Man Sues New Jersey for $150,000 for Wrongful BB Gun Conviction
A Middlesex County man who spent three years in prison for a BB gun possession conviction is now suing New Jersey for $150,000 after the Appellate Division overturned his conviction.
Eight years ago, Jason Patterson was stopped by Metuchen police officers for allegedly committing a traffic violation. During the traffic stop, one of the officers observed suspected marijuana, syringes, and 12 folds of heroin inside Patterson’s vehicle. Police subsequently arrested Patterson, searched his Jeep before obtaining a warrant to do so, and found a BB gun in the rear cargo area of the vehicle. Eventually, Patterson was convicted on a BB gun possession charge and sentenced to three years in NJ State Prison.
However, in December 2014, the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey overturned the conviction. This came after Patterson had served his three-year prison sentence. According to the Appellate Division, anything found during the search, which the Metuchen officers later said was to “protect the safety of others” because the vehicle had to be towed, should have been ruled inadmissible at trial. (The court did allow for an exception for the items in a visible area of the vehicle.) The court said that the police officers’ flimsy excuse of needing to search the Jeep before having it towed didn’t hold up because “nothing needed to be done to prepare the car for towing.” The court further determined that the officers should have obtained a warrant before conducting the search. Moreover, noted the court, obtaining the warrant should have been easy because the search happened during normal business hours and “just feet from the police department.”
After his conviction was overturned, Patterson sued the state for a sum that included $50,000 for each year he spent behind bars, as authorized by New Jersey law.
This case demonstrates the severity of New Jersey’s gun laws – even when the firearm involved in the offense is only a BB gun. In addition to handguns, rifles, shotguns, and machine guns, the definition of a firearm under New Jersey Law also includes “without limitation, any firearm which is in the nature of an air gun, spring gun or pistol or other weapon of a similar nature in which the propelling force is a spring, elastic band, carbon dioxide, compressed or other gas or vapor, air or compressed air, or is ignited by compressed air, and ejecting a bullet or missile smaller than three-eighths of an inch in diameter, with sufficient force to injure a person.” N.J.S.A. 2C:39-1(f). Accordingly, possession of a BB gun subjects a person to being charged with unlawful possession of a weapon pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5. If the BB gun is in the form of a handgun, then it will be classified as a third degree crime, punishable by 3-5 years in state prison.
Man Exonerated of Illegal BB Gun Conviction Middlesex County NJ
If you have been charged with the unlawful possession of a weapon, contact the New Jersey gun law attorneys at the Tormey Law Firm today to learn about the charge, the potential consequences, and your available defense strategies.