Constitutionality of the Lunsford Act (Part 3)

by | Jul 18, 2018 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

The Court continued: Defendant further contends the JLA impermissibly interferes with prosecutorial discretion to engage in plea bargaining. Although defendant would otherwise have been sentenced between twenty-five years and life imprisonment without parole pursuant to subsection (a), the prosecutor offered a negotiated plea deal of twenty years without parole, in accordance with subsection (d). Defendant entered into the plea agreement and was sentenced in accordance with the terms of the agreement.

Although plea bargaining is an accepted practice in this state, “[t]here is no constitutional or statutory requirement that the New Jersey judicial system recognize plea bargaining. Plea bargaining is not a right of a defendant or the prosecution. It is an accommodation which the judiciary system is free to institute or reject.”

Moreover, “while a prosecutor may exercise discretion and enter into a plea agreement with a defendant, the sentencing judge may reject it if the interests of justice are not served. Sentencing remains a judicial function, and a sentencing court, notwithstanding the agreement of the parties, may refuse to accept any of the terms and conditions of a plea agreement.”

The JLA prohibits prosecutors from offering plea agreements and recommending sentences in the ordinary second-degree range of ten to twenty years subject to NERA. Instead, the prosecutor may only “offer a negotiated plea agreement in which the defendant would be sentenced to a specific term of imprisonment of not less than fifteen years, during which the defendant shall not be eligible for parole.” While the mandatory minimum sentencing provisions of the JLA limit the discretionary authority of the prosecutor, we do not view this limitation as an impermissible restriction on the prosecutor’s discretionary authority to offer recommended sentences as part of proposed plea agreements.

This appeal presented an interesting dynamic wherein the defendant was unhappy with the prosecution’s actions at the trial level. Then, on appeal, they were forced to argue for the prosecutor to have more discretionary authority.