Brian Aitken

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Brian Aitken is a Webby Award nominated marketing consultant, entrepreneur,[1] and writer[2] whose work has appeared across hundreds of networks including FOX, Huffington Post, Forbes, Mediaite, and BuzzFeed.[3] In 2009 he was arrested and later imprisoned for possession of handguns legally purchased in Colorado and transported in New Jersey from one residence to another. His case has become a battleground for gun control advocates and opponents alike after he was sentenced to seven years in prison.[4]

On 20 December 2010, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed a letter ordering the immediate release of Aitken from Mid-State Correctional Facility.[5] For about a year, from January 2011 through January 2012, Aitken was the Director of New Media for America's oldest free market organization, the Foundation for Economic Education[6] and has spoken openly about freedom and liberty.[7][8]

On March 30, 2012 two of the three convictions were overturned by the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division and on April 4, 2012 the State of New Jersey dismissed the outstanding charge of 'Illegal Possession of Firearms'.

Four years after Governor Christie issued Aitken Executive Clemency, Aitken crowdfunded over $40,000 to write his memoir by pre-selling over one-thousand copies of his to-be-released book.[9] Funding from the Indiegogo campaign also went towards petitioning the United States Supreme Court and towards the effort of getting custody of his son back.[10]

Background[edit]

A digital media entrepreneur,[11] Aitken has partnered with companies like Patrón, Gibson Guitars, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW [1] and received his executive education from the NYU Stern School of Business. His website displayed blog entries dating up until two days prior to his incarceration.[12]

Aitken was born in Pennsylvania and moved to Colorado where he married a fellow New Jersey émigré and became a legal resident. After his divorce, he returned to New Jersey where he had attended college to be near his young son and other family members. During the course of his move back to New Jersey he made several trips by commercial airline to and from Colorado. Prior to the last trip he sought clearance from the United States Department of Homeland Security Transportation Security Administration to transport three handguns in his checked luggage. This clearance was granted.[13]

Arrest[edit]

On January 2, 2009 Aitken's mom dialed 911 while Aitken was packing his car to move to Hoboken.[13] His mom hung-up the phone before the call was answered. The Mount Laurel Police Department responded to an abandoned 911 call to find that Aitken had said he "didn't see the point in being here if he couldn't see [his] son". This vague comment relayed to the police caused them to call Aitken on his cell phone to determine his 'state of mind'.[14] Aitken told the officers he was not suicidal at which point Officer Michael Joy asked Aitken to return to Mount Laurel. Aitken asked if he was legally required to return to which Officer Joy responded that he did not have to return to Mount Laurel. Aitken thanked Officer Joy and stated that he would not be returning, however, minutes later Officer Joy made another call to Aitken notifying him that a 'General Alert' had been issued to New Jersey jurisdictions and that the Police would "pick him up" and "bring him back" if he did not return on his own. Officer Joy testified at trial that Aitken was "not free to leave until we're through with the matter" despite the fact that Aitken had not been charged with, or suspected of committing, a crime.[14][dead link] The coercive nature of the second phone call to Aitken and Officer Joy's subsequent actions have been cited by many as a breach of Aitken's rights under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Fearing a manhunt, Aitken returned to Mount Laurel and the responding officers searched Aitken's car and discovered three locked and unloaded handguns in the trunk. Aitken was subsequently arrested for possession of these weapons and was sentenced to seven years in prison by Judge James Morley.[15] Judge Morley's decision not to provide information to the jury regarding exceptions to New Jersey's relatively strict firearm possession laws became a source of controversy.[13] Gun laws in the United States vary widely by state and require expert knowledge to understand the differences.[4]

During the jury instructions, Judge Morley did not charge the jury with the exemptions to the New Jersey law despite arguments by the defense that Aitken met one of the exemptions and was therefore innocent of the charges. The jury returned three times requesting to be made aware of the laws that provide exemptions for lawful possession; however, all three requests were denied by the judge.[13] One of the jury requests read:

"Why did you make us aware at the start of the trial that the law allows a person to carry a weapon if the person is moving or going to a shooting range, and during the trial both the defense and prosecution presented testimony as to whether or not the defendant was in the process of moving, and then in your charge for us to deliberate we are not permitted to take into consideration whether or not we believe the defendant was moving?"[16]

In an interview with ABC News, Joel Bewley, a spokesman for the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office, stated:

"The defendant's attorneys presented evidence that his house was for sale and that at the time of arrest he was travelling from one residence in New Jersey to another."[17]

Roughly a week after Aitken's trial the presiding judge, James Morley, became one of only two sitting judges not reappointed to their life-term by Governor Chris Christie. Morley insists he was kicked off the bench unfairly[18] after he acquitted a Moorestown, NJ police officer of animal cruelty charges after the officer molested several calves. That police officer, Robert Melia, was later convicted of 22 unrelated charges including sexual assault, endangering the welfare of a child and official misconduct.[19]

Release[edit]

An appeal for clemency from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was filed by family and friends of Aitken.[20] On December 20, 2010, Governor Christie signed a letter ordering his release from Mid-State Correctional Facility. On the morning of December 21, 2010, Brian Aitken was released to his family.[5] He has since announced that he intends to file a 42 USC 1983 Deprivation of Civil Rights lawsuit against the police officers, the prosecutor and the judge to hold them accountable for their actions[21] Aitken's lawyer, Michael Orozco, sent letters to the Mount Laurel Police Department and the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office to notify them that they would be sued for their behavior in the case, which Orozco claims violated Aitken’s civil rights.[22]

On April 8, 2011 the Sam Adams Alliance, a conservative activist group, awarded Aitken $10,000 as part of their Sammies Awards. Aitken was recognized for "making a courageous stand against New Jersey's draconian gun laws".[23]

Appeal[edit]

On March 30, 2012 the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division overturned Brian Aitken's conviction of 'Illegal Possession of Firearms' and acquitted him of the 'Illegal Possession of High Capacity Magazines' charge. The conviction of 'Illegal Possession of Hollow-point Ammunition' was upheld on the basis that the exemptions to the charge do not specifically allow for an individual to transport the ammunition from one house to another while moving.[14][dead link][24]

On April 4, 2012 Burlington County Prosecutor Robert Bernardi delivered a Motion and Order for Nolle Prosequi to dismiss the overturned charge of 'Illegal Possession of Firearms'. In part, the Order read:1

"Based upon the Appellate Division decision and the gubernatorial commutation the State believes that it would be a waste of both judicial and prosecutorial resources and contrary to the interests of justice to further pursue count one of this indictment. For that reason, the State requests that count one of this indictment be dismissed." [25]

Aitken's attorney, Evan Nappen, stated that he may ask the Supreme Court to review the remaining conviction in the case.[26]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Brian D. Aitken's website". Thinking Differently: Digital Media Strategy. Retrieved 29 July 2012. 
  2. ^ "VICE: My Life as a Convicted Felon". My Life as a Convicted Felon. Retrieved 18 April 2014. 
  3. ^ "Brian Aitken's Website". Brian Aitken's Website. Retrieved 18 April 2014. 
  4. ^ a b Miller, Joshua Rhett (2 December 2010). "New Jersey Gun Case Exposes 'Patchwork' of State Laws, Experts Say". FOX News (New York: News Corporation). FOXNews.com. Archived from the original on 29 July 2012. Retrieved 29 July 2012. 
  5. ^ a b www.philly.com/dailynews/breaking/news/20101220_Christie_frees_man_in_gun_case.html.
  6. ^ www.pitchengine.com/brian-aitken-announces-new-position-with-liberty-think-tank/120538.[dead link]
  7. ^ studentsforliberty.org/news/brian-aitken-the-2011-international-sfl-conference.
  8. ^ articles.philly.com/2011-02-12/news/28530840_1_hoboken-tea-party-politics.
  9. ^ "Help me publish my book, take my case to the Supreme Court, and get my son back". Help me publish my book, take my case to the Supreme Court, and get my son back. Retrieved 18 April 2014. 
  10. ^ "Brian Aitken Crowdfunding Campaign Closes $40,000 Intends to Petition Supreme Court". Brian Aitken Crowdfunding Campaign Closes $40,000 Intends to Petition Supreme Court. Retrieved 18 April 2014. 
  11. ^ briandaitken.com/2010/01/entrepreneur-growth-2-0-conference-miami.[dead link]
  12. ^ briandaitken.com/category/press.[dead link]
  13. ^ a b c d Balko, Radley (15 November 2010). "Brian Aitken's Mistake". "Reason Online" (Los Angeles: Reason Foundation). Reason.com: 1. Archived from the original on 29 July 2012. Retrieved 29 July 2012. 
  14. ^ a b c New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division. "NJ Appellate Court Docket # a0467-10" (PDF). Judiciary.state.nj.us/opinions/. Trenton: State of New Jersey. [dead link]
  15. ^ "Family: New Jersey man serving 7 years for guns he owned legally". Philadelphia Daily News. November 30, 2010. Retrieved January 18, 2013. 
  16. ^ www.nationalreview.com/articles/258108/false-imprisonment-robert-verbruggen?page=2.
  17. ^ abcnews.go.com/US/brian-aitken-jersey-gun-charge-commuted-gov-chris/story?id=12448867.
  18. ^ "Former N.J. judge not reappointed by Gov. Christie says he was kicked off bench unfairly". Former N.J. judge not reappointed by Gov. Christie says he was kicked off bench unfairly. Retrieved 18 April 2014. 
  19. ^ "Robert Melia, Moorestown Cop, Guilty of Sex Crimes". Robert Melia, Moorestown Cop, Guilty of Sex Crimes. Retrieved 18 April 2014. 
  20. ^ www.philly.com/dailynews/local/111025129.html.
  21. ^ video.foxnews.com/v/4583841/pardoned-dad-fights-for-custody-of-his-son.
  22. ^ dailycaller.com/2011/03/09/brian-aitken-to-file-suit-against-new-jersey-officials-for-civil-rights-violations.
  23. ^ www.samadamsalliance.org/programs/sammies/the-winners.aspx.
  24. ^ "State of New Jersey v. Brian D. Aitken" (PDF). 
  25. ^ [1]
  26. ^ [2][dead link]