On May 11, 2021 a unanimous New Jersey Supreme Court decided the Monmouth county case of State v. Edgar Torres. The principal issue concerned the reasoning required for a Court’s imposition of consecutive sentences.
Justice LaVecchia wrote for the Court in relevant part: The Court considers the imposition of an aggregate seventy-year sentence, subject to an eighty-five percent parole disqualifier, on defendant Edgar Torres for his role in five robberies. In State v. Yarbough, the Court sought to assist courts with the exercise of discretion when sentencing a defendant for multiple offenses by identifying factors to consider when weighing whether to impose consecutive or concurrent sentences. 100 N.J. 627, 635 (1985). In this matter, the Court again takes steps to promote the goals of uniformity, predictability, and proportionality in sentencing, while also awaiting further action by the New Jersey Criminal Sentencing and Disposition Commission, which may touch on some policy-laden sentencing arguments advanced in this appeal.
After defendant was convicted of three counts of first-degree armed robbery for his role in three robberies, the court sentenced him to forty years’ imprisonment subject to an eighty-five percent parole disqualifier for the first of those convictions and to twenty years in prison for each of the other two convictions. The court ordered the twenty-year sentences to run concurrently to each other and to the forty-year sentence. After a separate trial, defendant was convicted of first-degree armed robbery and second-degree robbery for his role in two other robberies. Defendant was sentenced to twenty years’ imprisonment for the armed robbery conviction and to ten years’ imprisonment for the second-degree robbery conviction, each subject to parole disqualifiers. The sentencing court imposed those terms consecutively, stating that the Yarbough factors counseled in favor of consecutive terms because each robbery was a separate offense.
Deciding whether to move to sever certain counts of an indictment for a separate trial in situations like this is an important strategy consideration for criminal trial attorneys. On the one hand, the inclusion of many counts may work against the defendant if jurors can hear numerous accusations and additional evidence. On the other hand, separate trials tend to weigh in favor of consecutive sentences whereas concurrent sentences may otherwise be appropriate.