The Philadelphia mother whose case brought national attention to New Jersey’s gun laws was allowed into pretrial intervention Thursday, after a clarification from the state attorney general changed the prosecutor’s stance.
“I have no words for how I feel,” Shaneen Allen said outside the courtroom. “I won’t be going to jail and can stay home with my kids and get back to my life.”
That includes finding work after losing her three jobs as a result of a felony charge hanging over her head.
Now, she wants to head to nursing school — a plan detoured after she was arrested and jailed for 46 days after she was stopped on the Atlantic City Expressway with her gun
Allen appeared briefly before Superior Court Judge Michael Donio, who formally put on record that she had been entered into PTI, and that all motions have been withdrawn and all pending court dates — including an Oct. 20 trial — suspended.
The 27-year-old mother of two was heading to Harrah’s Atlantic City on Oct. 1 when she was pulled over on the Atlantic City Expressway in Hamilton Township. She was arrested after telling the state trooper she had her gun and a concealed carry permit with her. She said she did not know about the law in New Jersey, where average citizens are not allowed to carry concealed weapons, even if they are legally registered.
Atlantic County Prosecutor Jim McClain originally denied entry into the PTI program, citing the Graves Act, which increases penalties for gun charges in the state. He said cases concerning out-of-state legal gun owners coming into New Jersey illegally is so common that, if the Legislature had intended an exemption, it would have put one in.
On Wednesday, Attorney General John Hoffman clarified the 2008 directive that had increased the legislation’s scope, saying that PTI would be appropriate in most of these cases.
The clarification caused McClain to reverse his decision. He also said he would review similar cases that are pending.
But it was unclear whether those that had already gone through the system — some of which resulted in prison time — would be able to be reviewed.
“I fought for myself and my kids, but I also did it for those other people in jail right now, or who have gone through court,” Allen said. “Their cases need to be relooked at.”
She estimated about 25 people have told her they were afraid to take their fight public in similar cases.
“I want to be an advocate and help those going through this and to let them know it’s going to be OK,” Allen said.
She said she stayed at Harrah’s on Wednesday night, thinking how much had changed since she was on her way there last year to prepare for her son’s third birthday party. Now, he is getting ready to turn 4.
Since then, thousands of people now know who she is. She’s made a lot of friends, she said. But she also has had some scares. Recently, she said, a man showed up at her home after Googling her address.
There have been bulletin boards related to her cause and even a GoGetFunding.com account for her legal fees that had collected nearly $66,000 with 19 days to go Thursday. That’s more than 2½ times the original $25,000 goal.
Her attorney, Evan Nappen, said he would have to see where they are with her bills before knowing how much may be remaining and what would happen to the additional money.
“This is a benchmark, but it’s not the end,” said Nappen, an NRA lawyer.
Allen will serve one year under PTI, with requirements that include 24 hours of community service. She said she would like to do that at a blood bank or hospital. She previously worked as a phlebotomist and medical assistant.
It is unlikely she will get the weapon she surrendered back. As a part of PTI, she also had to turn in her gun permits.
But, she can expunge her record within about six months after she successfully completes PTI, and then would be able to reapply for a gun permit, which she said she wants to do.
“I never expected all this from Day 1, when I came to this courtroom for the first time by myself,” she said of the support her case garnered.
Now, after applying for unemployment for the first time in her life, she’s ready to get things back in order: “All I needed was the stress off my back.”
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