Chris Christie Commutes Brian Aitken's Sentence


This is great news:

Brian Aitken, who was convicted of illegally possessing two handguns that he had legally purchased in Colorado, will be spending Christmas out of prison.

Gov. Chris Christie commuted Aitken's sentence, from seven years to time served, according to an order the governor signed today.

Aitken had appealed to Christie for commutation after being sentenced in August. According to the commutation order, Aitken will be released as "soon administratively possible."

I'm waiting to hear back from Aitken's attorney and family about what exactly this means. It would be nice if the guy could get his record cleared completely. But getting him out of prison is obviously the most important thing. Good for Gov. Christie. Cases like this one are exactly what the pardon and clemency power is for.

My column on Aitken's case here.

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  1. Bully for Christie for doing the right thing.

    1. The right thing is a pardon. Back in August.

      But, nice of Christie to do something somewhere in the direction of correct.

      1. “”The right thing is a pardon. Back in August””


        Commuting the sentence is half-ass. Christie does not get praise from me fot it. Sure it’s good for Aitken to get out of jail, but half-ass isn’t good enough. If Christie doesn’t stand up for the law and the facts, then he’s not a friend of the 2nd amendment.

        1. Wow. In Libertopia, the glass is always empty.

          1. Yeah, guys, wtf, why can’t you be happy with whatever scraps of liberty your masters deign to bestow upon you?! Fucking ingrates!

            1. I’m sure Mr. Aitken agrees with you wholeheartedly. In fact, if you ask him, I’ll bet he’ll reply that he prefers to remain in prison, on principle, because he was given not his freedom but just a few “scraps of liberty.”

          2. Yeah, because being a convicted felon and not being able to see his kid because of it is sooooooo wonderful! Yahoo!

  2. Will Aitken still have a criminal record? Is he no longer eligible to own a firearm?

    1. I think so. And it’s a second degree felony, not a third, so it can’t be expunged, even after 10 years. Not only will he not be “allowed” to own a firearm in NJ, he probably won’t be able to get a job, or start a business.

      1. Two things:

        1) Chris Christie commuted Brian Aitken’s sentence because that’s what Aitken wanted. If he’d wanted a full pardon, he would have asked for it.

        2) Though it expunges legal consequences more than a commutation, a pardon still implies that you are guilty of a crime. Aitken is looking to have his conviction overturned, which is better than a pardon because having your conviction overturned means you are not guilty of anything.

        1. Very interesting, thanks for the insight. Can’t a pardon also mean that you aren’t guilty of anything?

          1. Yes, but (and I’m mostly shooting out of my ass here) if it’s true that he’s still trying to get the conviction overturned in court, he (i.e. his lawyers and the special interests funding them) would rather get him out of jail now and let the necessary time to play out for a court to decide on the actual question of his guilt.

            The benefit is that a judicial decision on his innocence would create case law and protect future unfortunately souls from falling into a similar trap, whereas a pardon just looks like the governor felt sorry for you and doesn’t establish any precedence as to how to interpret the law itself.

            Somebody tell me if I’m off base here, but I think that’s it.

            1. What hope does he have of winning in court? From what I understand, he was keeping the guns in the trunk of his car and since he wasn’t directly en route between a range or gun store and his house he was pretty clearly in violation of New Jersey’s (idiotic) firearms laws.

              1. Well, now that the accursed Judge Morley–the dick who railroaded Aitken–has been dumped from the bench for supporting oral bovine rape (I’m not making this up!), I’d say Aitken does stand a pretty good chance. Morley tyrannically suppressed a lot of the evidence in Aitken’s favor, some of which would probably be pretty persuasive to a better informed jury this time around.

        2. This has the be the most dumbest thing I have heard. I hate the Radical Right, but I have jump in here when people say stupid things. To counter what you said:
          1) You don’t know if Aitken refused to ask for a Pardon or not. What kind of an idiot asks for a Commute only? “Oh yes Mr. Governor please don’t Pardon my offense, I would rather have a felony record and all of the civil restrictions associated with it”.

          2) A Pardon doesn’t necessarily implies that you are guilty. In any case it is irrelevant, because the in result is a clean record. It is nothing you need to be concerned with unless you are trying to work for the FBI or CIA. The effect of a Pardon is no different than an expungement.

    2. A commutation, as opposed to a pardon, doesn’t remove the felony conviction, which is a permanent bar federally to possessing firearms.

      1. This is the thing a lot of people don’t get: prison sucks but the other prejudicial effects of a felony conviction can dwarf the harm of prison time. If we must criminalize everything i think we would be better off giving people (not Aitken, real criminals) serious prison time but then no other effect after they are done with prison and probation, and keep the felony prejudical effect for the REALLY bad guys, like it was originally intended.

  3. Balko giving us good news?!?!?!!!

    1. I guess its our Christmas gift from him.

      1. I like it, but he should’ve included a jock as a stocking stuffer for the inevitable New Year’s Radley Balko NutCracking (TM).

    2. Hah! It’s only a set-up to get us feeling good for a day or two – then WHAM, the Balko ball-kick.

      Also, can’t feel too good – the guy is still a felon for no reason at all.

      1. Actually, over on The Agitator he has already promissed a couple of nut-punches later in the week.

  4. I’m quite disappointed that it is only a commutation. Perhaps a full pardon is down the line? But the real travesty here is the fact that there is NO accountability for the judge or the prosecutors.

    1. I totally agree…if he doesn’t deserve to be in prison he doesn’t deserve to be branded a felon. Far from being a heroic gesture by the fat man this seems like he backed down from the prosecutors. If this is what we can expect from a Christie presidency I’ll vote for someone else…I prefer to get stabbed from the front.

      Glad Aitken is out of prison though.

      1. Far from being a heroic gesture by the fat man this seems like he backed down from the prosecutors.

        You expect more from a former prosecutor?

  5. Being convicted of following the letter of the law must be part ofthe “great deal” that Tony was talkinga bout:

    “Taxes aren’t charity. They’re payment for services–and the best deal you’ll ever find.”…..a#comments

  6. Well, he gets the point back he lost on the Medical MJ BS

    1. That’s still up in the air. It’s been passed, but his plan to implement the new law has been deemed, not within the scope of law, or something. He needs to make a new plan for implementation.

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  7. Merry Christmas, Brian Aitken!

    Now, is there anything the governor can do to make sure this kind of injustice is never perpetrated against any innocent person again?

    1. Why would he do that since he let a large part of the injustice stand?

  8. Now, he just has to stay away from the medical marijuana, while in NJ.

  9. Great news, I just wish he’d pardon the guy. And I want clarification on the Medical MJ matter!

  10. I’m thrilled he’ll be out of jail before christmas, but I think commutation is a cop-out. He should have gone with a full pardon.

  11. Commutation as cop-out is the only way this makes sense. Commutation makes sense if the person deserves to be punished but got too heavy a sentence, you commute the sentence at the point when the guy has done the right amount of time so the punishment is just. If Christie thinks under year in prison is the right sentence Aitken should not have a felony on his record. If Christie thinks the “crime” deserves a felony record Aitken should still be in prison. As it stands it looks like either Christie did not like the prosecution but got cowed by the prosecutor’s lobby or liked the conviction but wanted to buttress his national NRA bonafides, even though it leaves Aitken with a severe disability going forward. Either way, not a just result.


  13. Does anyone know if the commutation prevents Aitken from going forward with an appeal to remove the felony from his record?


    I agree that the felony conviction is almost as bad as the jail time (almost-jail sucks pretty bad no matter what, and I imagine it’s no fun in New Jersey either) and anything less than a full pardon is not complete victory.

    But considering how rarely we read a Balko post where a politician did something RIGHT for a change (even if it was only partial) I’m not taking this for granted.

    Kudo’s to Balko as usual for helping to spread the word.

    1. It does not. A commutation merely reduces (or eliminates) the sentence.

  14. Now he’s just gotta get one of those crippled dope smokers in jail to even things out.

  15. Okay, you’re all a bunch of morons and homosexuals, but that’s okay; I’m here to explain why a commutation makes sense.

    New Jersey’s gun laws suck and the trial judge in this case is a horse’s ass. Pardoning Aitken at this point doesn’t address either of those problems. But as long as his case is on appeal, New Jersey’s appellate courts can overturn his conviction, and by doing so will relax New Jersey’s awful gun law’s slightly and give a well-deserved bitch-slap to the trial judge.

    If the appeals fail, I predict that Christie will pardon Aitken.

    1. From you mouth to God’s ears, but that is a heavy burden for Aitken to bear, hoping he wins his appeal or gets pardoned with no assurance of either. Maybe the fix is in and all is well, but I still think the more just thing is to remove the conviction now so Aitken can go forward as a free man.

      1. Given a choice, I’d rather have my conviction overturned by the courts than to receive a full pardon, as long as I wasn’t currently in jail. Getting pardoned can send the message that you’re guilty but you’ve reformed, or worse, that you’re guilty and politically connected. Having your conviction overturned is a statement by the judiciary that says “yeah, we goofed, you never should have been convicted on this evidence.”

        1. I find your faith in the judiciary… strangely detached from reality. “We goofed”?

          That’s almost as good as “the new professionalism”.

          1. Trial judges do get reversed, you know…

    2. Great point! This is just the kind of insurgency-style ‘lawfare’ libertarians need. It might be unfair to Aitken, but his struggle would ameliorate the suffering of so many others. He makes a weird Gordon Freeman to Chris Christie’s weirder G-man.

    3. Technically, he has three convictions:

      1 count of :
      2C:39-3F*4 Weapons/Devices Proh:Dum-Dum/Pen.Bullt/4

      1 count of :
      2C:39-3J*4 Weapons/Devices Proh:Magazines /4

      1 count of :
      2C:39-5B*2 Weapons/Unlawful Possession:Handguns /2

      Even if the Appellate Court overturns the firearm charge, there’s still two 4th degree felony charges that probably won’t be overturned.

      The other two counts are: hollow points/armor piercing, and oversized magazine. In a state like NJ, armor piercers are considered “cop-killers”.

      1. The guns and the ammo ammo were legally in his possession for transport under NJ law. Period. Anyone who says otherwise doesn’t know the law in NJ. Sadly, that seems to includes most law enforcement and judicial officials in NJ, in my experience.

        The magazine issue is where the real meat is here. The magazine ban in NJ has already been in trouble in federal court at least once, although the circumstances of that case were more narrow. I’d expect that if the magazine felony is upheld, it will be eventually taken up at the federal level. I say this for two reasons. First, gun owners in NJ have wanted to get the ban thrown out on constitutional grounds, and the NRA is backing that effort.

        More importantly, there’s a personal aspect to this for Aitken. He had moved back to NJ to maintain contact with his son after his now ex-wife returned with the child from Colorado. His ex-wife used Aitken’s conviction to get the family court to place ridiculously strict limits on Aitken’s visits with the child. Clearing the felony is about the only way that he’ll ever get his rights as a father back.

        As for the case itself, setting aside the likelihood of prosecutorial misconduct in obtaining the grand jury indictment, the trial judge has a horrible reputation. In an unrelated matter, the same judge threw out a bestiality charge against a police officer because – I’m not kidding here – he was unable to tell whether the act caused the animal any pain or discomfort. (The same officer was later indicted for molesting three girls, btw.) While a lot of people have noted that Christie has refused to re-appoint the trial judge, people outside NJ might not realize that the refusal by the governor is almost unprecedented.

        1. refusal to reappoint? sounds like bitch-slap governor style.

          1. oh yeah, once again a divorced dad gets kicked in the teeth…

    4. “”If the appeals fail, I predict that Christie will pardon Aitken.””

      If that happens, then I’ll be impressed.

  16. As a general matter, as long as a convicted criminal is suffering secondary effects from the conviction, he can continue his appeal. Since Aitken is suffering the effects of having been convicted of a felony–e.g., can’t own a gun–he should be able to continue the appeal and (hopefully) clear his name.

  17. Wankin’ Pecker: I’m neither a moron nor a homo, but you’re likely right on with your analysis of the judge and etc.

    Question though: I though Christie already booted the moron in the black dress – and if so, does that change your analysis any?


    1. I don’t know what the deal is with the trial judge, but I do know that New Jersey’s judiciary is pretty fucked up anyway. There’s a reason that I don’t practice there anymore.

      But even if the judge-bitch-slapping rationale goes away, there’s still a good chance that the New Jersey Supreme Court could end up carving out an exception to the law that Aitken was convicted of violating.

      1. i wondered about that. ignorance is not innocence.

        1. Well… “ignorance of the law is not a defense” is only true most of the time. There are plenty of exceptions.

  18. He deserves a full pardon, because he’s innocent. The judge who railroaded him should be behind bars, and so should the prosecutor.


    1. Give that man a kewpie doll and a judge’s nutsack hanging from the back of his pickup.

  19. $20 says Democrats accuse Christie of being soft on crime.

    1. You won.

      Christie would let a guy with a gun possession charge out (that’s our law in New Jersey for those who believe in states rights) and keep a cancer patient in jail for growing weed.

      1. There is nothing inconsistent with believing states have the sovereign power to make their own laws while also criticizing a state when it enacts and exceedingly stupid law.

        I have not seen anyone crying for the federal government to step in an overtun NJ’s law or anything.

        Under Heller, NJ’s restrictions likely would be held constitutional, but that doesn’t mean we have to agree with them or like them.

        Aitken’s “gun possession charge” was bullshit from the get-go.

  20. Aitken is a prohibited person with a conviction on his record. He will need further expensive litigation to clear his name. Christie is no friend of 2A.

    1. Perhaps. But now that he’s free, you’d think that some of the second amendment types would want to take this one pro bono.

  21. CC would have NEVER freed a black guy.

    Only whites have the right to freely possess guns in america.

    1. I’m interested in your ideas and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

    2. Drink!

    3. What America are you living in? Are you trying to claim that there are no black people freely possessing guns? If so, you’re totally daft.

    4. So, is the answer to further restrict the rights of whites or to try and loosen the perceived restrictions on blacks?

      How you (not you Alice, but any person) answer that question says a lot about their philosophical beliefs.

  22. MP, I’d guess GoA or SAF might try to assist. LaPierre and the lairds & ladies at NRA will sit on their asses or maybe use Aitken as poster boy for a scare campaign fund raiser but not lift a finger to help.

  23. Excellent news for Mr Aitken.

    I eagerly await evidence of Christie’s support for personal freedom.

  24. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, this is good news. I hope he gets totally cleared asap, but this is more than most pols deliver, kudos to Christie so far.

  25. Aitken is a good test case for a 2A incorporation challenge to NJ ridiculous magazine and ammo laws.

    Oh, and his ex-wife is a raging cunt for using this to cut him off from his kids.

    1. No, no, not the wife! The State! The State is always to blame! Citizens are always as pure as snow.

      1. “”Citizens are always as pure as snow.””

        Sure, which is why you need the courts. Sometimes in their haste, fear, or stupidity, citizens motivate their law makers to pass unconstitutional laws. But I agree the prime mover in most if not all of these issues is the citizen, not government. If that was your point.

  26. compare this Aitken case with this incident:…..o-Turnpike

  27. He moved to that state so he could spend time with his child. As a convicted second-degree felon, how is that going to work out for him? His ex will be able to use that in any and all custody/visitation hearings. It’s entirely possible, maybe even probable, that he won’t ever be able to see his child again. Christie should have pardoned him.

    1. Brian Aitken…will be spending Christmas out of prison. Gov. Chris Christie commuted Aitken’s sentence…Aitken had appealed to Christie for commutation after being sentenced in August….”I’m waiting to hear back from Aitken’s attorney and family about what exactly this means.”

      What do you know that Radley or Governor Christie doesn’t know? Do you have access to the same materials that Christie reviewed? Are you aware of his constitutional limitations as Governor of New Jersey? Aitken asked for a commutation and got one. Even Radley thinks it’s “great news.” What the fuck is wrong with you?

  28. They should lock up his mother instead.

  29. This is great news. I’ve been following this since the initial article, wrote to Mr. Christie and all. Apparently the original Reason article generated a lot of interest, because even the NJ radio station 101.5 picked it up. Well done, Reason!

  30. I lived in NJ for 54 years before fleeing the high taxes. Here in Alabama, people had a hard time understanding how a law-abiding citizen could possibly be in prison for merely possessing a gun in his car trunk. (Many Alabamans keep a gun right on the passenger seat.) Since police here (and in most states) recommend use of hollow points for self-defense, the ammo charge is also mystifying.

    I see that the Brady Gun Confiscation Campaign ranked New Jersey as a “C” on its gun laws. California got a “C+,” and the other 48 states all got a grade of “F.” In other words, only one state is WORSE than New Jersey.

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