Ray Rice, Shaneen Allen and Chris Christie

Generally, I would not dedicate a whole diary entry to another person’s entry, but since I (for whatever reason) cannot seem to comment, I feel this is a necessary follow up.  To recap, everyone is now aware of the Ray Rice situation and his violent assault on his then-girlfriend in an Atlantic City casino.  Everyone should also be aware of the situation of Shaneen Allen, a single mother who possesses a concealed weapon permit in Pennsylvania who, upon being stopped for a traffic offense in New Jersey, was arrested for having that weapon after she willingly told the police officer of the gun’s presence in her vehicle.  What has people upset is a case of prosecutorial discretion gone awry.  The prosecutor in this case, Jim McClain, handled both cases for the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office.  In one- the Rice case- he offered him Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI) while in the Allen case he is pursuing prosecution under New Jersey’s concealed carry law which is a virtual ban.

Rice, a celebrity, was granted what appears to be leniency.  Conversely, Allen faces three years in jail, possibly ten.  While a previous diary writer here suggested this is peculiar to New Jersey’s strange culture, is it?  My guess is that if Ray Rice had assaulted his girlfriend in an elevator at a casino in Nevada, French Lick, Indiana or Tunica, Mississippi, the prosecution’s response would have been similar.  Unfortunately, celebrities get away with stuff that no normal citizen would get away with and unfortunately this tendency is not restricted by state lines.  To argue that a prosecutor in Texas or Indiana or anywhere else would have handled this case differently is simply unfounded.  Furthermore, the victim in this assault- disgusting as it was- did not want to press charges and, in fact, later married Ray Rice!  And it should be noted that 99% of domestic assault cases in New Jersey are not treated through an offer of PTI.  Rice was among the fortunate 1%; thus prosecutors condoning spousal abuse in New Jersey is not the norm, as suggested.

In New Jersey, as I suspect elsewhere, the victim of a domestic assault need not press charges.  If a responding police officer sees evidence of a physical assault, they can bring the complaint against the offender.  That is what happened here I suspect.  Further complicating the issue is the fact that the victim was also issued a summons in the case.  And the fact that she appeared with him at his side during news conferences and other events indicates that the victim wanted to put the incident behind her.  It doesn’t make it right, but when you have an uncooperative victim, it makes the prosecution more difficult even if there is video coverage of the incident.

In essence, people are arguing that “the law is the law” and that Rice should not have been offered PTI.  But if “the law is the law-” and there are some really bad laws out there in every state- then the “law is the law.”  And that equally applies to bad concealed carry laws in New Jersey,  Unfortunately, New Jersey has very draconian gun control measures in place with a Governor who appears to have no stomach to change them.  Part of this is political reality (Christie has to deal with a Democratic, liberal legislature and an activist, liberal state supreme court) and part of it is Chris Christie.  Researching his stance on gun control, it becomes obvious he has adopted the view of most of law enforcement agencies for strict gun control.  For example, he is on record as opposed to concealed carry reciprocity laws.  And for this, he should be ashamed.

The worse part of this case is that Jim McClain, the Atlantic County Prosecutor in both cases, exercised his discretion in the Rice case and offered him PTI for what is a violent assault on a woman in a hotel elevator while not using his discretion against a woman who voluntarily told police about the gun in her vehicle and who had a valid concealed carry permit issued by neighboring Pennsylvania. In one case we have a liar committing a violent act compared to an innocent, truthful black single mother committing no violent act.

So what does this all have to do with Chris Christie?  In New Jersey, county prosecutors are political appointees and confirmed by the state senate.  New Jersey’s system is unique and unlike systems in other states where they are elected offices.  In a sense, New Jersey adopted the federal system where the state attorney general lays down the broad agenda and the prosecutors follow.  In other states, because they are elected positions, one county’s law enforcement agenda can differ from a neighboring county’s agenda.

At first glance, this would appear to be an indictment against the state attorney general- who sets the broad law enforcement agenda- and, by implication, Christie.  However, New Jersey has a 50 year tradition of allowing county prosecutors wide latitude in their exercise of discretion which is why the state is not interceding.  Should they have?  This writer finds it a tad hypocritical to criticize a president for shoving his nose into local events (beer summits, Ferguson, Trayvon Martin) while insisting a governor do just that because certain people simply dislike a particular governor.

The problem here is twofold.  It is not the Governor or New Jersey or his attorney general and it is not even the judge in these cases who has a documented history of rubber stamping prosecution discretion.  The problem, on the personal level, is the prosecutor in this case, Jim McClain.  McClain has worked in the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office since 1993 and was acting lead Prosecutor for two years before getting the 5-year term.  He obviously has experience in the office and was qualified to hold the lead position.  However, he totally mishandled- leaving aside the Rice affair- the Allen prosecution.  As the preliminary proceedings indicate, prosecution is being pursued as “a deterrent” for future violations.  They picked the wrong poster child for deterrence- a single black mother who was the victim of previous assault who was issued a valid concealed carry permit by a neighboring state.

Incidentally- and this gets to the second problem- Ms. Allen is not without a certain degree of technical culpability here.  Pennsylvania law specifically states, and applicants are advised, that the concealed carry permit is applicable  to carry the firearm only “within the Commonwealth (Pennsylvania).”  BUT, this is technical culpability since the potential to be a victim of a crime does not lessen by crossing a bridge into New Jersey.  Perhaps Ms. Allen honestly was unaware that the concealed carry permit held no weight in New Jersey.  The facts of this case indicate that she had no nefarious reason for bringing the gun into New Jersey; she readily advised the police officer who stopped her.

The problem is that the country needs a concealed carry reciprocity law.  Chris Christie is against such a measure stating that it would infringe upon New Jersey’s right to pass gun laws.  More importantly, Christie would be well advised to realize that gun possession by those legally allowed is a constitutional right.  Furthermore, there is likely no constitutional or federalism issue here under the Second Amendment or under the Privileges and Immunity Clauses of the Constitution.  If it is legal for Shaneen Allen to carry a concealed firearm in Pennsylvania- assuming she passed a rigorous background check (which she obviously did)- then it should be equally legal in New Jersey.  As stated before, the potential to be a victim of crime does not stop at a state’s border.

As concerns Christie himself, he is a victim of his law enforcement background in the area of gun control.  I will argue that he is misguided in this area.  And I believe I have stated on numerous occasions in the past on these pages that Chris Christie may be a decent Republican Governor or New Jersey (although the jury is still out), but he would not make a good Republican President of the United States.  There are things to like about him and many more things to dislike about him leaving aside the gun control issue.

If nothing else, Christie is politically astute and will hopefully realize that a run for the presidency will be a lost cause.  He would never survive the early, more conservative states (unless the opposition is very inept)  In the meantime, ignoring Christie- not bashing him- is perhaps the best policy.