Meek Mill’s legal saga, more than a decade old, is officially over.
Common Pleas Court Judge Leon Tucker on Tuesday morning agreed to let Mill plead guilty to illegal possession of a firearm, and the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office dropped all other charges against the celebrity rapper. Mill will face no further penalty as part of his plea agreement with prosecutors.
The decision closed the books on a years-long process in which the Philadelphia-born Mill was convicted of gun and drug-related counts at trial, was later incarcerated for probation violations, was freed early amid widespread outcry, and became a high-profile advocate for criminal justice reform.
Mill’s supporters in the packed courtroom gallery applauded when Tucker tapped his gavel to end the brief hearing at the Stout Center for Criminal Justice. In accepting Mill’s guilty plea, the judge told him: “I know it’s been a long road for you, and hopefully this is the end of it.”
Afterward, Mill, 32, told fans gathered in front of the courthouse: “Meek free, I’m not on probation,” before boarding a private bus parked on Filbert Street. Drum performers gave the setting a festival atmosphere.
In a subsequent news conference at his Center City office, District Attorney Larry Krasner said prosecutors were satisfied to let Mill avoid facing any further penalty because they believed the case was “an example of excessive punishment, excessive supervision.”
“The most important lesson coming out of it,” Krasner said, “is that just as [Mill] has evolved in the last 10-plus years, the criminal justice system also needs to evolve.”
Mill was first arrested in 2007, accused by police of selling crack cocaine and pulling a gun from his waistband when he encountered officers in South Philadelphia. He was convicted on several counts and was on probation for years afterward. But in 2017, his case attracted national attention after Common Pleas Court Judge Genece E. Brinkley ordered him to serve two to four years for probation violations.
In the years since, his case took twists and turns as Mill and a team of high-powered lawyers sought to clear the charges against him for good. After being freed while fighting his appeals, he helped establish the REFORM Alliance, an organization that aims to reduce the number of people imprisoned and on probation.
Prosecutors said those actions contributed to their decision Tuesday to ask Tucker to let Mill plead guilty to a misdemeanor firearms count.
Before agreeing, the judge told Mill that they had attended Strawberry Mansion High School decades apart, and that “people depend on you now.” Tucker urged Mill to continue his community-focused activity.
The decision Tuesday came a month after Superior Court vacated Mill’s 2008 conviction. The appellate court noted that prosecutors had agreed with Mill’s lawyers that his case had been tainted by the involvement of former Philadelphia police Officer Reginald Graham.
Graham — the only witness to testify at Mill’s trial — left the force in 2017 after internal investigators found him guilty of stealing money during a 2005 raid in Overbrook, then lying to the FBI about it.
Mill’s defense team last year also produced an affidavit from a fellow ex-cop accusing Graham of lying to secure Mill’s conviction.
Assistant District Attorney Paul George on Tuesday did not mention Graham or any other issues prosecutors had with evidence in Mill’s original case.
Instead, George told Tucker that Mill — who has long admitted possessing a gun the night he encountered police — had no criminal record before his initial arrest, and has maintained employment and close ties to his family in the years since.
Mill’s attorney Joe Tacopina added that Mill has been active in the community, dedicated himself to criminal justice reform, and demonstrated a history of behavior far different from what he had been accused of 12 years ago.
Afterward, Tacopina said that Mill is committed to being a “change agent.”
Mill’s past efforts to have his case tossed were repeatedly blocked by Brinkley, despite evidence that seemed to be in his favor and the emergence of an ally in Krasner, who was sworn into office last year and who supported aspects of Mill’s appeal.
Brinkley oversaw Mill’s case from the beginning. After she convicted him in a nonjury trial in 2008, he served five months in jail.
Over the next decade, Brinkley oversaw Mill’s probation and several times found him in violation of its terms. In 2013, she ordered him to take etiquette classes, and in 2014 she jailed him for three to six months for booking concerts after she had ordered him not to.
A breaking point occurred in 2017, when Brinkley ordered Mill imprisoned for probation violations, including an arrest for riding a dirt bike on the streets of Manhattan and involvement in a fight in a St. Louis airport. Charges against Mill in the dirt bike incident ultimately were dropped, and his lawyers said an airport worker had started the St. Louis fracas.
Brinkley also once made a surprise visit to a homeless shelter where she had ordered him to serve food, and criticized him after seeing that he instead was sorting clothing.
Almost as soon as she issued her decision to imprison Mill, Brinkley was criticized, often by Mill’s lawyers and other supporters, including 76ers partner Michael Rubin, who began accusing Brinkley of ethical improprieties and bias against him — accusations she consistently denied.
Mill’s fortunes began turning in his favor last year.
In April 2018, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed to release him from prison as he continued his appeals. And in court filings spanning that process, Krasner’s office said it did not oppose Mill’s release, agreed he deserved a new trial, and recently said it believed Brinkley had been biased against him.
Last month, Superior Court assigned his case to a new judge, as is standard when convictions are overturned. Krasner’s office did not announce until Tuesday that it had decided not to continue pursuing the case.
In summing up his reasons for doing so, Krasner said Mill had shown that additional penalties were unnecessary.
“People change, and cities change, and systems sometimes need to change,” the district attorney said.