Official Misconduct Sentencing Downgrades (Part 2)

by | Jun 7, 2020 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

The New Jersey Supreme Court continued in relevant part: At the outset, we underscore that the judge gave Trinidad the benefit of a mandatory minimum sentence and ran the remaining counts concurrently. The judge simply refused to take the additional step of downgrading Trinidad’s sentence. Specifically, he found the three mitigating factors predominated over the lone aggravating factor. The judge did not make a finding that the mitigating factors “substantially outweighed” the aggravating factor. Trinidad argues he can satisfy the first prong of the downgrading test, citing the twenty-eight letters of support submitted on his behalf and his lengthy public service with the Marines and the BPD. Yet, we need not reach this argument because we hold that he nevertheless cannot satisfy the “interest of justice” prong.

There is no doubt Trinidad’s crimes are of a serious nature. By assaulting Jeter, Trinidad caused him to fear for his life. As the judge noted in his determination, Trinidad “smashed the front of Jeter’s car, punched Jeter twice when he was outside the car on the ground, and then hit him again when he was up against the car, resulting in injuries to Jeter’s arms, wrist, face and ear.” Moreover, Jeter may have faced a lengthy prison sentence had Trinidad’s dash-cam footage never surfaced. The most important factor in the interest of justice calculus, then, weighs against downgrading Trinidad’s sentence.

The judge also found that third-degree official misconduct was inapplicable here. Third-degree official misconduct occurs where “the benefit obtained or sought to be obtained, or of which another is deprived or sought to be deprived, is of a value of $200.00 or less.” N.J.S.A. 2C:30-2. As the judge aptly noted, Trinidad’s crime was nonpecuniary. Instead, Jeter was physically injured and indicted for certain crimes he did not commit. We agree with the judge that third-degree official misconduct is therefore not fitting of Trinidad’s conduct, counseling against a downgrade.

It is particularly disturbing that the defendant police officer committed these crimes of violence while knowing that they had to have been caught on video. He must have either had such poor impulse control that he committed the offenses anyway and/or suspected that he would be successful in conspiring with other police officers to destroy the video evidence.