Shock and outrage are the only words that could properly describe my first reaction when hearing the story of a Philadelphia mother who is facing three years in jail over a simple mistake.
Shaneen Allen, 27, of Philadelphia, was pulled over in October of last year during a routine traffic stop. When she was approached by the police officer he asked if she had any weapons on her possession. Allen truthfully replied that she was carrying a loaded weapon, as she is legally allowed to, because she has a concealed carry permit in Pennsylvania. There was only one major catch — Allen was in New Jersey not Pennsylvania. Allen says she did not know her permit had no legal authority in the neighboring state, which has some of the strictest gun laws in the country.
Allen was then arrested and charged with unlawfully possessing a weapon. At this point, the Atlantic County prosecutor could have shown leniency on Allen and put her in a program for first-time offenders that recommends probation and community service. But instead, the black mother of two with no prior criminal history found herself facing a three-year mandatory minimum prison term with no possibility of parole.
“She’s a hard-working single mom,” Allen's attorney Evan Nappen told NBC 10 Philadelphia. “It’s really crazy that New Jersey is taking someone who’s got no criminal record and was doing nothing wrong — other than a minor traffic violation — and making it into a felony-level conviction with minimal mandatory time.”
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According to the Pennsylvania Firearm Owners Association, Pennsylvania concealed carry permits are valid in 30 other states. However, New Jersey is not one of them. Allen’s arrest could have served as a lesson in gun ownership and leniency on part of the New Jersey prosecutor, now it may soon ended in tragedy for Allen and her family.
In an interview with the Press of Atlantic City, Atlantic County prosector Jim McClain explains his tough stance on gun control. McClain said he plans to crack down on gun violence and drug trafficking.
“I believe the biggest threat to the people of Atlantic County is gun violence and certainly gun violence is related to the drug trade,” McClain told the Press of Atlantic City. “Here in New Jersey, you can’t separate the two.”
Apparently, that also means throwing the book at Allen and not using the discretion he was given as a prosecutor to be lenient on those who make honest mistakes. Three years for a victimless crime is a miscarriage of justice and not the type of gun control most American’s feel is appropriate. A federal law making gun permits transferable to all 50 states is another fix or state’s like New Jersey could voluntarily reform their laws to fit with the 30 other states.
This case also highlights the need for minimum-mandatory sentencing reform in America. Currently, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky are working hard to do just that and they also deserve some support in their effort.
Here’s how you can you help Allen. You can donate money to her legal defense fund at Gogetfunding.com or you can contact local media in New Jersey and inform them of your feeling about this upcoming case, which will give her trial more coverage and improve her chances of leniency. Or contact Jay McKeen, the public information officer for Altlantic County Office of the Prosecutor, and tell him how you feel. McKeen can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone at (609) 909-7966.
Allen’s case is approaching quickly, she will stand before a judge on Aug. 5, so it’s important to get the word out now and keep the court system accountable. Locking away a mother of two for a simple mistake is not acceptable and will not pass for justice in this county.