The Press of Atlantic City reports that Atlantic County Prosecutor Jim McClain, who until now has seemed determined to put Shaneen Allen behind bars for mistakenly thinking that her Pennsylvania carry permit allowed her to cross the border into New Jersey with a pistol in her purse, is having second thoughts. "I am presently in the process of reviewing our office's position on the appropriate resolution of this matter," McClain wrote in a recent letter to Superior Court Judge Michael Donio, who is overseeing Allen's case. Her trial, which was supposed to begin on October 6, has been rescheduled for two weeks later.
McClain has refused to approve Allen for a pretrial diversion program, even though all the evidence indicates that she broke the law by mistake. In particular, she would not be facing a mandatory minimum sentence of three and a half years had she not told the state trooper who pulled her over for a minor traffic infraction on the Atlantic City Expressway last October that she had a gun in her bag. McClain's possible change of heart probably has less to do with his nagging conscience than with the criticism his position has generated from people around the country who were appalled by his insistence that Allen, a single mother of two with no criminal record, belongs in prison.
The Press notes that McClain's predecessor and prosecutors in other counties have treated offenders in Allen's position much more leniently. Judge Donio also has shown mercy toward gun owners from other states who innocently run afoul of New Jersey's draconian gun laws:
Justin Brey, 26, had his gun on him at work in Pennsylvania — where he has a concealed carry permit — when his friend picked him up to take him to his surprise bachelor party destination in April 2013.
He didn't realize he would be crossing state lines, and when they got to Caesars Atlantic City, he put his gun in a drawer of the hotel — then left for home without it. By the time he returned for it, a maid had found it and police were called. Despite a plea deal calling for a three-year sentence with one year without parole, Donio gave Brey two years' probation….
"If you don't trust the judge enough to make the correct decisions, then don't appoint them to the bench," Donio said at Brey's sentencing. "These mandatory laws tie our hands, and in tying our hands, sometimes justice doesn't get served."
Even New Jersey legislators are having second thoughts about the sentences they mandated. The Press reports that bills introduced in both houses of the legislature would "allow for cases such as Allen's and to give judges more discretion in sentencing."