Bill Spurred by Case of PA Mom Shaneen Allen Who Could See More Than Three Years in Jail
TRENTON – In response to the recent arrest of Shaneen Allen, a single mother from Philadelphia who has been charged with unlawful possession of a weapon while driving in New Jersey, Senators Jeff Van Drew, Christopher Connors and Jim Whelan announced today they will introduce legislation that will give judges discretion to impose commonsense sentences for firearms crimes.
“Locking up a single mother of two for more than three years because of a misunderstanding of the law is a complete absurdity,” said Senator Van Drew, D-Cape May, Atlantic and Cumberland. “We need to trust that our legal system can determine the correct punishment for these cases rather than relying on guidelines that leave no discretion to our judges.”
“Our laws are in place to protect the safety of the public, but in this case it appears there was no threat. In these unique cases, when an individual is taking the necessary safety precautions and following the laws as he or she believes them to exist, it makes no sense to impose a mandatory term of imprisonment before considering all of the facts,” said Senator Connors (R-Ocean, Burlington and Atlantic). “This bill would bring commonsense to our sentencing laws to ensure that judges are given latitude when handing down sentences in cases where the individual charged makes a mistake with no intent to violate the law.”
The legislation would allow judges to use discretion when sentencing individuals who are charged with unlawful possession of a firearm while in New Jersey, in cases where the individual is an out-of-state resident who legally possesses a firearm in their own state, and who otherwise is law-abiding with no criminal record or gang affiliations. Under the Graves Act, judges currently must adhere to a strict and mandatory schedule of prison terms for certain firearm crimes including unlawful possession of a handgun. If a court finds a person in New Jersey guilty of this crime, they must be imprisoned for a minimum of 42 months or three and a half years. With this bill, judges will be able to offer pre-trial intervention, or supervisory treatment as well as reduce jail time for out-of-state residents who legally posses a firearm in their state and have unintentionally brought the firearm into New Jersey.
“Look, accidents happen and sometimes people may unintentionally break a New Jersey law, when they are trying to be good citizens and follow the rules that were set out for them in their home state,” said Senator Whelan, D-Atlantic. “The case of Ms. Allen is a perfect example. The way she handled herself with law enforcement showed a clear understanding of what is appropriate in Pennsylvania, but unfortunately she was in New Jersey. We need to give judges some discretion in these cases to determine what is the best course of action or punishment necessary for the crime.”
The bill was spurred by the recent arrest of Shaneen Allen, who was pulled over on a routine traffic stop in Atlantic County last year with a Pennsylvania concealed carry permit and a handgun. Ms. Allen obtained a license-to-carry permit and purchased a firearm for safety purposes after being the victim of a robbery in Philadelphia, according to a report on Philly.com. She is currently awaiting trial.
The Senators plan to introduce the legislation during the Senate’s next quorum call which is scheduled for Monday, September 15.