MAYS LANDING, N.J. - The words common sense were mentioned quite a bit during Shaneen Allen's hearing yesterday in Atlantic County Superior Court.
Allen, 27, cried for a moment in the hallway with her son Naiare and his father after a judge denied her motion to dismiss weapons charges filed against her in October and refused to overturn a prosecutor's decision to deny her entry into a first-time-offender diversion program.
So Allen walked back into court, turned down a plea deal that would have given her a 3 1/2-year sentence and decided to go to trial in October, hoping a jury would use some common sense and not send a working mother of two to prison for not knowing New Jersey's gun laws.
"There is no public need to prosecute Shaneen Allen. I'm sure the public is just begging for Shaneen Allen to go to jail," her attorney, Evan Nappen, argued sarcastically to Judge Michael Donio.
Allen, who has no criminal record, was pulled over by New Jersey State Police on Oct. 1 while driving to Atlantic City with the father of her sons. She told the officer that she had a license-to-carry permit in Pennsylvania and had her .380 Bersa Thunder in her pocketbook.
New Jersey does not recognize any other state's license-to-carry permit, and Allen was arrested and charged with unlawful possession of a weapon and possession of hollow-point bullets. She faces a mandatory minimum of 3 1/2 years in prison.
Her story has garnered national attention, and Nappen says it's proof that New Jersey's gun laws are "out of control." Gun-control advocates say there's a positive side to all the attention Allen's case has received.
"Fortunately, the notoriety of this case will make it less likely Pennsylvanians will carry concealed and loaded handguns in New Jersey, thereby making them and the Garden State safer from gun violence," said Bryan Miller, executive director of Heeding God's Call, a faith-based movement to prevent gun violence.
Donio said Nappen's argument that Allen's gun possession fell under a 180-day New Jersey amnesty period was "ridiculous," but said she could appeal the denial of her Graves Act waiver - if she pleaded guilty or was later found guilty. The Graves Act requires mandatory-minimum sentences in firearms-possession cases.
Allen's trial is scheduled for Oct. 6.