Covid and Parole Ineligibility (Part 4)

by | Nov 23, 2021 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

Justice Fernandez-Vina concluded with the following in relevant part: The Court finds that defendant’s application cannot be considered before he has satisfied his mandatory minimum period of incarceration but provides guidance as to the Priester factors. “The predicate for relief under Rule 3:21-10(b)(2) is proof of the serious nature of the defendant’s illness and the deleterious effect of incarceration on the prisoner’s health.” Priester, 99 N.J. at 135. As to whether prison is harmful to a defendant’s health, courts should consider “the availability of medical services in prison.” Ibid. Moreover, a defendant must demonstrate “changed circumstances in his or her health . . . since the time of the original sentence.” Id. at 136. In considering a Rule 3:21-10(b)(2) motion, courts should also consider “the nature and severity of the crime, the severity of the sentence, the criminal record of the defendant, the risk to the public if the defendant is released, and the defendant’s role in bringing about his current state of health.” Id. at 137.

Here, the motion court did not abuse its discretion when it denied defendant’s release under Priester. As evidenced by defendant’s over 1,000 pages of supporting medical documentation, there is no indication that defendant’s prison would be unable to treat him should he contract COVID-19. Additionally, nothing in the record establishes that defendant’s health has drastically changed as a result of his incarceration. And the motion court did not abuse its discretion in its analysis of the final Priester prong — the weighing of various other factors such as the severity of the crime and sentence, defendant’s criminal record, the risk to the public should he be released, and his role in bringing about his current state of health. See id. at 137. While defendant’s medical conditions are beyond his control, the offense to which he pled guilty was serious and his escalating criminal record is also cause for concern. In sum, the motion court properly balanced all of the Priester factors before denying defendant’s Rule 3:21-10(b)(2) motion.

An interesting issue relates to whether there were changed circumstances in the defendant’s health since his original sentence. A lack of change should not weigh against the defendant if the original sentencing court did not give due weight to a debilitating medical condition.