Excessive Fines and Pension Forfeiture (Part 2)

by | Oct 5, 2021 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

The New Jersey Supreme Court majority continued in relevant part: Those decisions have similarly denied excessive-fine claims on the basis of the first prong of the analysis. The Appellate Division’s reliance on family law cases that have, in that setting, treated pensions as property subject to equitable distribution was misplaced. So too does the dissent misplace reliance on family law equitable-distribution law. That case law does not and cannot convert a public pension into a nonforfeitable property right.

That first prong to an excessive-fine analysis — whether the forfeiture here was a “fine” within the meaning of the Eighth Amendment — proves to be an impediment that defendant cannot overcome. We hold that the forfeiture of defendant’s pension under section 3.1 does not constitute a fine for purposes of an excessive-fine analysis under the Federal or State Constitutions.

As a result of our conclusion that the forfeiture worked here by operation of N.J.S.A. 43:1-3.1 is not a fine, there is no reason to embark on a constitutional analysis for excessiveness. The Appellate Division engaged in that endeavor only because it reached a different conclusion on the issue of whether this forfeiture constitutes a fine. Here, however, we need not reach the question. Accordingly, we decline to review the Appellate Division’s analysis for excessiveness and we vacate that portion of its opinion. See, e.g., Menendez, (noting that courts do not engage in constitutional rulings when unnecessary to our determination of an appeal).

For the reasons expressed herein, we affirm with modification the Appellate Division judgment. The award of summary judgment to the State is affirmed.

Justices Patterson, Fernandez-Vina, Solomon, and Pierre-Louis joined in the majority opinion. Chief Justice Rabner did not participate. The majority’s reliance on both the state and federal constitution leave open the possibility of an appeal to the United State Supreme Court. This is because the U.S> Supreme Court is the final arbiter of the federal constitution, just as the New Jersey Supreme Court is the final arbiter of our state constitution.