Columbia County District Attorney Paul Czajka said that he will not prosecute a man charged with a B misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to 90 days in jail, for loading two more bullets in his handgun than what’s lawfully permitted under Gov. Cuomo’s onerous New York SAFE Act.
In court last Friday, Czajka a Republican and former county judge made clear his intentions to Town Justice Jessica Byne.
“Although I believe that it is not for a district attorney to determine or make blanket policy,” Czajka told Byrne, he would “decline to prosecute the unlawful possession of ammunition feed devices.”
“There are a lot of factors that go into a decision that a District Attorney makes,” Czajka told the press afterward. “Given the circumstances of this case, it was my decision to exercise my prosecutorial discretion” and decline prosecution of the charge until and unless a higher court rules on the law, as the Register-Star reported.
As previously reported by Guns.com, 31-year-old Gregory Dean Jr. of New Lebanon, New York, was arrested approximately two weeks ago when state troopers pulled him over and found nine rounds in his .40-caliber Smith & Wesson handgun, two more then the 7 round limit the NY SAFE Act imposes.
According to reports, troopers pulled Dean over because his “car’s license-plate lamp” wasn’t working properly. Upon asking for Dean’s license and registration police noticed a handgun sitting on his passenger seat. The firearm was legal and registered to Dean, but when troopers saw that he had nine bullets in the magazine, they told him he was in violation of the NY SAFE Act, hence the resulting court case.
While many gun owners would like to believe that Czajka’ decision was an act of prosecutorial civil disobedience against an unjust law, it really comes down to dollars and cents: shrinking municipal budgets have left him understaffed and have forced his office to be more selective on the cases they choose to prosecute. In short, vehicle and traffic cases and other, low-priority minor offenses take a backseat to serious crime.
“I’ve gone from 11 assistant district attorneys to six and they’ve cut my budget by 10 percent,” Czajka said. “As a result, we have to make some critical decisions on what cases to prosecute.”
Czajka said that with respect to Dean’s case the decision not to prosecute was made easier by the fact that he was – by all accounts – a responsible gun owner with no criminal record.
“Ignorance of the law is no excuse under the law and this is still a crime but this guy has absolutely no criminal history and is not a danger to society,” Czajka said Friday.
Czajka said his experience in issuing pistol permits offered him more assurance that Dean was an upstanding citizen because the requirements to get a permit are so stringent in New York.
“I oversaw pistol permits applications in Columbia County for 16 years and New York state has some of the toughest gun laws in the country already,” Czajka said.
So, Dean, the first man to be nabbed for violating the NY SAFE Act’s magazine restriction, will not be prosecuted for breaking that inane gun law. However, he will appear in court on June 13 and face a charge for driving on a suspended license.
As for Czajka’s decision not to enforce the NY SAFE Act in this particular case, it’s unclear what effect – if any – it will have on other district attorneys across the state. Will other DAs follow suit and refuse to enforce the law? Will they cite economic reasons? Or will they oppose the NY SAFE Act on principle?
Already, there is a groundswell of opposition to the NY SAFE Act. Several counties and towns have ratified ordinances saying that officials are not to enforce the new law but, arguably, until the constitutionality of the NY SAFE Act is decided in court or until it’s officially repealed, Empire State gun owners will need to be on guard.
A spokesman for Gov. Cuomo, Richard Azzopardi, did not offer a comment regarding this case or Czajka’s decision not to prosecute.