N.J. high court tosses gun charges

Posted: March 30, 2012

A man who bought guns legally in Colorado - but was arrested and slapped with a seven-year prison sentence for not having a permit to carry them in New Jersey - had two of the three charges filed against him overturned by the state Supreme Court on Friday.

Brian Aitken was arrested on Jan. 2, 2009 after he angrily left his mother's house in Mount Laurel, N.J., and she called police, fearing that her son was suicidal after his ex-wife canceled his visitation session with their son, according to court documents.

When he returned to her house and assured police that he was not suicidal, a state trooper searched his car and found three locked and unloaded guns, hollow nosed bullets and large capacity magazines in the trunk.

Aitken, who was in the process of moving from Colorado to New Jersey to be closer to his son, was going through a divorce and had recently lost his job. He told police he forgot the guns were in the car.

He was sentenced on Aug. 27, 2010 to seven years in prison for the weapons offenses - three of which were to be served without the possibility of parole because of The Graves Act, which imposes a mandatory minimum for gun possession charges in New Jersey.

He spent four months in the Mid-State Correctional Facility in Wrightstown before Gov. Chris Christie commuted Aitken's sentence, said Evan Nappen, Aitken's attorney who called his arrest and legal battle to clear his name "a perfect storm of injustice."

The court overturned Aitken's convictions of illegally carrying a firearm and carrying a large capacity ammunition magazine, and concluded that the search of Aitken's car stemmed from an officer responding to a call concerning his mental well-being - not because of a suspicion of criminal activity.

However, the court upheld Aitken's conviction for illegally carrying hollow-nosed bullets.

State law allows for hollow-nosed bullets to be stored in people's homes, but they can only be transported by someone traveling directly to an authorized location for hunting, target practice or shooting exhibitions, according to the New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety.

"I'm pretty confident that we're going to see if we can take that issue up another notch because it just doesn't make sense," Nappen said.

Contact Phillip Lucas at 215-854-5914 or lucasp@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @UnPhiltered. Read his blog, Philly Confidential at www.phillyconfidential.com

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