Parole Ineligibility and the Sixth Amendment (Part 4)

by | Jan 28, 2019 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

The Court continued: A rational system of justice requires differentiating among offenders — based on their backgrounds and the nature and circumstances of their offenses — within the range authorized by the jury verdict. See N.J.S.A. 2C:1-2(b)(6) stating that one of Code’s general purposes is “[t]o differentiate among offenders with a view to a just individualization in their treatment”); see also Alleyne, 570 U.S. at 113 n.2 (noting that within range authorized by law, judges may make fact-findings “to select sentences that are more severe than the ones they would have selected without those facts” without violating Sixth Amendment). The authorized range here allowed for the exercise of judicial discretion to impose a sentence that fit the whole person — the defendant who stood before the court.

We reject defendant’s argument that such considerations as the risk that defendant will reoffend and the need for deterrence become elements of the offense when the court weighs whether to impose a mandatory-minimum sentence. In the sentencing context, the aggravating factors, including the likelihood of defendant’s involvement in organized criminal activity, along with the mitigating factors, are legitimate considerations in setting a fair sentence within the ordinary range and the mandatory-minimum range.

Accordingly, we conclude N.J.S.A. 2C:43-6(b) and the mandatory-minimum sentence imposed under that statute pass muster under Alleyne and Grate and do not violate the Sixth Amendment. For the reasons expressed, we affirm the judgment of the Appellate Division.

The language cited to by the Court with regard to the justice system “requires differentiating among offenders” is in stark contrast with the Supreme Court’s cases that hold that sentencing should focus on the offense as opposed to the offender. The Court’s holding here may justify a “trial tax” as a practical remedy to an overburdened justice system that could only handle so many trials before falling into disarray. An additional unaddressed question is how the Court could have sentenced someone with no prior record to a sentence above the seven-year middle term and still be consistent with the Supreme Court’s holding in Natale.