Gov. Christie on Thursday pardoned a Philadelphia woman who had faced up to five years in prison for bringing into the state a gun that was legally registered in Pennsylvania but not in New Jersey.
Shaneen Allen admitted during a traffic stop on the Atlantic City Expressway that she had the firearm in her purse.
Allen, 27, a phlebotomist, was indicted after her Oct. 1, 2013, arrest on charges of illegally bringing a concealed weapon into the state, and in September agreed to enter a pretrial intervention program. The program would have required her to give up her .380 caliber Bersa Thunder and complete 25 hours of community service to avoid jail time.
Allen, who said she worked odd hours collecting blood samples from medical patients, contended she legally purchased the gun after being robbed and beaten twice in her South Philadelphia neighborhood.
The Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office originally denied the woman an opportunity to enter the diversionary program, indicating it wanted to use the case as a deterrent for people bringing guns not registered in New Jersey into the state.
New Jersey's gun laws - considered among the strictest by national standards - require that even weapons duly registered in the state be transported unloaded and locked in the vehicle's trunk.
The pardon by Christie was likely to burnish his conservative credentials as he weighs a presidential run.
The governor's action quickly drew praise from the National Rifle Association.
"This ends a vulgar chapter in an endless series of shameful episodes where political opportunists seek nothing but their own advantage," Wayne LaPierre, the CEO of the gun-rights lobby, said in a Facebook post. "I compliment Gov. Christie for doing the right thing."
At a recent town hall-style meeting, Christie said that the Democratic majority in the Legislature was an impediment to changes to the state's gun laws and that he would use executive tools, such as pardons, where he could.
In 2010, he commuted the seven-year sentence of a man found with guns he had legally bought in Colorado.
When Allen was stopped by a state trooper in Hamilton Township, Atlantic County, for an alleged illegal lane change, she voluntarily told the officer that she had the gun - which was loaded with hollow-point bullets - in her possession in the car.
Allen spent 40 days in the Atlantic County jail before posting bail on the charges.
Atlantic County Prosecutor Jim McClain said he was following a 2008 directive that he said expanded the state's Graves Act and did not allow for pretrial intervention. The Graves Act provides for mandatory minimum sentences for firearms offenses.
But Allen's lawyer, Evan Nappen of Eatontown, a noted gun-law attorney, argued in several court hearings that the mother of two - whose young son was in the vehicle when they were stopped on their way to Shore to celebrate the child's birthday - should not be "turned into a felon and sent to state prison to have her life destroyed because she made a mistake and committed a victimless crime."
On Thursday, Nappen said he and Allen were happy about Christie's action, which awarded her a "full and free pardon" for all criminal charges and indictments arising from the arrest. The pardon also expunges her record and would allow her to become a gun owner once again.
"This whole matter has held her back," Nappen said Thursday, noting that the arrest had prevented Allen from getting a job.
Nappen said that while the case was unfortunate for his client - whose plight motivated individuals from across the country to contribute tens of thousands of dollars to a defense fund - it pushed the review of nearly 100 similar cases pending in New Jersey and elsewhere.
"Hundreds of folks were helped by her case," Nappen said, calling the matter "absurd."
Throughout Allen's 18-month ordeal, gun-law advocates and domestic violence groups tried to draw parallels between her case and another high-profile Atlantic County case.
McClain was criticized for perceived leniency for NFL star Ray Rice, who was allowed to enter a pretrial intervention program in an attack on his then-fiancée in an Atlantic City casino hotel that was captured on surveillance video inside an elevator.
In the video, Rice appears to punch the woman, who would become his wife, with such force that she is knocked to the ground. He is then seen dragging her, unconscious, out of the elevator and down a casino hotel hallway.
Rice did not use a gun in the beating, which occurred inside the now-closed Revel Casino Hotel about a year ago, and prosecutors denied that the football star had been granted any special courtesy when he was allowed to enter the pretrial program.
In September, following an investigation into the Allen case, the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General issued to McClain its own clarification of the Graves Act directive, noting that "imprisonment is neither necessary nor appropriate to serve the interests of justice and protect public safety" in such cases as Allen's.