On July 12, 2021, the New Jersey Supreme Court decided the Mercer County case of State v. David Chavies. The principal issue concerned whether inmates serving mandatory terms of parole ineligibility could qualify for early release due to Covid-related considerations.
Justice Fernandez-Vina wrote for the 4-3 majority in relevant part: In this case, the Court considers whether an inmate may be released from prison under Rule 3:21-10(b) while still in the process of serving a period of parole ineligibility imposed in accordance with the No Early Release Act (NERA), N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2. In connection with a 2014 shooting, defendant David Chavies was charged with murder, aggravated assault, and weapons offenses. In June 2016, defendant pled guilty to second-degree aggravated assault based on accomplice liability. His prison intake form indicated that his health was poor and that he suffered from asthma, sickle cell anemia, and a heart murmur. Defendant was sentenced to a ten-year term of imprisonment with an 85% period of parole ineligibility under NERA.
In May 2020, defendant filed a Rule 3:21-10(b)(2) motion for release from custody and, in the alternative, sought a judicial furlough until the COVID-19 pandemic subsided. Defendant provided voluminous medical documents in support of his motion showing he had been undergoing treatment for sickle cell anemia, asthma, latent tuberculosis, hypothyroidism, and a heart murmur. The court determined that defendant was barred from relief under Rule 3:21- 10(b)(2) because he had not yet served 85% of his sentence, the period of parole ineligibility, as mandated by NERA. The court also assessed the various factors for considering Rule 3:21-10(b)(2) motions set forth in State v. Priester, 99 N.J. 123 (1985), and found that defendant was not entitled to relief. The Appellate Division affirmed, and the Court granted certification.
The majority’s decision may have as much to do with judicial economy as the underlying merits of the case. Permitting early release for defendant’s serving sentences under the “No Early Release Act” (NERA) would lead to a significant increase in litigation from inmates with very little to lose and much to gain from early release and/or furloughs.