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NJ. Advocate Judges Manipulating the Law for Ends Justifies the Means.

November 21, 2010

From [Darleen Click]

There’s the spirit of the Law, the letter of the Law and then there’s selective editing of the law to reach a forgone conclusion.

[Brian] Aitken was sentenced in August after he was convicted of felony possession of a handgun. Before his arrest, Aitken, an entrepreneur and owner of a media consulting business, had no criminal record, and it appears he made a good-faith effort to comply with New Jersey’s stringent gun laws. Even the jurors who convicted him seem to have been looking for a reason to acquit him. But the judge gave them little choice. Aitken’s best hope now is executive clemency. He is petitioning New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for a reprieve this week. […]

To buy a gun in New Jersey, you must go through a laborious process to obtain a “purchaser’s permit.” But that permit doesn’t entitle you to possess a gun. A few select groups of people, mostly off-duty police officers and security personnel, can obtain carry permits. But anyone else with a gun is presumed to be violating state law and must defend against the charge of illegal gun possession by claiming one of the state’s exemptions.

Evan Nappen, who is representing Aitken in his appeal, likens the process to claiming self-defense in a murder case. “If you kill someone because they’re about to kill you first,” he says, “you’re still guilty of homicide. You have to prove you should be granted the exception for self-defense. It’s the same thing for just about all New Jersey gun owners.

Did the justice system change to where a person is guilty until you prove that you’re innocent.”

The exemptions allow New Jersey residents to have guns in their homes, while hunting or at a shooting range, while traveling to or from hunting grounds or a shooting range, and when traveling between residences. Brian Aitken claimed he was moving between residences, and there is pretty strong evidence that he was. Sue Aitken testified that her son was moving his belongings from her house to his. So did Aitken’s roommate. One of the police officers at the scene testified that Aitken’s car was filled with personal belongings.

Yet Judge Morley wouldn’t allow Aitken to claim the exemption for transporting guns between residences. He wouldn’t even let the jury know about it. During deliberations, the jurors asked three times about exceptions to the law, which suggests they weren’t comfortable convicting Aitken. Morley refused to answer them all three times. Gilbert and Nappen, Aitken’s lawyers, say he also should have been protected by a federal law that forbids states from prosecuting gun owners who are transporting guns between residences. Morley would not let Aitken cite that provision either.

Here we are confronted with officers of the court, both judge and prosecutor, rewriting the text of the law (refusing to consider the exemptions), not to catch bad actors but to manufacture a criminal where there was no crime.

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