Brian Aitken was a finance student at NYU, an economic scholar at the Foundation of Economic Education, a father, an entrepreneur, mountain climber, and so many other things. One of the things that he was not, however, was a criminal. No one, not the judge, jury, or prosecutor disputes the fact that there were no victims in Brian Aitken’s case. Regardless, he’s currently serving 7 years in state prison for a crime that thousands of people maintain he didn’t commit.
On January 2, 2009 Brian was arrested for illegal possession of firearms while moving from one residence from another. All of the firearms were legally owned—Brian passed three different FBI background checks to purchase and had even cleared an FBI screening for employment as a data researcher handling confidential information for a banking security software firm. His integrity, character, and right to own was not in question…so what was?
New Jersey statutes make it illegal for anyone without a concealed carry permit to possess a firearm even if it’s otherwise lawfully owned. The only way to lawfully possess firearms in New Jersey is through exemptions to the law like driving to and from a shooting range or moving residences. However, as they are exemptions from the law they must be raised during trial therefore removing the presumption of innocence for the charge of possession.
Brian had just brought his firearms from CO to NJ a week prior to his arrest–in fact, TSA cleared him to fly with them….the same TSA that terrifies five year olds girls and breaks a bladder cancer survivor’s urostomy bag. He had just moved back to an apartment in Hoboken that he had moved out of a month earlier and closed on the sale of his Colorado home 11 days after his arrest.
Several witnesses, including the arresting officer, testified that not only did Brian have multiple residences but that his car was packed with his personal belongings–so much so that it took the police 2 hours and 39 minutes before they found Brian’s guns locked and unloaded in the trunk of his car, exactly as NJ law dictates. Brian knew this because only days earlier he had found out through the NJ state police how to legally transport his firearms in NJ. The officers, believing Brian had done nothing wrong, then offered to leave the firearms at his parents’ house, but when they wouldn’t fit in his father’s safe the supervising officer decided to arrest him instead.
During the next 18 months the prosecutor approached Brian and his attorney with plea offer after plea offer. If Brian pled guilty he’d spend one mandatory year in prison and spend the rest of his life a convicted felon for a crime he didn’t commit….otherwise the prosecutor was seeking the maximum sentence of 10 years. Brian, knowing not only that he had done nothing wrong but knowing that the law didn’t exist to punish innocent people, chose to take his case in front of the jury.
During the trial it became clear to everyone in the courtroom that Brian fit the exemptions of the law for moving between residences. However, the judge withheld the law from the jury, thereby ensuring a guilty verdict. Regardless, the jury returned from deliberation three times specifically requesting to be read the exemptions of the law. One can only assume that this was so they could find Brian not guilty. The judge and the prosecutor made it clear that they had no intention of allowing Brian to walk out an innocent man. They were more interested in a guilty verdict than truth and justice.
Six days later Governor Christie decided not to reappoint Judge James Morley for his misconduct in 2 other cases where Judge Morley sympathized with an off duty police officer who molested farm animals.
Brian was sentenced to 7 years in state prison even though there was no victim, no violence, and no crime. He was sentenced by Judge Haas, whose only knowledge of the case was provided by the prosecutor. Judge Haas did not preside over the case or have access to transcripts of the trial.
Gun owners and non-gun owners alike have banded together, not because this is an obvious Second Amendment issue, but because the judge so blatantly and with complete immunity withheld Brian’s right to a fair trial.
The description of the case comes from www.briandaitken.com.
Evan Nappen, a New Jersey attorney who is in the forefront of gun cases in that state, has this summary of the case.
The Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, is being asked to commute the sentence or to pardon Brian Aitken. If you want to let him know your feelings, go here.
Christie is being bandied about as a potential 2012 candidate for either President or Vice-President. However, he has not shown himself to be on the same wavelength as the majority of both conservatives and Americans with regard to gun rights. My feeling is that if he wants to have any political career beyond the confines of the Garden State he damn well better come through with either a commutation or pardon – and soon – on Brian Aitken or he can kiss any national ambitions good-bye. And frankly, it ought to be a pardon as Brian Aitken did nothing wrong and a commutation doesn’t restore his constitutional rights.
UPDATE: Bob Owens has an excellent post on PajamasMedia about Chris Christie and the movement to free Brian Aitken. Christie, as Bob notes, has not been friendly towards the Second Amendment over his career. This will need to change if he ever has any national aspirations.
One thing people can do to get the message across to Christie is “like” his fan page and post messages in support of Brian Aitken. Alternatively, you can contact Christie directly at the Governor’s Office here.