Attorney General’s Directive Alters NJ Gun Charge Sentencing Protocol
New Jersey Attorney General John J. Hoffman recently issued a directive clarifying State law with regard to weapons charges issued against gun owners who obtain permits from other states.
New Jersey continues to be enthralled in a debate involving the acknowledgement of out-of-state gun permits, as individuals traveling in this state with firearms legally-obtained in other states can currently be subject to criminal charges. In addition, since these offenses are governed under New Jersey’s Graves Act, these charges undoubtedly result in a prison sentence for those convicted.
Cases of this kind are common in New Jersey and often result in severe consequences for unsuspecting visitors. However, the Attorney General’s statement will significantly impact current State protocol in prosecuting these individuals, with the potential to alleviate the previously dire consequences.
The directive comes on the heels of a case involving a mother from Pennsylvania who was charged with unlawful possession of a weapon for a gun that she legally owned in her home state. Philadelphia resident Shaneen Allen’s case garnered public scrutiny after she was charged in Atlantic County for a gun that she legally owned in Pennsylvania. With no prior criminal record, this mother would have been subject to a mandatory-minimum term of incarceration ranging from 3 to 5 years in New Jersey State Prison if she was found guilty.
Following the Attorney General’s announcement, Allen was accepted into the Pre-Trial Intervention Program, a diversionary program available to eligible defendants tried in superior courts throughout the state. Pre-Trial Intervention, often called “PTI,” is essentially a probationary period during which the defendant must comply with the conditions of the program and avoid any further criminal charges. Upon successful completion of PTI, the underlying charges are dismissed.
PTI was previously restricted to those charged with unlawful possession of a weapon, as these offenses are among those subject to the stringent sentencing guidelines of the Graves Act. However, the recent announcement grants consideration for PTI to defendants who meet specific criteria and will potentially alter the fates of many individuals charged in similar cases throughout New Jersey.
According to the Attorney General, prosecutors will be now be expected to give PTI enrollment consideration under the following circumstances: the defendant is an out-of-state resident, has no previous criminal record, lawfully owns the gun in another state, notifies law enforcement of their possession of the firearm, has no knowledge of New Jersey’s limitations regarding guns, and otherwise believes that he or she is in compliance with the law.
In his statement, Attorney General Hoffman explained:
“While ignorance of the law is not a defense, prosecutors certainly may consider whether a defendant made an honest mistake in determining the level of defendant’s culpability for purposes of sentencing. In the absence of case-specific aggravating circumstances, these defendants should not be sentenced to incarceration.”
Paul Loriquet, a spokesman for the Attorney General, discussed the implications of the aforementioned directive, stating that it will lead to the reconsideration of between 50 and 100 similar cases statewide. Further, this new interpretation of the law will serve to transform the prosecution of countless New Jersey gun cases in the future.
Additional information pertaining to this matter is available through the following link: How Philadelphia woman’s N.J. gun case could affect up to 100 similar cases