Last year, a Philadelphia woman was charged with violating New Jersey gun laws while visiting Atlantic City.
Shaneen Allen, a mother of two, was stopped for a routine traffic violation on the Atlantic City Expressway.
She was arrested after voluntarily telling a state trooper that her purse contained a legally registered .38-caliber Bersa Thunder handgun.
Allen, 27, is a concealed carry permit holder who purchased her gun after being robbed twice and beaten in her neighborhood last year.
She told the state trooper that she didn’t know she couldn’t legally carry her weapon into New Jersey. In that state, average citizens are not allowed to carry concealed weapons, even if they are legally registered.
Allen, a single mother, was arrested and jailed for 46 days.
She faced serious charges.
From New Jersey Law Journal:
Her lawyer, Eatontown, N.J.-based solo Evan Nappen, said Allen, if convicted, could have been sentenced to prison for as long as 10 years and would have had to spend at least three-and-a-half years behind bars under New Jersey’s Graves Act, which sets mandatory minimum jail time for gun-related crimes, including unlawful simple possession.
New Jersey offers pretrial intervention (PTI) in some first-time offense cases. The PTI program defers prosecution for a period, usually a year, after which the charges are dropped if the defendant has complied with specified conditions such as community service, restitution and drug testing and treatment.
But the prosecutor, James McClain, denied Allen pretrial intervention because he said a 2008 directive that expanded the state’s Graves Act did not allow for an exception. The Graves Act covers how to handle out-of-state residents who hold valid permits to carry a firearm and are charged in New Jersey with illegal possession.
McClain said cases concerning out-of-state legal gun owners coming into New Jersey illegally is so common that, if the Legislature had intended an exemption, it would have put one in.
His stance was to make Allen’s case a deterrent. He said the charges were “too serious to warrant divergence” into the PTI program.
Then NFL “star” Ray Rice knocked his then-fiancee out in an Atlantic City casino elevator.
He was initially indicted for aggravated assault.
McClain dropped the charge and allowed Rice to enter a pretrial intervention program.
So, let’s get this straight…
Allen, a responsible gun owner who was unaware of gun laws in a state in which she did not reside – a victimless crime – was not going to be granted any kind of leniency.
But a football player who was caught on tape committing domestic violence gets a pass.
Thankfully, gun-law advocates and anti-domestic violence groups took notice.
Perhaps due to the attention they brought to Allen’s case, yesterday she was granted pretrial intervention by Atlantic County Superior Court Judge Michael Donio.
A day prior, Attorney General John Hoffman released a clarification to the state’s county prosecutors with respect to out-of-state visitors from states where their gun possession would be legal.
From Press of Atlantic City:
“In most of these cases, imprisonment is neither necessary nor appropriate to serve the interests of justice and protect public safety,” acting Attorney General Hoffman wrote.
“In applying the factors set out in the clarification, I determined that the defendant in this case should be offered the opportunity to be admitted into the Atlantic County PTI Program,” McClain said. “I have communicated that determination to the court and defense counsel.”
Allen’s PTI will last for a year. Unfortunately, as part of her program, she had to turn in her gun permits and it is unlikely that she will get the firearm she surrendered back.
About six months after she successfully completes PTI, she can expunge her record and can reapply for a gun permit.
Allen told Press of Atlantic City that she wants to help others with similar circumstances:
“I fought for myself and my kids, but I also did it for those other people in jail right now, or who have gone through court. Their cases need to be relooked at.
I want to be an advocate and help those going through this and to let them know it’s going to be OK.”
McClain indicated he will spend the next few weeks reviewing similar pending cases that may now be eligible for PTI under the clarification.
“I have no words for how I feel,” Allen said outside the courtroom. “I won’t be going to jail and can stay home with my kids and get back to my life.”
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