit to carry the weapon in Mississippi.
"In the current political atmosphere and given the stance New York state has on guns, it's a fine resolution," Richman said, noting that in New York state a first-offense charge of gun possession has a three-and-a-half-year minimum sentence "no matter who you are." Richman claimed that the gun laws in New York state are significantly more severe than in many other states, and considering that fact, the one-year sentence she negotiated for Wayne is a decent outcome.
Wayne had previously pleaded not guilty to the possession charges and Richman had long said that the evidence against her client did not prove that the weapon belonged to him or place the weapon in his hand on the bus. A spokesperson for the Manhattan District Attorney's office said that evidence presented during the case showed that the weapon was not lawfully registered to anyone in New York state and that prosecutors never disputed that Bryant purchased the gun in Mississippi.
"I don't believe this was just some random stop," Richman said of the police action that led to Wayne's arrest. "If he was some half-assed no-name, they would have never stopped the bus. He happened to become the most famous person in the universe independent of the trial," she said (somewhat hyperbolically). As an example of this, Richman noted that another client of hers, rapper Ja Rule — who performed with Wayne that night — was arrested for a nearly identical charge the same evening and was held on $150,000 bail, whereas Wayne's bail was only $30,000.
Richman said Wayne was not pressured into accepting the plea and wasn't particularly happy about it, but felt he needed to make a choice after the lawyer explained his options to him in a case that could have resulted in a minimum three and a half years in prison. The DA's office spokesperson said that although the charge typically carries a two-year sentence, evidence presented in the case determined that a one-year term was acceptable.
"It would have been a phenomenal battle," she said of a potential trial, adding that the much-discussed DNA evidence had nothing to do with the decision to cop a plea. "This technology is a danger to the citizenry," she said of the so-called low copy number DNA method, which uses sometimes miniscule amounts of repeatedly processed genetic material to obtain a DNA sample. "It is not generally accepted and their own documents noted that. It can pull up whatever DNA they can find, and in this case there were at least three contributors. There's no way of discerning who contributed what; it's just a mishmash of DNA."
Richman described Wayne as a highly intelligent man of "exquisite manners" who she believes was not aware of the impact that having a gun in his presence in New York could have on him. "I don't think that people outside of our state are aware of our gun laws," she said. "Ignorance of these laws is no defense ... but my understanding is that Cortez Bryant is one of the main guys who picks up the back-end money after shows and he had a proper [carry] permit from his state, and from his perspective he had it for protection and there was no malice intended with the gun."
Richman said that the plea deal will not have any impact on another case Wayne is facing in Arizona — related to gun and drug possession — which is slated to go to trial in April. Wayne is due back in court in New York in December and is expected to surrender to begin his term in February.