Chris Christie Commutes Brian Aitken’s Sentence

Monday, December 20th, 2010

This is great news:

Brian Aitken, who was convicted of illegally possessing two handguns that he had legally purchased in Colorado, will be spending Christmas out of prison.

Gov. Chris Christie commuted Aitken’s sentence, from seven years to time served, according to an order the governor signed today.

Aitken had appealed to Christie for commutation after being sentenced in August. According to the commutation order, Aitken will be released as “soon administratively possible.”

I’m waiting to hear back from Aitken’s attorney and family about what exactly this means. It would be nice if the guy could get his record cleared completely. But getting him out of prison is obviously the most important thing. Good for Gov. Christie. Cases like this one are exactly what the pardon and clemency power is for.

My column on Aitken’s case here.

Digg it |  reddit |  del.icio.us |  Fark

47 Responses to “Chris Christie Commutes Brian Aitken’s Sentence”

  1. #1 |  Peter | 

    Wait, for once, a post here that doesn’t make me want to throw something across the room. Good for Aitken though.

  2. #2 |  Marty | 

    I’m developing a love/hate thing for Christie…

  3. #3 |  rsm | 

    @Marty

    Which is more than you can say for most politicians.

  4. #4 |  Jason | 

    Great, but should have been a full pardon.

  5. #5 |  John P. | 

    Regarding the original story of his arrest….

    I wonder if Momma will be calling the police for anything, anytime soon?

    Remember people, there is no situation on earth that cannot be made worse or more dangerous by the introduction of the police.

  6. #6 |  Pete | 

    @Marty – just think of him as a conservative. Ridiculous gun conviction? Commuted.

    People dying or in horrible debilitating pain, driving 90 miles for the only medicine that works and that they can afford? They are criminals. Seize them and their stuff, put a new cappuccino machine in the wardroom.

  7. #7 |  Dave Krueger | 

    #1 Peter

    Wait, for once, a post here that doesn’t make me want to throw something across the room. Good for Aitken though.

    My wife complains that I seem angry all the time. I tell her it’s all Radley Balko’s fault, but actually I’ve had a chip on my shoulder since I was about ten.

  8. #8 |  Dave Krueger | 

    I’m glad to hear that Aitken is getting out. You know, though, as utterly unjust and ridiculous as this case is, it is sad that it got as far as it did before someone stopped it. And it’s just as sad that it was by no means certain that Christie would do anything to help despite the ludicrous situation.

  9. #9 |  Kevin3% | 

    This is good news but I have some questions;
    How much did this whole ordeal cost Aitken’s, legal defense, loss of employment, gun confiscation?
    Does he now carry a felony record that would forever prohibit him from lawfully owning firearms?
    Does he get his guns back?
    Does his mother understand that she was the reason her son was put through the ringer?….and what does his family think of the “criminal justice” system now?
    Will he remain in that shithole, N.J. or will he leave?

  10. #10 |  J.S.Bridges | 

    Somewhat commendable on Christie’s part, but still insufficient…

    Considering that a) Aitken, by any reasonable reading of the facts, should never have been charged, much less actually tried or convicted, and b) the a**hole of a “judge” that presided over Aitken’s drumhead-trial railroading has already been dumped (by Christie, IIUC), what would be BARELY sufficient would be:

    1) A full pardon (thus restoring Aitken’s firearms-ownership rights – he presently remains a convicted felon, and cannot legally own or even hold and shoot a gun of any kind), followed by obliteration, to the greatest extent possible of any trace of his arrest, trial and conviction.

    2) Financial restitution of all lost wages and legal expenses incurred, with the costs shared by the arresting authority, the prosecutor’s office and that moronic “judge”.

    3) A humbly-phrased written apology to Aitken, signed by the arresting authority, the prosecutor and that “judge”, explicitly admitting to culpability in wrongfully arresting, charging and trying him.

    That would be BARELY enough…

  11. #11 |  Leonson | 

    His child is there, he’ll stay there.

  12. #12 |  JS | 

    Where was the ACLU, uh, I mean NRA?

  13. #13 |  Howlin' Hobbit | 

    I’m with Marty.

  14. #14 |  Audrey the Liberal | 

    First the repeal of “Don’t ask Don’t tell” and now this. I just know I’m gonna get a gut punch later this week.

  15. #15 |  Radley Balko | 

    I just know I’m gonna get a gut punch later this week.

    A couple, actually.

  16. #16 |  James | 

    Ha! Gut punch. Balko, the gift that keeps on giving.

  17. #17 |  The Mossy Spaniard | 

    @#10
    I have to believe that #3 on your list would be the most difficult for that crowd. It probably wouldn’t be the most satisfying thing to Aitken, but as for me I would love to own a framed copy of that letter.

  18. #18 |  Ian Argent | 

    Dunno about the ACLU, but per a post from Wayne LaPierre on the subject (sadly not linkable) the NRA kicked in to his appeal fund.

  19. #19 |  Aresen | 

    As others have said, it is half a loaf, but at least he is free.

  20. #20 |  TC | 

    It’s shit like this that makes for interesting lawsuits!

    Unfortunately they fark you over so bad all you can see the real solution in the 2nd amendment!

    Fark up their house for them.

    Ya know if you wreck my car, all I desire is for it to be fixed. If somebody crashes into the house with their car, I just want it made as whole as possible again and quickly.

    Why is it these law guys and girls are so farked up in the head they just can’t say, sorry, write a check and make you whole again? It is not a big deal!

    Really all you budding DA types and judges out there, when yo are wrong say so, correct the mistake as best as it can be corrected, make your VICTIM whole again and move on. The public will like you a whole lot better if you demonstrate that you are a decent human being than if you have a million convictions! See idiots what we desire is JUSTICE!!

  21. #21 |  André | 

    #6. “@Marty – just think of him as a conservative. Ridiculous gun conviction? Commuted. People dying or in horrible debilitating pain, driving 90 miles for the only medicine that works and that they can afford? They are criminals. Seize them and their stuff, put a new cappuccino machine in the wardroom.”

    I have no problem figuratively crucifying most politicians, just because most politicians have no real redeeming characteristics. If it’s possible for someone like Bob Barr to come around on marijuana, then Christie isn’t totally without hope.

  22. #22 |  Psion | 

    This is insufficient. I’m pleased the man is out of prison, but that’s only part of what he’s owed. Anything less than a *full pardon* and a public apology on behalf of the state is just an effort to sweep the problem under the rug. But that isn’t going to happen because the politicians involved presently have what they wanted: one more competent, respectable citizen stripped of his second amendment rights.

  23. #23 |  Phelps | 

    I agree that this is insufficient. Christie is doing a lot over the last few weeks to lose my admiration of him (and I’m further to the right that most of the libertarians here). Between the chicanery on medical pot to this chickenshit commutation (ensuring that Brian’s 2nd Amendment rights continue to be violated) I’m finding less and less reason to support him.

  24. #24 |  Elliot | 

    Time served means he’s a convicted felon who can never own a gun again. It would have cost nothing to make it a full pardon.

  25. #25 |  J.S. | 

    What I’ve read elsewhere, commuting the sentence means he can go on to appeal the conviction and get it tossed out completely.

  26. #26 |  E.M. | 

    Here’s a thought.
    Mr Aitken’s case is probably as close to a ‘good guy’ case as you’re going to see for quite a bit. Wouldn’t a full pardon limit or close his (and his lawyers’) possibilities for appeal on various (constitutional?) grounds? This way the lawyers can continue to use this sympathetic case as a battering ram and perhaps try for a pardon/expungement later.

    Note that Christie might not have anything to do with these actions. Indeed, he could have screwed the lawyers over by issueing a pardon unasked.

  27. #27 |  Kevin3% | 

    J.S. @25:

    Yeah that’s fucking great “commuting the sentence means he can go on to appeal the conviction and get it tossed out completely.”

    Read that as: HE CAN NOW GO SPEND ADDITIONAL TENS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS ON A CRAP-SHOOT TO SEE IF HE MIGHT BE MADE WHOLE.

    The only people who win are the fucking lawyers!

    Fuck Christie, Fuck N.J., Fuck the god damn pigs who made the arrest in the first place, Fuck the prosecutor for going through with the case, Fuck the stupid ass members of the jury and Fuck that judge!

    I am glad he is out of prison but that is only a small portion of what could be considered a remedy.

  28. #28 |  Z | 

    @ #6- right on to a point. As others have pointed out, a commutation still marks you as a criminal and will, should it become necessary, give the state an additional weapon against you down the line. Which is why gun nuts shouldn’t totally fall in love with “small government” Republicans yet. Guns to take out “very very urban” folk a la Steve King, sure. Guns to hold in porny poses to seem like big bad anti militia man, hey whatever gets you through the night. But at the end of the day, R’s love power and control as much as anyone else.

  29. #29 |  Gov. Christie commutes Brian Aitken sentence | 

    […] Balko has some of the first details. The gun-possession case aroused wide interest among blogs; we covered the story here, here and […]

  30. #30 |  Mike T | 

    If Christie would get tough with the police the way he was with the teachers, he’d be a shoe-in for 2012 or 2016.

  31. #31 |  Z | 

    #29- forget it. He’s a Republican. Schools are bad but cops and guns are good.

  32. #32 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    As my mother used to say “It’s a Christmas Fucking Miracle!”

  33. #33 |  Robert | 

    A note for the people that are saying “Shoulda been a full pardon!”

    A pardon requires that the convicted person admit that they were guilty and had done something wrong. Aitkens was not willing to do this. He asked for a commutation to get out of prison first, and then will work on an appeal of his conviction.

  34. #34 |  KristenS | 

    Well, that’s a start. He’s out of prison, but remains a convicted felon. As others have already mentioned, he can’t legally own or shoot guns, but my questions is: as a felon, how will that affect his ability to have custody/visitation with his kid? I bet that he has a tough time getting to see his child. Which was the whole point of him moving to fucking New Jersey in the first place.

  35. #35 |  Mannie | 

    @#4 | Jason | December 20th, 2010 at 9:13 pm
    > Great, but should have been a full pardon.

    Possibly Christie wants to leave it open so lawsuits can proceed. It would be better to have this travesty overthrown in the courts. That sets precedent, pardons don’t.

    One to continue watching.

  36. #36 |  Whim | 

    Gov. Christie did the right thing in commuting the sentence for this poor individual.

    The trial judge and prosecutor went out of their way to deny a fair trial to this young man.

    Hopefully, their careers in the Judicial system can be truncated.

  37. #37 |  KristenS | 

    Possibly Christie wants to leave it open so lawsuits can proceed

    And his kid will be out of college by the time that happens.

  38. #38 |  Joe | 

    Chris Christie shows why he is a great governor.

    Thank you for doing this.

  39. #39 |  Joe | 

    I would have pardoned Aitken, but commutation of his sentance is a very welcomed Christmas gift.

  40. #40 |  Joe | 

    “A pardon requires that the convicted person admit that they were guilty…”

    Is that true for New Jersey or for all pardons? I have not heard that before.

  41. #41 |  André | 

    I’d like to gripe about how his sentence was only commuted and the prosecutor/judge weren’t crucified, but Brian is out of jail and is going to remain so. That’s a victory no matter how you cut it.

  42. #42 |  Cynical in CA | 

    “I just know I’m gonna get a gut punch later this week.”

    #15 | Radley Balko — “A couple, actually.”

    When there’s an infinite supply, why hold back?

  43. #43 |  albatross | 

    Yeah, Gov. Christie did the right thing here. It’s pointless to complain that he’s not doing what we’d like in all cases–in this case, he used his powers to fix a genuine injustice. That’s a wonderful thing.

  44. #44 |  Mannie | 

    #37 | KristenS | December 21st, 2010 at 12:22 pm

    Possibly Christie wants to leave it open so lawsuits can proceed

    And his kid will be out of college by the time that happens.

    Sadly, true.

  45. #45 |  Gideon Darrow | 

    @ #33 Robert:

    “A pardon requires that the convicted person admit that they were guilty and had done something wrong.”

    I don’t think that’s true:

    “Authority: ***The power to pardon is vested in the Governor,*** except in cases of treason and impeachment. N.J. Const. art 5, § 2, cl.1.

    Process: The Governor may refer applications for pardon to the New
    Jersey State Parole Board for investigation and recommendation, N.J. Stat.
    Ann. § 2A:167-7, but ***the Board’s recommendation is not binding on the
    Governor.*** Zink v. Lear, 101 A.2d 72 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 1954).
    Parole Board composed of 15 members (and three alternatives) appointed
    by the Governor with the advice and consent of the Senate for six-year
    terms. All but the alternates serve on a full-time basis. N. J. Stat. Ann. §§
    30:4-123.47(a) – (c). All policies and decisions are by majority vote. §
    30:4-23.48(a). ***No regulations have been promulgated governing
    clemency applications.***

    Eligibility: ***No formal eligibility requirements***, except that federal
    offenders are not eligible for a gubernatorial pardon.”

    http://sentencingproject.org/doc/File/Collateral%20Consequences/NewJersey.pdf

    Granted, this is from 2007, but I doubt the law’s changed that much in 3 years.

  46. #46 |  markm | 

    It would be silly to give the governor authority to issue a full pardon in a case of wrongful conviction, but only if the pardonee admits guilt. Christie could have granted a full pardon. But because that would render all appeals related to the case moot, he should have done this only if Aitkens preferred it to appealing the conviction.

    OTOH, if he didn’t ask Aitkens which he preferred, that makes Christie half an a**hole.

  47. #47 |  Ian Argent | 

    It is my understanding that Mr. Aitken sought a commutation; and the “admission of guilt” for a pardon is the result of court precedents, not statute law.

Leave a Reply