On August 11, 2021, a three-judge appellate panel decided the Cape May County case of State v. John Jacobus. The principal issue under N.J.S.A. 2C:43-6.4 was whether a defendant sentenced to CSL (Community Supervision for Life) in 2002 should be indicted for a violation under the 2002 version of the statute or the 2014 amended version that carried increased penalties.
Former Monmouth County Superior Court Judge Vernoia wrote for the Appellate Division in relevant part: Defendant argues N.J.S.A. 1:1-15 is inapplicable because the offenses for which he was indicted occurred in 2018, four years after the 2014 amendment to N.J.S.A. 2C:43-6.4(d). He contends that since his offenses were not “committed . . . previous to the time of the” 2014 amendment, he cannot be properly prosecuted for the fourth-degree offense extant under N.J.S.A. 2C:43-6.4(d) prior to the amendment. Stated differently, defendant argues application of N.J.S.A. 1:1-15 did not save as to him the fourth-degree offense following the 2014 amendment to N.J.S.A. 2C:43-6.4(d).
Defendant relies on State v. Epstein, (Resent. Panel 1980), where, citing N.J.S.A. 1:1-15, the Resentencing Panel noted that “persons violating a penal law prior to its amendment may be convicted under the old law, even after the effective date of the amendment.” The Resentencing Panel’s decision in Epstein is consistent with the well-established principle under N.J.S.A. 1:1-15 that a person who commits a crime in violation of a statute prior to its amendment may only be prosecuted for, and convicted of, the offense existing under the statute in effect when the crime was committed. See State v. Low, (1955) (finding that under N.J.S.A. 1:1-15 the “repeal or alteration of any statute under which an offense was charged does not bar indictment and prosecution for such offense, unless expressly so declared in the act by which such repeal or alteration is effected”); State v. Jones, (App. Div. 1982) (noting that under N.J.S.A. 1:15 the defendant was properly charged with a crime under Title 2A, which was in effect when the crime was committed, even though the statute under which the offense was charged had been repealed by the enactment of Title 2C); State v. Baechlor, (App. Div. 1958) (permitting prosecution for an offense under the statute in effect when the crime was committed, and not a later amendment to the statute).
Judge Vernoia has authored an inordinate number of published cases involving statutory interpretation. He was one of the more thoughtful criminal judges in Monmouth County. This could explain his rise to the Appellate Division.