Brian Aitken's mistake: an outrageous gun prosecution in New Jersey.

Author:Balko, Radley
Position:Columns - Column

SUE AITKEN called the police because she was worried about her son Brian. She now lives with the guilt of knowing her phone call is the reason Brian wound up sitting in a New Jersey prison. If it weren't for a commutation of his sentence from the governor's mansion, he would be stuck there for the next seven years.

Aitken was sentenced in August for felony possession of a handgun. Before his arrest, Aitken, the owner of a media consulting business, had no criminal record. By all appearances he made a good-faith effort to comply with the stringent New Jersey gun laws that eventually proved his undoing. Even the jurors who convicted him seem to have been looking for a reason to acquit Aitken. But the judge gave them little choice.

Aitken, born and raised in New Jersey, moved to Colorado several years ago. In Colorado he married the woman who is now his ex-wife, who was also originally from New Jersey. The two had a son together. When the marriage dissolved, Aitken's wife and infant son moved back to New Jersey. Aitken then also moved back to be closer to his son. Beginning in late 2008, he took the first of several trips between the two states, a process that involved selling his house in Colorado, moving his possessions across the country, and finding a job and new residence. Until he could find an apartment, he stored his belongings at his parents' home in Burlington County, New Jersey.

In December 2008, Aitken made a final trip back to Colorado to collect the last of his possessions, including three handguns he had legally purchased in Colorado--transactions that required him to pass a federal background check. Before leaving Colorado, Aitken researched and printed out New Jersey and federal gun laws to be sure he moved his firearms

legally. Richard Gilbert, Aitken's trial attorney, says Aitken also called New Jersey State Police to get advice on how to legally transport his guns, although Burlington County Superior Court Judge James Morley didn't allow testimony about that phone call at Aitken's trial.

Aitken's legal troubles began in January 2009, when he drove to his parents' house to pick up some of his belongings. He had grown distraught over tensions with his ex-wife, who according to Aitken had refused to let him see his son. When Aitken visited his parents' house, his mother grew worried about his mental state and called 9zI.When police arrived at her home, Sue Aitken told them her concerns, and they called Brian, who was then en...

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