Ray Rice and New Jersey “Justice”

The release of a videotape of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice punching his fiancé and knocking her out, has created quite a stir in the media. The TV gossip show, TMZ, released the video [last] week, ushering in a whole new chorus of outrage toward Rice, the NFL, and the Atlantic County, New Jersey Prosecutor’s Office.

After an initial 2-game suspension, the Baltimore Ravens have now canceled Rice’s multi-million dollar contract, and the NFL has suspended him from the league indefinitely. The criticism being leveled at the Atlantic County Prosecutor is based on their decision to allow Rice off through a Pre-Trial Intervention program whereby he must complete an anger management program, possibly perform some community service, report to a probation officer, and avoid any further legal troubles for a couple of years. In the end, his record will be completely clean, as if nothing ever happened. Such plea deals are not uncommon for people charged with a first offense, though they are not normally offered in cases involving serious violence. In this particular case, the prosecutor initially filed a simple assault charge and tried to let Rice off, but had to send the case to a Grand Jury. The Grand Jury came back with a felony indictment, but the prosecutor decided to be as lenient as possible by offering Rice the Pre-Trial Intervention deal on an aggravated assault charge.

Critics have gone to great lengths to point out the inconsistency of the NFL in dealing with other cases of domestic violence, and they have pointed out what appears to have been special, favorable treatment for Rice by the Atlantic County Prosecutor. We are still waiting for TMZ, ESPN, or other critics to point out the blatant inconsistency demonstrated by the prosecutor between how he treated Rice and Shaneen Allen.

As I pointed out in this column several weeks ago, the Atlantic County Prosecutor has refused to offer a Pre-Trial Intervention deal to Shaneen Allen, a young mother who unwittingly brought a gun into their jurisdiction, and are instead pushing for the maximum criminal sentence. This is Shaneen Allen’s first offense and there was no victim. She is an upstanding member of society, a hard-working, single mother of two young boys. She is also black, like Ray Rice, but Shaneen Allen does not have a multi-million dollar football contract. Her arrest did not make national news. Instead, she works two jobs just to make ends meet. She wasn’t staying at a luxury hotel-casino, but was driving to meet friends for a rare getaway. Unlike Rice, Shaneen Allen didn’t try to hide her actions, nor did she come up with conflicting stories. When she was pulled over for an improper lane change, Shaneen volunteered to the officer that she had a Pennsylvania concealed firearm license and that her pistol was in her purse.

If convicted, Shaneen Allen faces a minimum mandatory sentence of 3 years in prison, and could be imprisoned for up to 5 years. She has already spent over 40 days in jail. She would also lose her right to possess firearms forever. Ray Rice didn’t spend a night in jail and if he completes the probation successfully, his record will be wiped clean, he won’t be a felon, and his gun rights will be unaffected.

I honestly don’t know what a fair punishment for Ray Rice’s reprehensible act would be, that’s for others to worry over. What I do know is that the disparity between the treatment Rice got from the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office, and the way they are handling Shaneen Allen’s case is a glaring injustice. Not only is the prosecutor treating Shaneen Allen more harshly than he did Ray Rice, but he is deviating from standard practice, both of Atlantic County, and of other counties in New Jersey, where Pre-Trial Intervention in cases like Shaneen’s is the norm. What’s more, this particular prosecutor is not one elected by the people, but one appointed by Governor Chris Christie, meaning that there are political considerations at play in both these cases, but Christie, a former prosecutor himself, has refused to get involved.

It is ridiculous that the state of New Jersey – notorious for its history of organized crime, government corruption, and rampant street violence – has long had some of the harshest restrictions on firearms rights in the country. Those restrictions have never been shown to have any positive impact on crime, but they have repeatedly snared innocent gun owners who happened to cross the wrong line. Back in the 1970s, before passage of the Firearm Owners Protection Act, when travelers could be prosecuted for crossing through restrictive jurisdictions like New Jersey, even if their cased, unloaded guns were locked in the trunk, a New Jersey judge went so far as to rule that an NRA sticker in the window constituted probable cause to pull a vehicle over and search it for firearms. Clearly the objective there was not to catch and disarm violent criminals.

The Shaneen Allen case is an excellent example of why we advocate for “national reciprocity,” meaning all states would recognize concealed weapons licenses from other states, just the way they recognize other states’ drivers’ licenses. Shaneen Allen was a crime victim who took legal steps to provide for her own protection, but the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office has now taken more from her than Philadelphia street thugs ever did – and they’re threatening to take even more.

When you see reports of the mishandling of the Ray Rice case, remember Shaneen Allen and the way her case is being mishandled in the opposite direction. You might also consider making a small contribution to the Shaneen Allen Legal Defense Fund.

©2014 The Firearms Coalition, all rights reserved. Reprinting, posting, and distributing permitted with inclusion of this copyright statement. www.FirearmsCoalition.org.

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