After a review by the state attorney general, the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office announced Wednesday that it would allow a Philadelphia woman charged last year with illegally bringing into New Jersey a gun that was legally registered in Pennsylvania to enter a pretrial-intervention program and avoid jail time.
The prosecutor's previous stance in the case involving Shaneen Allen, 27, was to make the case a "deterrent," either forcing a plea or bringing it to trial. The mother of two could have faced up to five years in prison.
Allen, who was stopped for a routine traffic violation on the Atlantic City Expressway, was arrested after voluntarily telling a state trooper that her purse contained a legally registered .38-caliber Bersa Thunder handgun.
In August, Allen's attorney, Evan Nappen, filed a motion to have the charge dropped, but it was denied by Superior Court Judge Michael Donio. The judge's ruling provided Nappen with a kind of primer on "how things are done here in Atlantic County" with regard to such arrests vs. other parts of the state, where more leniency might be offered to first-time offenders such as Allen.
Nappen argued that Allen "should not be turned into a felon and sent to state prison and have her life destroyed because she made a mistake and committed a victimless crime."
Neither Allen nor Nappen could be reached for comment Wednesday night.
Prosecutor Jim McClain came under fire from gun-advocacy groups and defenders of Allen after noting that the case was being pursued as a deterrent and saying the charges were "too serious to warrant divergence" into the pretrial-intervention program.
Gun-law advocates, anti-domestic-violence groups, and others attempted to draw parallels between McClain's perceived leniency for NFL star Ray Rice, who was allowed to enter a pretrial-intervention program in an attack on his then-fiancee in Atlantic City, and his hard-line stance in the Allen case.
The football player did not use a firearm in the beating, caught last spring on security video inside an elevator at the Revel Casino Hotel.
Donors contributed thousands of dollars to a defense fund for Allen, who said she purchased a firearm after being robbed and beaten last year in her South Philadelphia neighborhood.
A trial date had been set for Allen in early October, but McClain this month asked Donio to postpone it until Oct. 20 so his office could have more time to review the case.
McClain said in a statement Wednesday that, in applying factors set out in the Attorney General's Office review, he had "determined that the defendant in this case should be offered the opportunity to be admitted into the Atlantic County PTI program," and that within the next few weeks, his office would review similar pending cases.
The Office of the Attorney General on Wednesday issued to McClain a clarification of the 2008 Graves Act directive that deals with circumstances in which an out-of-state resident holds a valid permit to carry a firearm within his or her own home state, is arrested in New Jersey, and is charged with illegal possession of a firearm under New Jersey law.
The clarification was issued following a comprehensive review of firearms-possession laws and consultation with each of the state's 21 county prosecutors.
"The resulting clarification to the 2008 directive is a reasoned and considered effort to ensure consistent treatment of similarly situated defendants throughout the state," according to the Attorney General's Office statement.
In the clarification, issued by acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman, it was noted that in most of these cases, "imprisonment is neither necessary nor appropriate to serve the interests of justice and protect public safety."
Hoffman noted that prosecutors could promote this outcome in two ways: by consenting to the application or pretrial intervention, which is subject to review by a trial judge, and by considering factors and circumstances particularly relevant to "unusual situations involving otherwise law-abiding persons who inadvertently violate New Jersey's gun laws."