NJ Attorney General John Hoffman recently issued a directive about sentencing guidelines for out-of-state residents charged with illegal handgun possession.
In response to recent cases involving out-of-state gun permits, Hoffman clarified the mandatory sentencing guidelines for individuals accused to carrying weapons while traveling through New Jersey. Hoffman specifically called for judicial flexibility when it comes to alternative sentencing options in these cases.
Under current New Jersey law, residents of other states who are found in possession of a handgun while driving through New Jersey are subject to criminal charges. Anyone convicted of illegally possessing a handgun within NJ borders can be sentenced to serious time behind bars.
Additionally, a prison sentence could be mandatory because gun crimes are covered by the Graves Act. The Graves Act calls for mandatory minimum terms of incarceration and extended periods of parole ineligibility.
The inherent unfairness of punishing out-of-state residents who were unaware of NJ gun laws has fostered a health debate. Many of the participants in this debate argue that anyone from another state who just happens to be travelling through New Jersey should not be subject to the harsh sentencing requirements of the Graves Act.
The NJ Attorney General has responded to these arguments with a directive that is likely to change the legal landscape throughout the state.
The directive was influenced, at least in part, by the recent case of a Philadelphia woman who was traveling through New Jersey when she got stopped by a state trooper. The woman, 27-year-old Shaneen Allen, informed the trooper that she had a .380 Bersa Thunder handgun in her car at the time.
Allen believed that she was being fully compliant with all applicable laws because she had previously obtained a carry permit in Pennsylvania. Unfortunately for her, the Pennsylvania permit did not apply in New Jersey. As a result, Allen was arrested and charged with unlawful possession of a weapon.
Allen’s attorney sought to get her case diverted into the Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI) program because Allen had no prior criminal record. PTI is a diversionary program that allows first-time offenders to receive probation instead of being sentenced to prison.
However, prosecutors in the case denied Allen’s application because the Graves Act, as they interpreted it, required a mandatory prison sentence in all gun possession cases. This meant that Allen was facing 3–5 years in New Jersey State Prison.
Allen’s situation made the rounds among both local and national media outlets. Soon, she was garnering support from a number of NJ political leaders. This, in turn, led the Attorney General to issue a clarification of the Graves Act in cases like Allen’s.
According to Attorney General Hoffman, defendants who meet specific criteria in gun possession cases should remain eligible for admission into PTI. A defendant must (1) have no prior criminal convictions; (2) have all necessary permits to own the gun in another state; (3) notify NJ law enforcement of the gun; and (4) honestly believe that they are not violating NJ law.
The good news for Allen is that the Attorney General’s directive led the Atlantic County prosecutor to reverse the earlier decision and allow Allen to enter the PTI program.
Moreover, the directive seems likely to result in the reconsideration of up to 100 similar gun cases throughout New Jersey.
For more information, access the NJ.com article entitled “How Philadelphia Woman’s N.J. Gun Case Could Affect Up to 100 Similar Cases.”
If you are facing gun possession charges in New Jersey, contact Morristown NJ criminal defense attorney Travis J. Tormey for a free consultation about your case.