Offset Lawyer Calls Gun & Drug Charges 'Utter Ridiculousness,' 'An Embarrassment'
After July traffic stop, DA's office hasn't decided yet if the case against the rapper will move forward.
More than three weeks after Migos rapper Offset was pulled over in Jonesboro, Georgia, and hit with traffic, gun and drug possession charges, the Clayton County district attorney's office has yet to announce whether it will proceed with the case against the rapper. Offset (born Kiari Kendrell Cephus) was arrested July 20 after he and his passenger were pulled over for what police said was a traffic violation.
During a search of the rapper's 2014 Porsche 911 Carrera, police reportedly smelled marijuana and found three handguns, less than an ounce of pot and more than $107,000 in cash, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The stop resulted in charges of improper lane change, possession of marijuana, possession of a weapon by a convicted felon and possession of a weapon during the commission of a crime for Offset, while his passenger was charged with possession of marijuana and possession of a weapon during the commission of a crime.
On Sunday, Offset started the Aubrey and the Three Migos tour at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo., which is currently slated to keep the men on the road through a Nov. 17 homecoming date in Atlanta at Philips Arena. So what's the status of those charges and how is Offset touring for that long with these felony counts hanging over his head?
"This was a stop for one reason and one reason only," Offset's lawyer, Drew Findling, tells Billboard, saying the traffic incident is what's commonly referred to as "driving while black." "If you look at [the citations issued], you know certainly how preposterous one of them is."
The charge Findling is referring to is possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime, with the underlying crime being the possession of a firearm by convicted felon. (A spokesperson for the Clayton County Sheriff's Department had not returned a request for comment at press time.)
"I call it utter ridiculousness and an embarrassment," Findling says of the charge, which he likens to the legal equivalent of a snake swallowing its own tail. Offset was charged with a felony count of having a gun during the commission of a crime, and that crime was... being a felon in possession of a gun. To add to the confusion, Findling says police originally mentioned overly tinted windows as the reason for pulling Offset over (later changed to an improper lane change), but he says the real reason for the traffic stop is clear to him.
"If you read between the lines from the information available to us, it's obvious that it was an African-American young man driving a shiny, beautiful luxury car and they come up to the car and if you know anything about Mr. Cephus, you know that Kiari wears the best watches that anyone can imagine buying," says Findling, who at press time was not aware of any dash-cam video or photographic evidence from police to corroborate their reasons for the traffic stop. "And he's clad with beautiful jewelry, and in fact it's commonplace for, as it is for other people in his genre, to carry a body bag with cash on him. All that was completely visible."
As for the drug charge, the officer reported smelling the aroma of marijuana, but Findling says when that is the case, police are trained to immediately ascertain whether the driver is legally capable of operating the vehicle via a field sobriety test and either a breathalyzer or, in the case of marijuana ingestion, a blood test. "None of that took place here, and it didn't take place here because we know that this was what's called a 'pre-textual' stop."
Findling says there was no marijuana found on Offset's physical person, no evidence that he'd ingested or used pot and no evidence that he physically possessed a weapon or that a weapon was on his person. While Findling cannot discuss what Offset's response was to being pulled over, he did note that the passenger in the car is a licensed gun owner who had a permit to carry a weapon. "When you are somebody that is famous... that drives a beautiful luxury car... [and] have amazing jewelry and in excess of $100,000 in cash and you know that you can't carry a weapon with you as a felon, it may be prudent to have someone with you that can," he says. "Mr. Cephus, complying with the law, had a legal weapon holder with a license with him. So instead of being condemned for doing that, he should be commended." Following his arrest, Offset posted $17,000 bond and was released within 24 hours with no travel restrictions, which explains why he's able to be on tour for most of the rest of the year with his group.
Offset -- whose five-year probationary period from a previous charge ended more than a year ago -- would not be on tour right now with Drake if, as was widely erroneously reported, he were still on probation, Findling says, adding that two weapons were found in the car, along with one on the passenger. At press time the details of who those guns were registered to had not been released. "We're all curious about that," Findling says of the registration details, reiterating that the passenger was also hit with the twisty charge of felony possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime.
"What could have happened is they could have said, 'We see that you are a licensed carrier, we see that there are a couple guns and you have this famous guy in the car who has watches, money, etc. ... Thank you for being a licensed weapon holder, we see you have no gun on your person, and since we've decided not to see whether you're capable of driving, have a great day.'"
But that's not what happened. Findling says there has been no court date set yet and he is not aware of the case being assigned to a prosecutor as of press time; a spokesperson for the Clayton County district attorney's office had not responded to several requests for comment on the status of the investigation or a timeline for when, or if, the case will be presented to a grand jury. The fact that a court date hasn't been set yet isn't itself evidence that the case might be difficult to move forward, according to Findling, who says it's par for the slow legal course in Atlanta.
An attorney who has defended a number of similar cases for famous clients and who was familiar with the details of the Offset arrest (but not personally involved in his defense) tells Billboard that the felony gun possession charge could land the rapper in prison from 1-10 years if convicted, due to his priors. But given the way he was stopped, it's not likely.
"My understanding of the case is that it's on thin ice, because it may have been a fabricated basis for the stop, not a righteous stop," the lawyer says, noting that the charge of possession while committing a felony adds a mandatory five-year consecutive sentence on top of whatever other possible sanction Offset might face. "They have to have probable cause to have contact with him in that car, and if the reason the officer stopped him is not legitimate, then everything after is what's called 'the fruit of the poisonous tree' and has to be thrown out."
The lawyer also referred to the difference between personal versus "constructive" possession of a weapon, which begs the question: If there are multiple people in the car, is the charge based just on the fact that the person charged was in a car where a gun was present, or is there any link between them and the weapon (registration, fingerprints, etc.) or a statement that they are the rightful owner? "Either way, this won't stand," the lawyer said. "It's a bullshit charge. They haven't filed it yet because there are problems with the case."