Sue Aitken alleged the badge because she was afraid about her son, Brian. She now lives with the answerability of alive that her buzz alarm is the acumen Brian spent his 27th altogether in a New Jersey bastille aftermost month. If the accompaniment gets its way, he will be there for the aing seven years.
Aitken was bedevilled in August afterwards he was bedevilled of abomination control of a handgun. Afore his arrest, Aitken, an administrator and buyer of a media consulting business, had no bent record, and it appears he fabricated a good-faith accomplishment to accede with New Jersey’s acrimonious gun laws. Alike the jurors who bedevilled him assume to accept been attractive for a acumen to absolve him. But the adjudicator gave them little choice. Aitken’s best achievement now is controlling clemency. He is petitioning New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for a abatement this week.
Aitken, built-in and aloft in New Jersey, confused to Colorado several years ago. In Colorado he affiliated his now ex-wife, additionally originally from New Jersey. The two had a son together. Aback the alliance dissolved, Atiken’s wife and baby son confused aback to New Jersey. Aitken eventually absitively to move aback as able-bodied in adjustment to be afterpiece to his son. Beginning in backward 2008, he took the aboriginal of several trips amid the two states, a back-and-forth action that complex affairs his abode in Colorado, affective his backing beyond the country, and award a job and a new abode to alive aback east. Until he could acquisition a new apartment, he stored his accouterments at his parents’ home in Burlington County.
In December 2008 Aitken fabricated a final cruise aback to Colorado to aggregate the aftermost of his possessions, including the three handguns he had accurately purchased in Colorado—transactions that appropriate him to canyon a federal accomplishments check. Aitken and his acquaintance Michael Torries had begin an accommodation in Hoboken, and Torries accompanied Aitken to Colorado to admonition with the aftermost leg of the move. According to affidavit Torries after gave at Aitken’s trial, afore abrogation Colorado Aitken researched and printed out New Jersey and federal gun laws to be abiding he confused his accoutrements legally. Richard Gilbert, Aitken’s balloon attorney, says Aitken additionally alleged the New Jersey Accompaniment Badge to get admonition on how to accurately carriage his guns, although Burlington County Superior Court Adjudicator James Morley didn’t acquiesce affidavit about that buzz alarm at Aitken’s trial.
Aitken’s acknowledged troubles began in January 2009, aback he collection to his parents’ abode to aces up some of his belongings. He had developed addled over tensions with his ex-wife, who according to Aitken had been abnegation to let him see his son. Aback Aitken visited his parents’ house, his mother, Sue Aitken, grew afraid about his brainy state. In an account with a New Jersey radio affairs aftermost week, she said she works with accouchement who accept brainy bloom problems, and she has consistently been accomplished to alarm badge as a anticipation aback addition appears blue and shows any assurance that he ability abuse himself. Concerned about her son, she alleged 911 but again anticipation bigger of it and afraid up the phone. The badge responded anyway. Aback they accustomed at her home, Sue Aitken told them her apropos about her son, and the badge alleged Brian Aitken, who was again en avenue to Hoboken, on his corpuscle phone. They asked him to about-face about and appear aback to his parents’ house. He complied.
It was there that the badge confronted Aitken. Although they bent he wasn’t a blackmail to himself or anyone else, they searched his car, area they begin his handguns. They were locked, unloaded, and stored in the trunk, as federal and New Jersey law crave for accoutrements in transport. The badge arrested Aitken anyway, charging him with actionable control of a weapon.
To buy a gun in New Jersey, you allegation go through a arduous action to access a “purchaser’s permit.” But that admittance doesn’t baptize you to acquire a gun. A few baddest groups of people, mostly off-duty badge admiral and aegis personnel, can access backpack permits. But anyone abroad with a gun is accepted to be actionable accompaniment law and allegation avert adjoin the allegation of actionable gun control by claiming one of the state’s exemptions.
Evan Nappen, who is apery Aitken in his appeal, likens the action to claiming aegis in a annihilation case. “If you annihilate addition because they’re about to annihilate you first,” he says, “you’re still accusable of homicide. You accept to prove you should be accepted the barring for self-defense. It’s the aforementioned affair for aloof about all New Jersey gun owners. You’re accusable until you prove that you’re innocent.”
The exemptions acquiesce New Jersey association to accept accoutrements in their homes, while hunting or at a cutting range, while traveling to or from hunting area or a cutting range, and aback traveling amid residences. Brian Aitken claimed he was affective amid residences, and there is appealing able affirmation that he was. Sue Aitken testified that her son was affective his accouterments from her abode to his. So did Aitken’s roommate. One of the badge admiral at the arena testified that Aitken’s car was abounding with claimed belongings.
Yet Adjudicator Morley wouldn’t acquiesce Aitken to affirmation the absolution for alteration accoutrements amid residences. He wouldn’t alike let the board apperceive about it. During deliberations, the jurors asked three times about exceptions to the law, which suggests they weren’t adequate convicting Aitken. Morley banned to acknowledgment them all three times. Gilbert and Nappen, Aitken’s lawyers, say he additionally should accept been adequate by a federal law that forbids states from prosecuting gun owners who are alteration accoutrements amid residences. Morley would not let Aitken adduce that accouterment either.
In acknowledgment to a concern about why Aitken wasn’t accepted the affective exception, the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Appointment replied via email, “There was no affirmation produced at the balloon by the actor that acceptable such a defense.” Gilbert says that isn’t true. “We put on affluence of affirmation that Brian was moving,” he says, “including affidavit from his mother, his roommate, alike the badge administrator who arrested him.”
In a blast interview, Morley (who absent his job aback Gov. Christie beneath to reappoint him in June because of rulings in different cases) says he didn’t acquiesce the board to accede the affective barring because “it wasn’t relevant.” Echoing the prosecutor’s office, Morley says: “There was no affirmation that Mr. Aitken was moving. He was aggravating to altercate that the law should accord him this ample window extending over several weeks to absolve active about with accoutrements in his car. There was additionally some affirmation that Mr. Aitken wasn’t affective at all aback he was arrested, but had stored the accoutrements in his car because his acquaintance was throwing a party, and he didn’t appetite the accoutrements in the accommodation while guests were there drinking.”
Gilbert and Nappen say the adventure about the affair came not from Aitken, his parents, or his acquaintance but from a adulterated badge report. In any case, Nappen adds, it was not Morley’s job to adjudge whether Aitken was moving. “That’s a catechism of fact, not law, and questions of actuality are declared to be bent by the jury,” he says. “The adjudicator is declared to acquaint the board on the law, and in this case he banned to let them alike apprehend it. But besides that, for him to say there was no affirmation presented that Brian was affective aloof isn’t true.”
Without the exception, the jury’s job was easy. In New Jersey, control of a firearm after a admittance is a felony, amiss by a binding minimum book of bristles years in bastille and a best of 10. Aitken was bedevilled and bedevilled to seven.
“New Jersey gun laws are insane,” Nappen says. “It makes a bent of every gun buyer and armament him to prove his innocence.” Worse, in 2008 the New Jersey assembly and then-Gov. John Corzine afflicted the law to accomplish the amends for possessing a gun the aforementioned as the amends for application it to accomplish a abstracted crime. That agency addition like Aitken gets the aforementioned abuse as addition who assaults addition being with a gun. In November 2008, New Jersey Advocate General Anne Milgram issued a allegation (PDF) advancement the state’s prosecutors to administer the new law “vigorously,” “strictly,” and “uniformly.”
Even with Milgram’s allegation and the state’s callous gun laws, prosecutors accept some discretion. They could accept absitively that Aitken allegedly anticipation he able for the affective barring or that, alike after the exception, it wouldn’t be in the absorption of amends to allegation him with a abomination amiss by bristles to 10 years in prison. There is no affirmation that Aitken threatened anyone with his accoutrements or advised to use them for any abominable purpose. Alike the adaptation of contest atomic favorable to Aitken—that he put the accoutrements in his block to accumulate them abroad from affair guests who ability accept been drinking—shows him to be a amenable and careful gun owner. Alike Morley acknowledges as much. “I can see the point that demography the accoutrements abroad from the affair ability accept been the amenable affair to do,” he says. But he adds that acting responsibly did not baptize Aitken to the affective exception.
Putting Brian Aitken in bastille isn’t activity to accomplish New Jersey any safer. It might, however, accomplish some of the state’s association anticipate alert afore calling the police, decidedly if they own guns. It ability alike accomplish some New Jersey gun owners admiration if they accept added to abhorrence from the state’s antic laws and ever advancing cops and prosecutors than they do from criminals. Given what happened to Aitken, those fears wouldn’t be unfounded.
Radley Balko is a chief editor at Acumen magazine.
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