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Innocent Violation of Strict New Jersey Gun Laws

New Jersey is known for having some of the strictest gun laws in the United States. The New Jersey Legislature believes that stringent gun laws are necessary to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, however these laws lack nuance and end up incriminating law-abiding men and women, especially veterans of the United States armed forces, who have legally obtained weapons in other states but unknowingly break the law by bringing them home in New Jersey. Two veterans, Sergeant Joseph Snuffy and Airman Staff Sergeant Fred Flyboy, demonstrate the need for a measured and reasonable response in dealing with innocent gun law violations.  New Jersey’s gun laws must be amended to account for the history and needs of U.S. veterans.  The experienced attorneys at Thomas Roughneen and Associates have represented them and veterans like them in fighting criminal charges for innocent violations of New Jersey’s tough gun laws.

Airman Staff Sergeant Fred Flyboy was a combat veteran in the United States Air Force from 2008 until 2014, when he was honorably discharged. He received training in combat operations, survival, parachuting, and served with valor despite harsh and dangerous conditions. His dedication and outstanding performance allowed him to rise through the ranks.  He earned the Air Force Expeditionary Service Ribbon, two Global War on Terrorism medals, a Good Conduct Medal, and other distinctions before retiring as a Staff Sergeant. After leaving the Air Force, he continued to serve the community by volunteering with a special needs softball league, and those that knew him characterized him as honest, kind, caring, and respectful.

Due to the trauma incurred throughout his years in the Air Force, however, Airman Staff Sergeant Flyboy was diagnosed with PTSD, depressive disorder, and insomnia.  In 2018, after his mental health issues had induced his employers to begin the process of taking back his assigned work dog, he became suicidal and threatened to kill himself.  His mother called the police department, and the police recovered an AR-15 rifle, eleven 30-round magazines, and three 17-round glock handgun magazines. The gun and accessories are illegal in New Jersey, but Staff Sergeant Flyboy obtained them legally during his service in Washington state and, unfamiliar with New Jersey’s gun laws, did not think twice about bringing them home, where he kept them locked away in a box containing his military gear. Airman Staff Sergeant Flyboy was given a second degree charge for possession of the rifle and a fourth degree charge for possession of a prohibited weapon or device, large capacity ammunition magazine. Staff Sergeant Flyboy was admitted to a VA inpatient mental health program and later, a VA Post Traumatic Stress Disorder inpatient program. Airman Staff Sergeant Flyboy was never a threat to others, and thanks to his ongoing mental health treatment, is no longer a threat to himself.

Due to Airman Staff Sergeant Flyboy’s years of service, history of mental illness, and the benign nature of his offenses, as well as the representation he received from Citizen Soldier Law, the prosecutor granted his request for pre-trial intervention. Rather than go to prison, he will continue to receive mental health treatment and the offense will be removed from his record. He will be given the chance to recover from a single mistake stemming from simply being unaware of a complex state law, and at last be treated as an individual worthy of second chances.

Another veteran faced with a similar problem was Sergeant Joseph Snuffy, a veteran of the United States Army who served eleven years on active duty in Oklahoma, Texas, and Colorado and was deployed in Iraq three times. He received the Combat Infantryman Badge, two Army Commendation Medals, and one Army Commendation Medal with a “V” for Valor. However, his service left him with severe PTSD, leaving him permanently disabled and precipitating the decision to grant him an honorable discharge in 2014.

After Sergeant Joseph Snuffy was discharged from the army, he returned to New Jersey with his wife and daughter where he began a stable career in elevator maintenance. Several months later, a verbal altercation ensued between Sergeant Snuffy and his wife. The police were called and a temporary restraining order was issued. Later, Sergeant Snuffy’s wife testified that she never felt threatened in Sergeant Snuffy’s presence, and a judge dismissed the restraining order. The tension between Sergeant Snuffy and his wife was resolved, and the pair could have moved on. However, Sergeant Snuffy had purchased several firearms while on duty in Oklahoma, Texas, and Colorado, and one of them, unbeknownst to him, they were illegal in New Jersey. Furthermore, he did not have a New Jersey Firearms Identification card, and none of the weapons were registered in New Jersey. Sergeant Snuffy was charged with unlawful possession of a machine gun, a handgun, and an assault firearm, three second degree charges, as well as unlawful possession of a rifle without a Firearms Identification Card, a third degree charge.

However, due to Sergeant Joseph Snuffy’s wartime experiences, mental health needs, and history of responsible gun ownership, the prosecutor’s office agreed to our law firm’s request for pre-trial intervention. Sergeant Joseph Snuffy was able to continue to receive mental health treatment, and while he was monitored by the court, his life was allowed to continue. Like Airman Staff Sergeant Fred Flyboy, his offense was removed from his record upon completion of PTI.

Both Sergeant Joseph Snuffy and Sergeant and Airman Staff Sergeant Fred Flyboy were men that did almost everything right. They boast distinguished careers from the United States military, and after returning home, each continued to serve their families and communities. Although ignorance is not an excuse for breaking the law, lawmakers and prosecutors must understand that everyone makes mistakes, and a single mistake stemming from simply being unaware of a complex state law should not devastate a person’s life. Pre-trial intervention is an appropriate response to an offense like unintentionally bringing a weapon that is illicit in New Jersey across state borders, and Thomas Roughneen and Associates has the resources and experience in fighting for PTI for any veteran that needs it.

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