CSL and Ex Post Facto Laws (Part 3)

by | Aug 27, 2018 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

This case is not substantively different from Perez, where we held that the 2003 Amendment that retroactively altered a defendant’s status from CSL to PSL, exposed a defendant to an increased punishment for a violation of supervised release, and therefore contravened the Federal and State Ex Post Facto Clauses. This case is also indistinguishable from Scafati, where the United States Supreme Court affirmed a three-judge federal district court panel’s injunction of a Massachusetts law that retroactively altered the manner of awarding good-conduct deductions after the defendant’s sentence but before he violated parole. 390 U.S. 713; 277 F. Supp. at 644-46.

The 2014 Amendment “enhances the punitive consequences of the special sentence of CSL to the defendant’s detriment” in the same way that the 2003 Amendment did in Perez. Moreover, the 2014 Amendment retroactively imposes increased post-revocation penalties in the manner condemned by Scafati, 277 F. Supp. at 644-46, and Weaver, 450 U.S. at 34.

In effect, the 2014 Amendment materially altered defendants’ prior sentences to their disadvantage — increasing to a third-degree crime a violation of the terms of their supervised release and converting their CSL to PSL, thus empowering the Parole Board to return them to prison for a violation, such as failing to report a change of address. The 2014 Amendment effected not a simple procedural change but rather one that offends the very principles animating the Ex Post Facto Clauses of our Federal and State Constitutions.

For the reasons expressed, we hold that the retroactive application of the 2014 Amendment which enhanced the punishments for defendants’ violations of the terms of their supervised release under CSL, violates the Ex Post Facto Clause of the United States Constitution. We also hold that, independent of our federal constitutional analysis, the 2014 Amendment violates defendants’ rights under the New Jersey Constitution’s Ex Post Facto Clause. We therefore affirm the judgment of the Appellate Division dismissing defendants’ indictments, which charged them with the third-degree crime of violating the general conditions of their supervised release.

Justice Albin’s deciding the case in terms of independent state constitutional grounds insulates the opinion from appeal by the prosecution. This is because the New Jersey Supreme Court is the court of last resort in deciding state constitutional issues. Had Justice Albin based the decision on the federal constitution alone, the prosecution would still be free to appeal to the United States Supreme Court.