By Cristina CorbinPublished March 18, 2015FoxNews.com
This photo shows 24-year-old Steffon Josey-Davis
When Steffon Josey-Davis was pulled over by police along a New Jersey road two years ago, the young security guard never imagined his legally owned gun would be confiscated — and the incident would make him a convicted felon.
Josey-Davis’ nightmare began on the morning of Sept. 20, 2013 when he was preparing to leave his North Brunswick, N.J., home for a job as an armed security guard with Loomis Armored, a company responsible for transporting money to banks.
While unloading his 9mm Smith & Wesson handgun inside his car, his 6-year-old sister wandered into the family’s garage, startling Josey-Davis. He quickly tucked the firearm inside the glove compartment and out of the child’s view, according to his account.
Hours later, while driving at night with his girlfriend in Highland Park, he was pulled over. Josey-Davis says he was going below the speed limit.
But the fact that he did not yet have a permit to carry the gun — which was stored, still loaded, in the glove compartment — resulted in his arrest.
The 24-year-old now has a criminal record and is unable to secure a job — and his dreams of becoming a police officer are dashed. The latest Garden State resident to be caught in a legal entanglement over the state’s strict gun laws, Josey-Davis is now seeking a pardon from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and has mounted a robust social media campaign, including a Change.org petition that has attracted more than 85,000 signatures to date.
Further, he’s hired Evan Nappen, a prominent gun rights attorney, to appeal his conviction.
“This is a case of a law-abiding citizen being turned into a criminal by New Jersey gun laws,” Nappen told FoxNews.com.
Josey-Davis described the night of his arrest to FoxNews.com in detail.
He said that after he was pulled over, he reached into the glove compartment for the car’s registration. He saw the gun, which he had forgotten about, and turned it over to the officers. They took it, issued him a citation for his registration — which had expired that morning — and let him go. They told him to return to the Highland Park Police Department the following Monday to retrieve his firearm, he claims.
Josey-Davis says he did as he was told, bringing with him his work credentials and receipts for the firearm. What happened next stunned him.
“They handcuffed me and charged me with unlawful possession of a firearm — a second-degree felony,” he told FoxNews.com.
“I almost fainted. My life was ruined — all my hard work went down the drain,” said Josey-Davis, who had no criminal background and had passed rigorous security background checks for his job.
Josey-Davis had purchased the gun a month prior to his arrest at Meltzer’s Sporting Goods in Garfield, N.J. While he legally owned the firearm, he had not yet secured a permit to carry it — giving authorities just cause under state law to arrest him. Josey-Davis claims the pending permit was due to be approved the week he was arrested.
“This is a case of a law-abiding citizen being turned into a criminal by New Jersey gun laws.”- Gun rights attorney Evan Nappen
Last month, Josey-Davis ended up taking a deal for a year of probation from the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office to avoid a sentence that could have carried up to 10 years in state prison. He pleaded guilty to second-degree unlawful possession of a weapon. As part of the deal, the prosecutor waived New Jersey’s “Graves Act” and Josey-Davis is serving the probation.
But his attorney is now challenging that criminal record.
Nappen claims that between August 2013 and February 2014, the state had a firearm amnesty in effect, meaning individuals in similar situations were exempt from such charges.
“During that time there was amnesty and he should not have even been charged,” claimed Nappen, who said the law during those months allowed for people to retain possession of a firearm “legally or illegally acquired.”
“For whatever reason, this law didn’t seem to be well known. The state police did a poor job at publicizing it,” he said. “I think it’s particularly striking that that wasn’t raised.”
Nappen roundly criticized New Jersey gun laws for being “badly written.”
“New Jersey’s gun control laws are out of control,” he said. “It’s clearly evident they need serious reform. The legislature is really ultimately to blame.”
The Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office, however, vehemently refuted Nappen’s claim, saying, “There was no gun amnesty program that would apply under these circumstances.”
In a statement to FoxNews.com, Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew Carey said Josey-Davis was stopped by police for driving a vehicle with an expired registration. He said that during the stop, Josey-Davis “gave four significantly different versions of the circumstances surrounding his illegal possession of the handgun.
“Additionally, he said he worked for an armored car company, but he did not possess a license to carry the weapon, which was seized as evidence,” Carey said.
Carey said he was charged with “having a handgun in the glove compartment of his vehicle” – and that the law stipulates drivers can only transport a gun, unloaded, in the trunk. (Josey-Davis’ attorney, though, clarified that his client was specifically charged over the permit issue.)
“Describing his conduct as a simple mistake does not negate the seriousness of this law, which was created to protect police officers and the public,” Carey continued. “Illegal gun possession is a second-degree offense, punishable by a prison term of multiple years. This defendant agreed to plead guilty and was placed on probation for one year.”
New Jersey gun control advocates claim the law is well-intended and should not be changed in response to exceptional cases such as that of Josey-Davis.
“We think the law needs to take into consideration individual circumstances, but it’s still a law that’s for the well being of the people of New Jersey,” said Rev. Robert Moore, executive director of the Princeton-based group, Coalition for Peace Action, which oversees the gun control project known as “Ceasefire NJ.”
“It sounds like these officers were doing their job,” Moore told FoxNews.com. “It’s up to the courts to decide some kind of leniency given the circumstances.”
He added: “We would be against changing the law because of these exceptional circumstances. … That’s one reason you go before a judge. The law itself should not be changed.”
A Christie spokesman confirmed to FoxNews.com the governor has received an application from Josey-Davis for a pardon but said he was unable to comment further.