What they don't want you to know about the criminal justice system in Sussex County, New Jersey...
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"A vague law impermissibly delegates basic policy matters to policemen, judges, and juries for resolution on an ad hoc and subjective basis."
Approximately two weeks after officers of the Newton and Stillwater Police Departments had conducted their midnight warrantless search and seizure throughout the Cassidy home, Tom was arrested and charged will the possession of "assault firearms". Possession of an assault firearm in New Jersey is a third degree crime. [N.4] By comparison, another third degree crime in New Jersey includes the distributing, dispensing, or possessing controlled dangerous substances in a school zone [N.5]. A lesser offense includes those offenders who have a penchant for child pornography- merely a fourth degree crime in New Jersey! [N.6]
If, as Judge Hanifan, J.S.C. had suggested, there had been an immediate need to get inside the Cassidy home in the middle of the night without a valid search warrant, then why had Tom not been arrested when the officers finished searching throughout the home, locked containers, and gun cases? Would these same police officers decline to arrest a child pornographer or an individual who distributes dangerous drugs to school children? We do not equate the "crime" of "assault firearm" possession with crimes of drug distribution or child pornography. We simply seek to use analogous third and fourth degree crimes in order to gain some insight into why the police officers had waited almost two weeks to take action against a "crime" in which Judge Hanifan had believed there was an immediate need in which to conduct a midnight warrantless search and seizure. (Don't forget, the "crime" that led police to embark on their midnight warrantless search and seizure was a triple hearsay allegation of "verbal harassment" that appears to have originated from a 79 year old security guard!)
One must question why Thomas Cassidy is now threatened with a maximum sentence of 29.5 years in prison some four years after the illegal search and seizure that occurred in his home. For Tom was not even arrested until almost two weeks after the officers had raided his home. Could it be possible that the United States Supreme Court Justices knew what they were talking about when they ruled on vague statutes in the above cited cases? Is it possible that persons of "official displeasure" could be harassed by prosecuting authorities? We believe so. If you are in doubt, you have much more reading to do at our site. For now though, let us now turn our attention to a brief bit of history of "assault firearm" legislation in the State of New Jersey.
Assault Weapon Defined: "Today, this term has entered the political lexicon, now meaning a "military-looking" semiautomatic weapon, which is frequently assumed to be the "weapon of choice" of criminals and also assumed to be readily convertible into a machine gun"
But what are "assault weapons"? What was it that the legislature was seeking to ban? Many can recall political commercials on their television sets where the incumbent politician says "I have banned assault weapons...yadda, yadda, yadda". But at this same time, the television screen is displaying automatic weapons being fired! Wait a minute. Why were the politicians discussing legislation that applies strictly to semi-automatic firearms while showing the voting public video of automatic weapons being fired? Well residents of New Jersey, you have fallen prey to the classic case of the New Jersey politician's Bait and Switch.[N.11] In other words, you are exploited and manipulated by politicians so that they can become elected into office. But in New Jersey, these misrepresentations are rampant. It is not just the politicians who have lied to you. Your very own New Jersey State Police commanders have also lied to you!
You don't believe us? Well, we have acquired a copy of the transcript so that you can see for yourself. New Jersey State Police Superintendent Justin J. Dintino testifies in 1991 that assault weapons are a threat to NJ Troopers. At this hearing he misleads the committee by using the term automatic weapons when the legislation being discussed dealt strictly with semiautomatic firearms!
During his testimony Colonel Dintino expressed concern while testifying on the subject of assault weapons for the well being of his New Jersey State Troopers and law enforcement officers in the State of New Jersey. At this hearing Colonel Dintino opposed any modification of the New Jersey assault weapon ban stating that he believed that any change would subject citizens and police to unnecessary violence. Colonel Dintino stated that in order to keep up with the criminal element and as a result of the murder of 2 state troopers [by handguns] the NJ State Police was forced to adopt nine-millimeter pistols in 1984.
New Jersey State Police Superintendent Dintino testifies that the weapon of choice of drug traffickers, violent offenders, and organized crime as being "automatic weapons, assault weapons" (note that he refers to "automatic weapons" while the subject matter of the hearing deals strictly with semiautomatic weapons!). His testimony further quips "Now, what do I have to do next, form another weapons committee and arm the troopers with assault weapons so that they can keep on an even keel with the criminal element that is out on our highway?"[N.12]
This type of manipulation that Dintino engages in is depraved and offensive in that the Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police seeks to capitalize on the tragic deaths of New Jersey State Troopers in order to advance his own political agenda. Indeed, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) does not appear to be in agreement with Colonel Dintino. The FBI has found that 77% of law enforcement officers are killed by handguns, not "assault weapons". [N.13] Moreover, the former Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police appears to be lacking in requisite knowledge in order to be capable of any intelligent discussion of the subject matter at hand. i.e. semi-automatic firearms legislation. Perhaps Colonel Dintino knew exactly what he was doing when he was misleading the Committee members on May 9, 1991. Only he knows the answer to this question.
Thus far, we have learned that the State of New Jersey has sought to ban "assault firearms". We have also learned that officials have inappropriately discussed automatic weapons when drafting legislation to regulate semi-automatic firearms. In our "assault weapon" quest, let us now turn the clock ahead to the year 1995.
In 1995, Chuck Davis, a spokesman for the State Attorney General's Office, told The Sunday Star Ledger in an interview that "if they don't catch you with the weapon [in a criminal act], they're not going to charge you. We're not going to get a search warrant and search somebody's home. That was not the intent of the law." In the same news article, it was reported that only 26 firearms had been surrendered to authorities after the enactment of the law in 1990. Estimates as high as tens of thousands remain in the State of New Jersey.[N.14] Yet despite the assurances of the Attorney General's spokesman, police agencies in New Jersey are raiding homes in the middle of the night. Worse yet, they have claimed to be acting under the authority of a valid search warrant. And let us also assure you that they will commence with a long, dirty, and malicious prosecution!
On July 11, 1996 Sussex County Assistant Prosecutor Vincent J. Connors, Jr. leads the Grand Jurors of Sussex County into indicting Thomas Cassidy for the unlawful possession of assault firearms. Apparently, this indictment stemmed from firearms that were illegally seized in the midnight warrantless search and seizure. This is the same Vincent J. Connors, Jr. that had- in an overt act of prosecutorial misconduct- dismissed the complaint filed by Tom and secured his wrongful conviction on February 4, 1997!
Also in October of 1996, the Coalition of New Jersey Sportsmen had filed a challenge to the New Jersey "assault weapon" law in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. This case is currently on appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.
Remember our lessons from above regarding vague laws? Recall that we have learned that in the absence of specificity in a criminal statute invites abuse by prosecuting officials? Well guess what folks. It is true! On March 28, 1998 Judge Gerald B. Hanifan, J.S.C. dismissed Count Five of the indictment against Thomas Cassidy based upon the above March 31, 1997 directive issued by the Attorney General's Office. Although not specifically named in the indictment, one of the firearms Tom had been charged with criminally possessing was now once again legal! Yet despite Judge Hanifan's ruling and the Attorney General's directive, Sussex County Assistant Prosecutor Francis Koch stated in open court that he would seek to bring that charge back in front of the Grand Jury. In other words, he said that he would seek to re-indict Tom for a firearm that was now legal! Didn't the United States Supreme Court warn us that these officials would engage in this type of harassment? Thus far however, to our knowledge, Assistant Prosecutor has not re-indicted Tom for the criminal possession of a Springfield M1A rifle.
At this point, you may be a bit confused as to what firearms are legal and which ones are not. That's O.K. Because so is everyone else! But what is most offensive is that because of this vagueness officials do have the power to pick and choose who they prosecute on an ad hoc and subjective basis. Prosecuting officials are indeed left free to harass those of official displeasure. Remember how Tom sought damages in the amount of $2 million dollars for a violation of his civil rights? Recall how the Sussex County Justice officials have conspired by filing cover charges, creating previously non-existent probable cause, wrongfully convicting, getting Tom wrongfully fired from NJDOC, and a host of many other egregious events! In other words they do in fact harass those of official displeasure! Despite a bit of confusion, let us now turn our attention to the "substantially identical" provision of N.J.S.A. 2C:39-1 (w)(2).
"Unfortunately, 'substantially identical' is a contradiction in terms because if something is identical, it is exactly the same. If it is substantially the same, it means slightly different. How can something be identical and slightly different at the same time?"
What the "substantially identical" provision in the law does do however, is allow prosecuting authorities to prosecute those who are the object of official displeasure. It is the exact same situation that the U.S. Supreme Court sought to prohibit in 1972. But rather than embark on an extended discussion of this provision, below we shall attempt to demonstrate the potential dangers inherent in this provision by singling out merely two firearm manufacturers out of the laundry list of 37 firearms named in the statute. N.J.S.A. 2C:39-1 (w) attempts to define what the legislature means by "assault firearm". For example, Colt AR-15 and CAR-15 series and Bushmaster Assault Rifle are merely two of 37 firearms listed. Incidentally, these names and many others are machine guns, even though the legislature believes that it is banning semiautomatics![N.18]
Now let us try to analyze this "substantially identical" provision for a moment. The legislature has declared that any rifle that is substantially identical to the laundry list of misnamed firearms in the statute is also prohibited. As noted above, the Colt Match Target rifle is now legal as of March 31, 1997. Are the firearms displayed at the right also legal? Aren't they "substantially identical" to the Colt Match Target rifle?
As you can see, the "substantially identical" clause permits officials to enforce the law arbitrarily, on an ad hoc and subjective basis. Under this rationale, anyone who has a firearm that resembles the .22 caliber Marlin Model 60 rifle in their home may be prosecuted too. We believe that there are many of you out there who may fall into this terrible trap that the State of New Jersey has set for you.
Why has the legislature constructed such an elaborate ruse? In observing the malicious application of the law firsthand, we believe that the State of New Jersey wants to ban all semiautomatic firearms. But rather than propose such a drastic measure that the public is likely disapproving of, the legislature cleverly attacks an insignificant proportion of guns that are rarely used in crimes. In this clever ruse, many previously law abiding citizens are maliciously prosecuted.