(Reuters) – Meek Mill, a rapper who has become an advocate for reform of the U.S. criminal justice system, is entitled to a new trial on drugs and weapon charges that have kept him on probation for a decade, a Pennsylvania appeals court ruled on Wednesday.
FILE PHOTO: Rapper Meek Mill departs after lawyers from both sides made a brief statement to the judge in a retrial hearing in court in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 16, 2019. REUTERS/Bastiaan Slabbers
A three-judge Pennsylvania Superior Court panel agreed that Philadelphia Judge Genece Brinkley, who presided over a 2008 trial that resulted in his conviction, was no longer impartial, as Meek Mill’s attorneys have argued. It ordered a replacement for Brinkley in the case.
The sole witness against Meek Mill at his 2008 trial was a discredited Philadelphia narcotics squad officer who is no longer with the city’s police force.
“Williams’ right to be tried before an impartial judge is necessary in this case because the trial judge heard highly prejudicial testimony at the first trial, which was a bench trial, and made credibility determinations in favor of a now discredited witness and against Williams,” President Judge Jack A. Panella wrote in an 18-page opinion.
In November 2017 Brinkley sentenced the rapper to up to four years in prison, saying a pair of arrests violated probation conditions she set following his 2008 convictions. He served five months before the state’s top court granted him bail. (reut.rs/2JQ47Nq)
The arrests, one for dangerous driving while shooting a New York City music video, did not result in convictions.
After the sentence, Meek Mill, whose given name is Robert Williams, became a cause celebre for musicians, celebrities and criminal justice reform campaigners who said his case was typical of a U.S. legal system that treats minorities unjustly. The rapper is African-American.
“I’d like to thank the Pennsylvania Superior Court for overturning my conviction and granting me a new trial,” Mill said on Twitter. “The past 11 years have been mentally and emotionally challenging, but I’m glad that justice prevailed and my clean record has been restored.”
The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office said in a statement it welcomed the appeals court decision and was reviewing its options regarding a new trial.
A representative for Judge Brinkley did not immediately return calls.
Mill’s song “Going Bad,” on which he collaborated with Drake, hit No. 6 on the U.S. charts this year. His other hit songs include “All Eyes on You” and “Dangerous.”
Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; editing by Steve Orlofsky