Philly mom, Shaneen Allen, did a happy dance outside a New Jersey court Thursday morning after an Atlantic County prosecutor relented in her controversial gun-carrying case, allowing her to enter the same pretrial intervention program offered to former NFL star Ray Rice in his domestic abuse case.
"The last year has been hell for me. Insomnia, depression," said Allen, a 27-year-old mother of two who spent 46 days in a New Jersey jail -- and was facing up to 10 years in prison -- after crossing into the state with a handgun that she had a permit to carry in her home state of Pennsylvania. Her case raised questions of fairness and preferential treatment as well as a review of state law after people learned that the same prosecutor and judge who denied leniency in her case, allowed Rice to avoid jail time by entering the pretrial program. Rice was charged after punching his fiancée in an elevator at the Revel Casino, knocking her unconscious.
"There is no explanation. I did nothing wrong, other than a simple mistake," Allen said.
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On October 1, 2013, Allen was pulled over in Atlantic County for a routine traffic stop. When the officer approached her vehicle, she informed him that she had a handgun in the car and presented her concealed carry permit for Pennsylvania. Allen quickly learned that her Pennsylvania gun license held no legal weight in New Jersey when instead of getting a traffic ticket, she was arrested and charged with unlawful possession of a weapon and armor penetrating bullets.
Records show the director of Atlantic County’s Pretrial Intervention recommended Allen for the program, but prosecutor Jim McClain and Superior Court Judge Michael Donio denied Allen’s acceptance into PTI.
After the controversy made headlines, McClain asked Judge Donio for time to review the case.
On Wednesday, the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office released a clarification of the 2008 "Graves Act" directive, which deals with incidents in which out-of-state residents who hold a valid permit to carry a firearm in their home state are arrested in New Jersey and charged with illegal possession of a firearm under New Jersey law.
According to the clarification a defendant may "avoid conviction for a Graves Act crime by being admitted to the PTI program." The clarification also states that under New Jersey law prosecutors are "not permitted to reject categorically a defendant's application for PTI on the grounds that he or she is charged with a crime that is subject to the presumption of imprisonment or a mandatory minimum sentence."
Upon reviewing the clarification, McClain allowed Allen to enter the PTI program. If she completes it, her charges will be dropped.
"Life definitely begins for me today," Allen said. "I'm giving them depression pills back!" She is also entertaining the idea of becoming an advocate for people in similar circumstances.
"I know young ladies and young men going through the same thing. They lost jobs, some are in jail," Allen said. "I'm not just doing it for me. I'm doing it for all the Shaneen Allens out there so this never happens again."
Allen, who broke down in court Thursday, hugged her sons, 11 and 3, outside of court. Despite how much she loves Jersey, Allen said she won't be back anytime soon.