On July 7, 2020, the New Jersey Supreme Court decided the Somerset County case of State v. Rahsjahn Courtney. The principal issue under N.J.S.A. 2C:35-12 was whether the prosecution was required to formally apply for an extended term sentence in order to prevent the court from imposing less than what the plea agreement recommended.
Justice Timpone wrote for the Court in relevant part: Against that backdrop, we analyze defendant’s assertion that, because the State failed to file a formal application for an extended-term sentence under N.J.S.A. 2C:43-6(f), defendant’s negotiated plea agreement of fourteen years’ imprisonment and sixty-three months of parole ineligibility falls within the ordinary sentencing range under the CDRA and the sentencing court retained the authority to impose any lesser term within the ordinary range. We disagree. Defendant is arguing form over substance.
Indeed, the plain language of Section 12 does not require a formal application when a prosecutor pursuant to a negotiated plea agrees not to request a mandatory extended-term sentence under N.J.S.A. 2C:43-6(f) while seeking the benefit of a Section 12 plea agreement. The Appellate Division correctly interpreted Section 12 as applying “whenever an offense defined in the CDRA specifies a mandatory sentence of imprisonment . . . or period of parole ineligibility.” N.J.S.A. 2C:35-12 (emphasis added). N.J.S.A. 2C:43-6(f) is a part of the CDRA, State v. Lagares (1992), and specifically identifies the CDRA offenses that are subject to mandatory sentences and periods of parole ineligibility upon the prosecutor’s request.
The plain language of N.J.S.A. 2C:43-6(f) requires the prosecutor to file an application to impose an extended term. Brimage, 153 N.J. at 11 (finding that N.J.S.A. 2C:43-6(f) “only takes effect upon the application of the prosecutor” for an extended term). Nowhere in Section 12 is there a requirement for a formal procedure. Section 12 expressly permits the State to negotiate away its right to seek mandatory sentences. Section 12 kicks in when the State and a defendant enter into a plea agreement involving an offense for which the CDRA specifies a mandatory sentence or period of parole ineligibility.
Here we see the interplay between the powers of our three branches of government. The Legislature enacted sentencing statutes that give the executive branch the power to eliminate the discretion of the judiciary under certain circumstances.