Meek Mill is free, but his case goes on

Rapper Meek Mill raises his arm after ringing the Liberty Bell replica before the playoff game between the Sixers and the Heat at the Wells Fargo Center on April 24, 2018. Mill, incarcerated since November, was released on bail.

Meek Mill’s case is not over.

The rapper secured his release from prison Tuesday thanks to an order from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, ending his controversial five-month incarceration.

He celebrated by heading straight to the 76ers game, ringing the bell before tipoff and sitting courtside next to team co-owner Michael Rubin, comedian Kevin Hart, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, and Gov. Wolf.

But his struggle with the justice system didn’t end there. Here’s what we know about where things stand, and what might happen next:

Free, but with conditions

The Supreme Court ordered that Mill be released on unsecured bail, meaning he must show up for future court appearances or risk facing imprisonment again for failure to appear.

Camera icon David Swanson
Meek Mill after his release from a state prison in Chester and before his arrival at the Wells Fargo Center for the Sixers-Heat playoff game April 24, 2018. DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer

Moreover, the high court said that the conditions of his bail must be “similar or identical” to those that governed his probation before he was sent back to prison last fall. According to court documents, previous conditions included getting court approval to travel outside Pennsylvania, maintaining employment, performing community service every 90 days, and undergoing routine drug tests.

In 2013, Common Pleas Court Judge Genece E. Brinkley famously ordered Mill to take etiquette classes to improve his manners after he complained online about her, the prosecutor, and his probation officer.

It was not immediately clear which conditions would apply this time. Court officials did not provide immediate details about his bail conditions.

Still facing charges

Of additional legal concern for Mill is the fact that he still technically is battling a conviction on gun and drug offenses.

The rapper was found guilty in 2009 of the following charges, according to court documents: carrying a firearm without a license, carrying firearms in public, possessing an instrument of crime, carrying a loaded weapon, and drug possession.

His conviction earned him a prison sentence of 11 to 23 months and five years’ probation, according to court records. Mill served five months before being released, but over the next several years continued to violate his probation, earning him additional prison time and an extended term of probation.

At his last court appearance in November — after two more probation violations, in Manhattan and St. Louis — Brinkley said Mill had “thumbed [his] nose at this court” and sentenced him to two to four years behind bars, a decision that sparked immediate backlash from Mill’s fans and celebrity supporters.

But Mill now is appealing his initial conviction, saying he did not receive a fair trial a decade ago and thus should not have been on probation at all. He got a major boost last week when the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office said it agreed Mill should receive a new trial.

Prosecutors based that decision on what they called credibility issues with Mill’s arresting officer, Reginald V. Graham, who only recently has been accused of lying to secure Mill’s conviction. Graham also was included on a list of so-called untrustworthy cops — a fact about which Mill’s lawyers say they had not been informed — and retired from the police force last year while allegations swirled that he’d stolen money during a drug bust and lied to the FBI.

Still, prosecutors alone cannot grant a new trial; a judge presiding over the case must agree. And Brinkley, the judge overseeing Mill’s case, has been sparring with his team for months.

Lawyers vs. the judge

Many of the punches thrown in that battle have come from Mill’s lawyers and his legion of supporters and fans, who have sought to have Brinkley removed from the case. She has been accused of an array of ethical and professional misdeeds, from requesting that Mill record a version of a Boyz II Men ballad and give her a “shout-out,” to urging him to change management companies. Mill’s lawyers also claimed that Brinkley was under FBI investigation.

Camera icon Michael Bryant
Judge Genece E. Brinkley, Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. Photo by Michael Bryant

Late last month, the judge — who is barred from publicly discussing the case under judicial conduct rules — fired back in an opinion she issued in Mill’s case. She described each of those allegations as false or evidence-free, and said that she had “committed no error” in imposing his prison sentence. She also said she would not step down from his case.

It was not immediately clear whether Tuesday’s Supreme Court order would change her mind, at least on the last point. The high court denied requests from Mill’s attorneys to have her removed from the case, but it did say Brinkley “may opt to remove herself from presiding over this matter.”

According to Mill’s court docket, he is due in court in front of Brinkley on June 18. The Supreme Court has ordered her — or another judge — to rule on his appeal within 60 days.

Brinkley filed a response to the order asking all sides to file all remaining paperwork by the end of next month, according to the docket — suggesting that, at least for now, Mill’s fate remains in her hands.

Brian McMonagle, one of Mill’s attorneys, said Wednesday that his team planned again to seek to have Brinkley removed from the case because of her refusal last week to approve a new trial, a decision he characterized as “unpardonable” and a departure from similar situations handled by other judges.

“We will be formally filing a motion to transfer his case to our president judge so that [Mill’s] conviction can be immediately overturned,” McMonagle said.

Questions about retrial

If that gambit succeeds — or if Brinkley ultimately agrees to grant Mill a new trial — will prosecutors actually seek to try him again?

They don’t have to. Late last week, another Philadelphia judge agreed to toss out three convictions built by Graham, the tainted officer, after the District Attorney’s Office took a similar position to the one it has taken in Mill’s case.

More than 100 petitions have been filed by other defendants arrested by Graham between 2002 and 2014. And a public defender involved in the process, Bradley Bridge, has said he believes at least some of those cases also will be dismissed.

Because Mill’s case remains pending, office spokesman Ben Waxman declined to say what prosecutors would do if Brinkley agrees to grant him a new trial. In a statement issued Tuesday, Waxman said in part: “The public can always count on the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office to try to pursue justice in a fair and evenhanded manner.”

For now, at least, Mill — whose incarceration became a rallying cry for many advocates of criminal justice reform — is instead a symbol of celebration for some in Philadelphia. Rubin, the Sixers’ co-owner, posted an Instagram photo from Tuesday night’s win over the Miami Heat calling the rapper “our good luck charm.”

Brought our good luck charm @meekmill !!!! #sixers on to the next round! 🏀🙌🏼

A post shared by Michael Rubin (@michaelgrubin) on