The Washington Post

Prosecution of Shaneen Allen moves forward

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Shaneen Allen, a single mother from Philadelphia who was arrested for driving through New Jersey with a handgun. Allen had a permit for her gun in Pennsylvania, but New Jersey doesn’t recognize Pennsylvania gun permits. Despite the fact that Allen volunteered that she was in possession of the gun during her traffic stop, she was still arrested and charged with a felony. According to her attorney, she is eligible for a diversion program for first-time offenders that would avoid a felony conviction and mandatory 42 months in prison. But for reasons he has yet to articulate, New Jersey District Attorney Jim McClain has refused to allow her to take advantage of that program.

Now, New Jersey Judge Michael Donio has denied Allen’s request to have the charge dismissed.

The words common sense were mentioned quite a bit during Shaneen Allen’s hearing yesterday in Atlantic County Superior Court.

Allen, 27, cried for a moment in the hallway with her son Naiare and his father after a judge denied her motion to dismiss weapons charges filed against her in October and refused to overturn a prosecutor’s decision to deny her entry into a first-time-offender diversion program.

So Allen walked back into court, turned down a plea deal that would have given her a 3 1/2-year sentence and decided to go to trial in October, hoping a jury would use some common sense and not send a working mother of two to prison for not knowing New Jersey’s gun laws.

Yes, Allen broke the law. But she didn’t use her gun to harass, intimidate or threaten anyone. She didn’t shoot anyone. Her crime was driving across a state border. And even for that crime, she turned herself in. Now, barring an act of jury nullification, her life is about to be ruined. Her young children are about to be without parents for a critical part of their lives. If Jim McClain can use his prosecutorial discretion in a case like this, you have to wonder why prosecutors have discretion at all.

And this quote from a gun control advocate is as heartless as it is clueless:

“Fortunately, the notoriety of this case will make it less likely Pennsylvanians will carry concealed and loaded handguns in New Jersey, thereby making them and the Garden State safer from gun violence,” said Bryan Miller, executive director of Heeding God’s Call, a faith-based movement to prevent gun violence.

The people responsible for the gun violence in New Jersey are not residents of bordering states who have gone through the trouble of obtaining a legal permit in their home states. The people responsible for gun violence in New Jersey don’t volunteer to police that they’re carrying a weapon. And the people responsible for the gun violence in New Jersey are not going to be deterred by a story about a single mom sent off to prison for an honest mistake. Sending Shaneen Allen to prison will ruin Shaneen Allen’s life. It will also ruin the lives of her children. And that is all it will do.

Radley Balko blogs about criminal justice, the drug war and civil liberties for The Washington Post. He is the author of the book "Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces."



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Radley Balko · August 7, 2014