Because the judge in the case refused to tell the jury about the exemption, even though pressed for that information by Aitken’s lawyer and the jury itself. Judge James Moyer didn’t let Aitken claim the exemption for transporting guns between residences, leaving him stuck with a seven-year sentence. Larry Aitken, Brian’s father who has lived in Mount Laurel for more than 20 years, questioned the judge’s refusal to let the jury hear the portion of the law that dealt with exemptions in his son’s case:
Why would the jury send three separate requests to the judge asking specifically for information regarding the exemption from moving if they hadn’t seen evidence that Brian was moving, believed it, and wanted to use that exemption to find him not guilty?
Moyer’s career as a judge was subsequently terminated six days after Aitken’s conviction, as Governor Christie refused to reappoint him for having questionable judgment, as seen in a bizarre animal cruelty case that the judge dismissed.
Aitken’s conviction presents what his lawyer calls a “perfect storm of injustice” and has triggered a campaign to see him freed. The story of Aitken’s incarceration has highlighted the punitive — and arguably unconstitutional — nature of New Jersey’s gun laws, which are among the most restrictive in the nation.
The calls for clemency and a pardon for Aitken are bringing some uncomfortable scrutiny on Chris Christie, particularly his stance in favor of gun control.
Christie favors New Jersey’s restrictive handgun laws. He has bluntly stated he doesn’t want all citizens to be able to get a licensed weapon. Earlier in his career, his campaign used a dishonest ad to attack more conservative opponents that stood opposed to the ban on semi-automatic rifles. Christie’s ad described his opposition as “dangerous,” “crazy,” and “radical” for supporting citizens’ rights to own some of the most common firearms in America. Christie’s campaign also purposefully lied in the ad, referring to the firearms covered as “automatic assault weapons,” a class of military small arms not covered by the ban at all.
As a matter of justice, Governor Christie should pardon Brian Aitken, who made a good faith effort to comply with obtuse and restrictive laws and clearly had no criminal intent. The problem for Christie is that such a pardon would likely result in a deluge of appeals and pardon requests from those convicted on similar charges. There would likely be renewed challenges to the arguably unconstitutional laws that Christie supports.
As conservatives continue their push towards returning the nation’s laws to their constitutional foundation, and gun rights legal battles and legislation continue to make headway against restrictive gun laws, Chris Christie is sure to face a battle placing his long-held prohibitionist views against his newfound popularity and future political aspirations. Let us simply hope for Brian Aitken’s sake that Christie’s common sense wins out over his desire to limit the liberties of his citizens.