On January 23, 2017, Justice Timpone wrote for a unanimous New Jersey Supreme Court in the case of State v. Rodney Bull. The central issue was whether State v. Hudson’s prohibiting a second discretionary extended-term for an offense committed before the first extended-term sentence should be applied retroactively.
Bull was tried and convicted for a series of crimes that occurred within ten days of each other in 1990. He was charged in two separate indictments. In May 1991, the trial court sentenced him to a discretionary extended term for his convictions under indictment 1896. In October 1992, the trial court sentenced the defendant to a discretionary extended term for his convictions under indictment 1263.
In 2012 Bull filed a motion to correct an illegal sentence, arguing that receipt of two discretionary extended-term sentences constituted an illegal sentence under Hudson. The trial court denied that motion as well as defendant’s motion for reconsideration.
The Appellate Division found that Hudson did not articulate a new rule of law and therefore found a retroactivity analysis unnecessary. In an unpublished opinion, the panel applied the plain language of N.J.S.A. 2C:44-5(b)(1), vacated the second extended term as an illegal sentence, and remanded for resentencing.
The prosecution appealed to the New Jersey Supreme Court. The Court affirmed that Hudson did not create a new rule; it merely illuminated an old one. Hudson‘s illumination of N.J.S.A. 2C:44-5(b) applied to Bull’s pre-Hudson case and he therefore must receive a new, legal sentence.
Under Rule 3:21-10(b)(5), “a motion may be filed and an order may be entered at any time” to correct an illegal sentence. Because defendant’s sentence would manifestly violate N.J.S.A. 2C:44-5(b)(1) if imposed today, Hudson‘s illumination of that statute applies retroactively to defendant’s twenty-year-old sentence.
The threshold question in a retroactivity analysis is whether a new rule of law has been announced. When the Court finds that the language of a statute is plain, that conclusion does not constitute a new rule of law unless the statutory interpretation departs from the Court’s own precedent. When a decision does not constitute a new rule, the retroactivity analysis ends. Thus, the New Jersey Supreme Court rejected any claims by the prosecution that the sentencing statute was ambiguous or that Hudson created a new rule of law.