The rapper entered a guilty plea in a Manhattan court on Thursday (October 22) as part of a deal that will see him be formally sentenced to one year in prison (although it seems likely he'll serve eight to 10 months). Wayne pleaded guilty to a class "D" violent felony of attempted criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree; the charges stem from a July 2007 arrest.
Had the rapper not struck a deal with prosecutors, he could have been looking at a mandatory minimum of three and a half years in prison if he was found guilty by trial.
It's worth noting that the minimum sentence was raised in 2006 after the New York Legislature passed a bill that increased the mark at the behest of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. New York's then-Governor George Pataki signed the changes into law. As a result, according to New York-based attorney Scott Leemon, hardline sentencing laws were now in place for offenders like Lil Wayne whether they actually planned to use the gun or not.
"Basically, the old law required someone to have a loaded weapon and intend to use it [before] the mandatory minimum would kick in," Leemon told MTV News. "And basically, what they did is they took that out of the law. So the mere possession of a loaded weapon in New York State is a felony."
In essence, if you're unlawfully holding a weapon or if you plan to shoot someone, the starting point for punishment is the same.
"That's why you should not have a gun in New York," Leemon advised.
The lawyer — who in the past has represented 50 Cent, Tony Yayo and Remy Ma — called the current laws "draconian."
"If this happened in one of the other states, maybe down South or out West, where gun possession is normal and custom, it would be treated a lot differently. In some states this would be a simple probation-type case."
In rural areas, for instance, where hunting is more prominent, permits aren't necessarily needed to purchase some types of firearms. But in more urban-leaning locales such as New York, the requirements are much more stringent. Gun laws vary from state-to-state; in New York illegal gun possession is classified as a felony; in Oregon the same offense could result in a misdemeanor charge, according to their state legislature statutes.
Former NFL star Plaxico Burress is another celebrity who learned firsthand how strict New York gun laws are. The New York Giants player was sentenced to two years in prison following his own plea deal last month and was taken into custody immediately. His case, however, was different than Lil Wayne's in that Burress' weapon discharged, and Mayor Bloomberg publicly called for the onetime All-Pro to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
The attorney representing Wayne, Stacey Richman, spoke to MTV News following her client's court appearance and explained that the rapper was able to receive a lesser sentence because he did not own up to gun possession, but to attempted gun possession, a lesser rap. The difference has to do with Wayne not having the firearm within his "dominion," or essentially his direct possession. Instead, as he entered his plea in court, Wayne emphasized that the gun was near him and Richman commended the rapper for taking responsibility.
"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 said.
Both Richman and Leemon strongly advised non-New York residents against carrying guns while visiting the Empire State. Leemon noted that it is virtually impossible for residents to obtain a permit to carry a gun legally unless one is a retired police officer or one of the few security firms who are insured to carry licensed firearms. Richman said many people don't know about New York's harsher laws.
Still, she said being uneducated should not be an excuse, and in light of Wayne's upcoming sentencing it should now no longer be an overlooked error.
"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."