On August 3, 2021, the New Jersey Supreme Court decided the Essex County case of State v. Paulino Njango. The principal issue under N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2 was whether the defendant’s parole supervision period had to be reduced for time spent mistakenly incarcerated.
Justice Albin wrote for a unanimous Court in relevant part: As noted earlier, “parole is the legal equivalent of imprisonment,” Rosado, 131 N.J. at 428, and NERA’s mandatory period of parole supervision is deemed a “penal consequence” of a NERA offense, Johnson, 182 N.J. at 240. Parole supervision constitutes a loss of liberty of a kind, if not to the degree of incarceration. No persuasive reason has been advanced to explain why Njango’s serving an extra one year and seven months in prison — when he should have been serving that time on parole supervision — should not be credited towards his overall sentence, in particular the parole supervision period. The objective of parole supervision — to protect the public from the risk from violent offenders — was certainly satisfied when he was mistakenly or erroneously incarcerated beyond the prescribed time for his release. See Njango, 463 N.J. Super. at 9. As pointed out by Njango, if he were incarcerated for a violation of his parole supervision, he would be entitled to use his excess service credits to reduce his custodial time and therefore the overall period of his parole supervision.
This case highlights the fact that although prosecutors are supposed to pursue justice as opposed to private advocacy, that often does not occur. It is difficult to imagine a scenario wherein advocating against the award of jail credits under the circumstances would be consistent with justice. It seems more consistent with a knee-jerk reaction in which the prosecutor always argues against a defendant’s rights. It is also surprising that release on parole is considered the equivalent of incarceration for jail credit purposes while home detention (house arrest) is not.