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Mitigating factors could help Bucs' Bowers

TAMPA — Bucs defensive end Da'Quan Bowers faces two felony counts of weapons possession in New York. But mitigating factors could result in a favorable resolution, New York-based attorneys said Tuesday.

Bowers, who was arrested Monday morning at LaGuardia Airport and charged with criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree, told people close to him he unwittingly traveled to the city with the gun in a checked bag on Friday.

Unaware of New York's stringent gun laws, Bowers alerted airline personnel to the weapon before departing and was charged because he lacked a New York permit.

But if the weapon is legally owned in a different state and Bowers shows a lack of criminal intent, he could get minimal discipline, attorneys said.

Also working in his favor: the jurisdiction. The Queens District Attorney's office takes a more lenient approach to possession cases such as Bowers', according to attorneys.

"The state of New York doesn't care what the federal law is or what other states' laws are," said attorney Jay Goldberg, who does not represent Bowers. "But the Queens DA has a very pragmatic approach if the gun is registered somewhere else."

Bowers' .40-caliber handgun is believed to be legally owned in South Carolina, his home state.

"It might not be that bad," Goldberg said. "I've been very successful in Queens; in some cases even getting (charges) dismissed."

Bowers' attorney, Dennis Coppin of Bayside, N.Y., also expressed confidence, saying via text message: "After a full and fair investigation of the facts and circumstances regarding this regi­stered firearm, Mr. Bowers will be fully exonerated."

A key to Bowers' defense will be his ability to demonstrate how and why he had the gun in New York and if he took steps to comply with rules governing how it must be transported.

Bowers, who was released on $10,000 bond, alerting airline personnel to the weapon will be viewed favorably, attorneys said. What's less clear is if he followed proper protocol.

The Transportation Security Administration permits firearms in checked baggage if they are "unloaded, packed in a locked, hard-sided container, and declared to the airline at check-in." In any case, "guns in the belly of an airplane do not pose a threat to the passengers in the cabin," according to the TSA.

Still, many factors in the case appear to work in Bowers' favor.

With both of New York's major airports in Queens (LaGuardia and JFK International), its district attorney frequently handles cases involving out-of-state visitors charged with gun crimes.

"Is ignorance a defense?" said New York attorney Elizabeth Crotty, who also is unaffiliated with Bowers' case. "Not really. But it can be a factor (in the adjudication of the case).

"If you can kind of go through the checklist of things, you can get some leniency. (Prosecutors) always charge them with (criminal possession). But if it's properly licensed, packaged and all those things, they're reasonable."

The circumstances surrounding them make Bowers' case different than that of Steelers receiver Plaxico Burress. He served 20 months in prison for a 2008 incident in which he shot himself in the leg with an illegally possessed gun in a nightclub.

"(Burress) was drinking and was carrying the gun in a reckless manner (in his waist)," said Mark Bederow, a Manhattan attorney who has represented defendants in airport firearms cases. "(Bowers' case) happens all the time. What happened to Burress does not happen all the time."

Given what's known about the case, Bederow said Bowers would be justified in feeling optimistic.

"If everything we've heard is true," he said, "despite New York having the most draconian gun laws in the country, I would be shocked if this case resulted in any incarceration. And it might result in no criminal action whatsoever."

Times staff writer Rick Stroud contributed to this report. Stephen F. Holder can be reached at sholder@tampabay.com.

Mitigating factors could help Bucs' Bowers 02/19/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 11:11pm]

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