New Jersey is well known to have some of the strictest gun laws in the United States. Get caught with a BB gun that you didn’t register with the state (you read that right: You have to register BB guns), and you could go to jail for three years or more. Philadelphia mom Shaneen Allen found out just how tough those laws were when she narrowly escaped jail time after bringing her legally registered gun into New Jersey. And now we’re learning about a 24-year-old New Jersey man having his own battle with the system.
Steffon Josey has launched a Change.org petition asking New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to pardon him, after Josey pleaded guilty in 2014 to a gun charge that he says amounted to a simple mistake. (Philadelphia magazine has verified that Josey has no previous criminal record.) Now, we see a lot of Change.org petitions, many of which fizzle out before even getting started. But in Josey’s case, he’s amassed more than 60,000 signatures in just three weeks. We got him on the phone on Thursday morning to let him explain for himself.
What happened on September 20, 2013, that led to where we are today?
I worked for an armored truck company, and I was getting ready for work. I got my completely legal firearm out of the safe, and I grabbed my bulletproof vest. And then I went down to the garage to get in the car and leave.
I put the vest on the front seat of the car, and then I realized that my little sister — she’s 6 — had come down from her bedroom and into the garage. I guess she heard the garage door open and wanted to say bye to me. And so I quickly placed the firearm in the glove compartment. I didn’t want her to see it. Then I took her back up to her bedroom and said goodbye to her and then quickly left for work. I was running late.
With the gun still in the glove compartment.
Right. I completely forgot I had the firearm in the glove compartment. Normally, I keep it in the trunk, where it’s legal. Well, I’m driving down the road, doing the limit, and I see these police officers sitting there. I make eye contact, and 10 seconds later, they are following me. It turns out that my registration had expired, which they saw.
As they are asking me for my credentials, I’m reaching into the glove compartment for them and realize my firearm was there. I let them know right away, and they gave me a ticket for the registration. They said I would have to come down on Monday to claim my firearm, so I did.
What happened on Monday?
I went there and brought all my documentation, and they charge me with unlawful possession of a firearm. And they sent me on my way.
So you broke the law by having your gun in the glove compartment. Lots of people break the law and don’t deserve pardons. Why do you?
Listen, I have no criminal record, I have no violent tendencies, I don’t use drugs. This is a simple mistake. I was trying to keep my weapon away from a child.
We have so much gun violence. Weapons are falling into the wrong hands. Kids are getting shot. I was doing the right thing. My mistake was forgetting that I left it there. It shouldn’t have come to this. I shouldn’t be a convicted felon. I don’t deserve this.
But you pleaded guilty. Why?
My lawyer really didn’t do much of what he was supposed to do. He convinced me to take a plea bargain that came with a year probation, when I could have been facing years in state prison.
But this was an obvious mistake. I wasn’t thinking, Oh, who can I find to go and shoot? I was an armored truck driver, and I was issued that gun from work. It was legal. But this just spiraled out of control.
How has this changed your life?
I have wanted to be a police officer since I turned 18. And now I can’t do that. Especially in the urban community where I’m from, they don’t have a lot of positive role models in life. I want to contribute to the people and do something positive with my life. I want to raise a family. And it’s very hard to find a job not just with a criminal record but a felony and a gun charge on top of all that.
When is your probation over?
Around Christmastime. But my probation officers knows that I am straight down the board. I have no history of any kind with drugs or violence.
Have you filed one?
No. I have found a new attorney and have started working with him, but it is expensive, and so I have started a GoFundMe page to try to raise some money for legal expenses. [As of press time, that fund was at $1,845.]
Have you had any interaction with Christie’s office?
Not at this point. I did get the petition paperwork from them, and some people from other states who were writing on my behalf, they received letters that it was under review. But I have had no contact.
What are your chances?
The appeal? My lawyer has a lot of points to bring up. There were a lot of things not done on my behalf. We have a good opportunity, I think, but it’s still a toss up. The pardon, I’m not so sure. He has only pardoned a few people since he’s been in office, but it would be a real blessing if he did.
Good luck to you.
Thank you, and thank you for being interested.
Neither Governor Christie nor the prosecutor’s office has commented on Josey’s case.
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