Tag: New Jersey

Brian Aitken’s Sentence Commuted

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has commuted the seven-year sentence of Brian Aitken, the man wrongfully convicted on firearms charges under that state’s draconian gun laws. Good.

While a full pardon seems more appropriate – the judge in this case should have given the jury instructions on the “moving exception” that protected Aitken – this is at least recognition of an injustice and relief for one man and his family.

The New Jersey state judicial system’s webpage describes the grand jury’s function as “a screening mechanism to protect citizens from unfounded charges.” That didn’t happen in this case. For more on this phenomenon, read this Cato Policy Analysis, “A Grand Façade: How the Grand Jury Was Captured by the Government.”

For more Cato work on criminal justice, check out Tim Lynch’s excellent book, In the Name of Justice.

Brian Aitken Pardon Decision Pending

In a recent post I discussed the plight of Brian Aitken, a New Jersey resident currently serving seven years in prison. Thing is, it’s not clear that Aitken broke the law.

Radley Balko produced an excellent write-up of Aitken’s case, and Glenn Reynolds put together a video. Aitken’s conviction is the product of (1) New Jersey’s draconian gun laws; (2) a lack of prosecutorial discretion that should have focused resources on real threats to society; and (3) a judge’s refusal to issue jury instructions on the “moving exception” to New Jersey’s gun laws. The same judge dismissed animal cruelty charges against a police officer that had placed his penis in the mouths of five calves. The judge was serving in a temporary capacity and not reappointed by Governor Christie. This is overcriminalization compounded by incompetence.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has said that he intends to make a decision on Aitken’s conviction by Christmas. If you’ve got the time, here is a link to information on joining Aitken’s Facebook campaign for a pardon and a phone number to call the Governor Christie’s office and express your support.

Overcriminalization Incentives

In my post on Brian Aitken’s plight, I discussed New Jersey’s draconian gun laws and how a law-abiding citizen can become a victim of overbroad laws. New Jersey gun laws weren’t always so bad, but overcriminalization warped them into their current unconstitutional state.

This trend is a staple of modern legislative activity. Every time a politician says that we must pass a new law to “get tough on crime” and that their pet legislation ought to be passed “for the children,” it’s a sure indicator that the rule of law is about to take another body blow. Take, for instance, the crusade against sexting that threatens to make foolish teenagers into sex offenders. Or the proposed federal cyberbullying act, which aims to turn teens into federal felons, in spite of the fact that there is no federal juvenile justice system. New Jersey gun laws jumped the shark a long time ago and haven’t looked back.

The same is true with federal “honest services” fraud. In the words of one former lawmaker who fed the overcriminalization beast only to see it turn on him:

When I served in Congress, I vigorously opposed any expansion of federal agency authority. All too often, however, I exempted the Justice Department from my efforts because I wanted to give law enforcement the power it needed to keep our country safe from dangerous individuals. After enduring a years-long investigation into crimes my wife and I did not commit, and after watching the outrageous prosecution of Kevin Ring, I have serious doubts about whether I was wise to faithfully support the Justice Department. I strongly encourage the new Congress to examine the guidance and leeway the Department gives to federal prosecutors, and to refrain from passing any new vague criminal laws which seem to invite the worst prosecutorial abuse.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. For more on overcriminalization, take a look at Tim Lynch’s book, In the Name of Justice, or Harvey Silverglate’s Three Felonies a Day.

Will Governor Christie Pardon Brian Aitken?

Brian Aitken, a finance student at NYU and economic scholar at the Foundation of Economic Education, ran afoul of New Jersey’s draconian gun laws when he was arrested while transporting two handguns unloaded and locked in the trunk of his car.

After separating from his wife in 2008, Aitken moved from Colorado to his native home of New Jersey the end of that year, to be closer to his son.

Shortly thereafter, in January 2009, Aitken – according to one account – “became distraught, muttered something to his mother, and left his parents’ home in Mount Laurel, NJ,” after his ex-wife canceled a visit with their son.

At that point, his mother, who is a trained social worker, called the police out of concern. That’s when things went downhill for Aitken. After the police caught up with him, they determined he wasn’t a threat to his or anyone else’s safety, but proceeded to search his car anyway. Upon finding the guns, police pressed weapons charges against Aitken.

New Jersey law makes it nearly impossible to get a concealed carry license, and you can’t otherwise take a gun out of your home unless it is in connection with several enumerated exceptions. Moving from one residence to another is one of the exceptions. Aitken was in the process of moving; it took police over two hours to remove all of his possessions from the car before they found the two guns in the trunk.

The jury never heard about the moving exception, virtually guaranteeing Brian’s conviction.

Yet Judge Morley wouldn’t allow Aitken to claim the exemption for transporting guns between residences. He wouldn’t even let the jury know about it. During deliberations, the jurors asked three times about exceptions to the law, which suggests they weren’t comfortable convicting Aitken. Morley refused to answer them all three times. Gilbert and Nappen, Aitken’s lawyers, say he also should have been protected by a federal law that forbids states from prosecuting gun owners who are transporting guns between residences. Morley would not let Aitken cite that provision either.

Brian Aitken is currently serving seven years in a state prison. Now a website and Facebook page are asking Governor Chris Christie to pardon Aitken.

Gov. Christie has proven a sensible leader and shown political courage in taking on his state’s debt-ridden “Situation.” Here’s hoping that Christie, a former prosecutor, will see that Aitken’s continued imprisonment does nothing to serve the interests of justice.

This Is Sparta!

…Sparta, New Jersey that is. Like their fellow citizens in 54 percent of school districts across the state, the people of Sparta rejected their local district’s proposed budget yesterday. That’s the highest rate of school budget rejections since 1976, according to the New Jersey Star Ledger. Why? Taxpayers are tired of the relentlessly increasing per-pupil cost of public schooling at a time when their own household budgets are under pressure. It helped that popular new governor Chris Christie recommended that voters reject their districts’ budgets unless the teachers unions agreed to a one year salary freeze. [HT: Instapundit]

If this keeps up, voters might just decide to dump the government monopoly approach to schooling in favor of an education system that offers families far more choices while dramatically reducing costs.

Class Warfare Tax Policy May Be Emotionally Satisfying to Some People, but It Is Bad Economics

Barack Obama wants higher tax rates on the so-called rich, including steeper levies on income, capital gains, dividends, and even death. Along with other politicians in Washington, he acts as if successful taxpayers are like sheep meekly awaiting slaughter. I’ve explained in this video why class-warfare tax policies are misguided, and a new study from Boston College provides additional evidence about the consequences of hate-and-envy tax policy. The research reveals that high tax rates in New Jersey have helped cause wealthy people to leave the state, leading to a net wealth reduction of $70 billion between 2004 and 2008. Wealth and income are different, of course, so it is worth pointing out that another study from 2007 estimated that the state lost $8 billion of gross income in 2005. That’s a huge amount of income that is now beyond the reach of the state’s greedy politicians. Here’s a report from the New Jersey Business News:

More than $70 billion in wealth left New Jersey between 2004 and 2008 as affluent residents moved elsewhere, according to a report released Wednesday that marks a swift reversal of fortune for a state once considered the nation’s wealthiest. …The exodus of wealth…was a reaction to a series of changes in the state’s tax structure — including increases in the income, sales, property and “millionaire” taxes. …the report reinforces findings from a similar study he conducted in 2007 with fellow Rutgers professor Joseph Seneca, which found a sharp acceleration in residents leaving the state. That report, which focused on income rather than wealth, found the state lost nearly $8 billion in gross income in 2005. …Ken Hydock, a certified public accountant with Sobel and Company in Livingston, said in this 30-year-career he’s never seen so many of his wealthy clients leave for “purely tax reasons” for states like Florida, where property taxes are lower and there is no personal income or estate tax. In New Jersey, residents pay an estate tax if their assets amount to more than $675,000. That’s compared to a $3.5 million federal exemption for 2009. Several years ago, he recalled, one of his clients stood to make $60 million from stock options in a company that was being acquired by another. Before he cashed out, however, the client put his home up for sale, moved to Las Vegas, and “never stepped foot back in New Jersey again,” Hydock said. “He avoided paying about $6 million in taxes,” he said. “He passed away two years later and also saved a huge estate tax, so he probably saved $7 million.”

Still not convinced that high tax rates are causing wealth and income to escape from New Jersey? The Wall Street Journal wrote a very powerful editorial about the Boston College study, noting that New Jersey “…was once a fast-growing state but has now joined California and New York as high-tax, high-debt states with budget crises.” But the most powerful part of the editorial was this simple image. Prior to 1976, there was no state income tax in New Jersey. Now, by contrast, highly-productive people are getting fleeced by a 10.75 percent tax rate. No wonder so many of them are leaving.

Why National Democrats are Like Wile E. Coyote

Illinois state senator James Meeks, an African American Democrat and long-time opponent of school choice, just switched sides.

In doing so, he swells the small but growing ranks of Democrats in Florida, New Jersey, and the nation’s capital, among others, who support giving parents an easy choice between public and private schools.

Like Wile E. Coyote, national Democrats have run off a political cliff in their reflexive opposition to educational freedom.  And like Wile,  they’re experiencing a temporary suspension of the law of gravity – not yet suffering for their mistake.

But we all know that the cloud at Wile’s feet eventually dissipates, and he realizes that he’s no longer on solid ground. By then, it’s too late.

As someone much happier under divided government than one party rule, I hope national Democratic leaders get a clue, and notice that the’ve left solid ground on education. There is still time for Obama and company to make it back to the cliff’s edge, calling for the expansion rather than the termination of DC’s K-12 scholarship program, and voicing support for education tax credits at the state level, as many of the party’s state leaders have already done. 

States are going to continue passing and expanding private school choice programs with or without the support of national Democrats. If president Obama and friends continue clinging to the anvil of government schooling while that happens, we all know how it’s going to turn out.

Beep. Beep.

(HT: Alexander Russo)