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December 21, 2010

NJ Governor Christie commutes controversial gun possession sentence

A helpful reader alerted me to a notable clemency development from the Garden State, which is reported in this Fox News piece.  Here are the basic from the start of the news report:

A man given seven years in prison after being found with two guns he purchased legally in Colorado has had his sentence commuted, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced Monday.

The case of Brian Aitken, 27, had become a cause célèbre among gun-rights advocates. On Jan. 2, 2009, Aitken, an entrepreneur and media consultant with no prior criminal record, muttered to his mother that life wasn't worth living after a planned visit with son was abruptly canceled at the last minute. Aitken then left his mother's home in Mount Laurel as she called police, who later found two locked and unloaded handguns in the trunk of his car.

Aitken had purchased the guns legally in Colorado, and he passed an FBI background check when he bought them, according to his father, Larry Aitken.  Brian also contacted New Jersey State Police before moving back back to the Garden State to discuss how to properly transport his weapons.  But despite those good-faith efforts, Larry Aitken said, Brian was convicted on weapons charges and sent to prison in August.

Judge James Morley would not allow the argument in trial earlier this year and Christie later declined to reappoint the judge due to an unrelated case.

According to an order for commutation of sentence released by Christie on Monday, Aitken was to be released from custody as soon as administratively possible.  The order is subject to revocation at any time.

The official Order for Commutation of Sentence can be found at this link.

December 21, 2010 at 01:09 PM | Permalink


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If this were the federal system, and assuming he wasn’t Scooter Libby, he’d have to serve the whole sentence and wait about 20 years before maybe receiving a pardon.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | Dec 21, 2010 2:14:04 PM

Maybe Barack Obama could learn a thing or two from Chris Christie. Come 2012, he may well do that, although Christie is pretty forcefully disclaiming any 2012 Presidential ambitions.

A guy who can stand up to government unions AND grant a DESERVED clemency is the kind of guy I would be happy to support.

P.S. Christie is the former Bush-appointed US Attorney.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 21, 2010 3:13:26 PM


I am curious why you think this clemency was "DESERVED." Christie to my knowledge did not explain the basis for his grant here, so perhaps you can make the case for my think clemency grant was justified. I am interested in your articulation of principles for a DESERVED grant of clemency in the face of an apparently lawful conviction and sentence.

Thanks in advance for your input/explanation.

Posted by: Doug B. | Dec 21, 2010 6:05:06 PM

Doug --

I recalled the case from your December 2 blog entry on it, http://sentencing.typepad.com/sentencing_law_and_policy/2010/12/perfect-storm-of-injustice-nj-man-serving-7-years-for-guns-he-legally-owned.html.

The title of the story featured in that entry was, "Perfect Storm of Injustice." Whether or not that is so, the facts as described did not seem to me to make out a person deserving of seven years in the slammer. So far as I am able to see, no other commenter thought so either. The story contained no evidence that Aitken acted with what I understand (after a long time as a prosecutor) to be criminal intent, nor was there a criminal record, nor a suggestion that he had a malevolent termperment or involvement with drugs.

I am not against clemency, and have participated in seeking and getting it for more people than just Scooter Libby. I think it should be reserved, however, for highly unusual cases, which is the historical practice with very few exceptions. This is such a case (indeed, were it otherwise, I doubt you would have blogged about it).

Most, though not all, grants of clemency follow "a lawful conviction and sentence," so this is routine in that regard.

For the most part, I am content to leave sentencing as the judicial function it has always been. But there are highly atypical cases, and I think a fair reading of the facts here shows this to be one of them.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 21, 2010 6:35:51 PM

The judge who made these rulings ought to spend the rest of his life in prison.

Posted by: federalist | Dec 21, 2010 8:58:08 PM

i have to agree. this right here! tells me anyone involved in this case is an out of control gunnut who needs to spend the REST OF THEIR LIFE IN a prison!

"A man given seven years in prison after being found with two guns he purchased legally in Colorado has had his sentence commuted,"

Sorry to send someone to prison for 7 YEARS for guns they owned LEGALLY is jsut friggin CRIMNIAL. Sad this is this decision by the governor is a JOKE....it just lets' him out of jail...does absolutely NOTHING about the ILLEGAL convction!

Posted by: rodsmith | Dec 22, 2010 12:07:09 AM

@federalist: It is really the prosecutor who is at fault in this case, not the judge. The prosecutor had the discretion not to bring charges. As I recall, there was a mandatory minimum, and once this guy was convicted the judge did not have a non-prison sentence at his disposal.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | Dec 22, 2010 10:21:04 AM

Marc Shepherd --

Sometimes the prosecutor has to say, "I appreciate your work on this, Agent X, and I see where you're coming from, but I just don't think the guy is a criminal, so I'm going to pass on this one."

One of the most important parts of being a prosecutor is the ability and desire to understand who you're dealing with. Most of the time you're dealing with a crook or a strongarm who's taken some trouble to earn everything the law provides for him. But most of the time isn't always. There are those who just don't belong in the criminal justice system, and you have to look at each case individually.

When you have a meth dealer, that's one thing. If people think drug sentences are too long, then don't do drugs. It's not that hard. A person always has the choice of not dealing meth to start with and getting a normal job like everyone else. But there are other cases, like the present one, where there is just no reason to think the defendant even has a criminal turn of mind.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 22, 2010 3:18:52 PM

sorry marc but the judge is also responsible. This should have died 3 sec's after the court was conviend! If anything he should have locked up this idiot DA and any of the cops involved for CRIMINAL STUPIDITY!

Posted by: rodsmith | Dec 23, 2010 1:11:41 AM

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