The NJ Attorney General recently clarified the state’s law regarding out-of-state gun permits.
Attorney General John Hoffman’s directive calls for flexibility in sentencing of anyone who illegally possesses a handgun in New Jersey but who has an out-of-state permit.
Gun owners who obtain permits from other states and then travel through New Jersey are currently subject to criminal charges for a weapons offense.
Moreover, the penalties are severe because illegal handgun possession is considered a Graves Act offense. The Graves Act applies to all gun possession charges in New Jersey and calls for mandatory minimum terms of incarceration.
Many observers believe that a person who legally obtains a handgun in another state should not be charged with a crime simply because they possessed that handgun while traveling through New Jersey. Although these cases are quite common, the reality is that many offenders have no idea they are even violating the law.
Attorney General Hoffman’s directive could have a significant effect on the way that NJ prosecutors handle gun possession cases involving individuals with out-of-state permits.
The directive was influenced by the recent case of a woman from Philadelphia. Shaneen Allen, a 27-year-old mother of two, had a license-to-carry permit in Pennsylvania. When Allen was stopped by a New Jersey state trooper while traveling in Atlantic County NJ, she disclosed to the trooper that she had a .380 Bersa Thunder handgun in her car because she believed that she was in full compliance with the law. Allen was then arrested for not having a valid New Jersey permit for the handgun.
Since Allen was a first-time offender with no prior criminal record, her attorney applied for her admission into the Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI) program. PTI is a diversionary program that allows first-time offenders to avoid prison and instead go on probation.
However, prosecutors initially denied Allen’s entrance into PTI because they believed that the Graves Act required a prison sentence in all gun possession cases. In this case, Allen was likely to be sentenced to 3–5 years in NJ State Prison.
Allen’s case received a good deal of media attention, with Allen garnering support among several New Jersey political leaders and organizations.
Ultimately, the decision to deny PTI to Allen prompted the Attorney General to release a clarification of the Graves Act as it relates to out-of-state individuals with valid gun permits. The clarification, or directive, makes it clear that defendants who meet specific criteria should be considered for admission into PTI.
Out-of-state residents who (1) have no prior criminal record, (2) lawfully own the gun in another state, (3) notify law enforcement of the gun, and (4) believe that they are in full compliance with NJ law are now eligible for PTI.
In response to the Attorney General’s directive, the Atlantic County prosecutor reversed the earlier decision and decided to extend an offer of PTI to Allen. The prosecutor has also stated that he will review similar gun possession cases involving individuals with out-of-state permits.
Hopefully, the clarification of the law will have a profound effect on gun crime cases in the future. A spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office already revealed that 50–100 cases across the state could be reconsidered in light of the clarification. Additionally, out-of-state residents who make an honest mistake and do not realize that they are violating NJ gun laws might now be able to avoid the most severe consequences of a gun crime conviction in the Garden State.
To learn more, read the NJ.com article entitled “How Philadelphia Woman’s N.J. Gun Case Could Affect Up to 100 Similar Cases.”