Christie Commutes Controversial Gun Possession Sentence
Although not directly related to sports or entertainment law, gun possession seems to be a recurring theme with professional athletes (my inaugural post to this blog) so there is a remote nexus. Also, I personally am entertained by NJ Governor Chris Christie, and after all, he is a lawyer (former U.S. Att'y for the District of New Jersey).
Yesterday, controversial GOP governor Chris Christie commuted the seven-year prison sentence of Brian Aitken, a 27-year-old Internet entrepreneur who was arrested, prosecuted, and convicted of state weapons charges after police found 2 handguns in the trunk of his vehicle. (Download pdf of the order.) Police stopped Aitken because his mother, who lives in Burlington County, called them after she became worried that he might harm himself (details & full story from ABC news).
Aitken purchased the guns lawfully, at a sporting goods expo in Denver, CO in 2007, after undergoing an FBI background check. In before he moved back to NJ, he contacted the state police to find out what his responsibilities were in bringing his firearms with him. They advised him to transport the guns unloaded, and locked, in the trunk of his vehicle.
Prosecutors charged Aitken under NJ's current gun laws, which essentially place as much culpability on him as if he were using those guns to "stick up a 7-Eleven," says attorney Mike Carroll, a NJ state assemblyman. Indeed, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5(b) makes it a felony to possess any handgun—even a pellet gun. Although there are some very limited exceptions relating to handgun transportation, Carroll said that Aitken was "almost certainly guilty of what he is accused of doing. Technically speaking…you can’t even stop for coffee if you’re transporting guns."
The fact that Brian Aitken will be home for X'mas doesn't change the reality that NJ's gun laws are Draconian to say the least—in fact, not much less restrictive than the law struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008, in District of Columbia v. Heller (Lyle Denniston's SCOTUSblog analysis; pdf file of the Court's opinion.) Many states have either amended their gun laws since Heller, or currently have legislation pending, so given the exposure of Aitken's case and the obvious miscarriage of justice, one would hope that New Jersey gets its act together in this regard. Eugene Volokh also reported here on a related civil suit in Illinois, which if successful, could lay the foundation for future Brian Aitkens to challenge onerous state gun laws.
Until they do, however, it's best to leave your guns at home (you too, professional athletes). I know I will.
‡ Note: I borrowed the title for this post from Doug Berman, one of my former law professors, who writes an acclaimed blog on the federal sentencing guidelines.