On March 5, 2020, a three-judge appellate panel decided the Essex County case of State v. Paulino Njango. The principal issue under N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2 was whether a defendant who was mistakenly incarcerated for longer than he should have been can apply “prior service credits” to reduce his period of mandatory parole supervision.
Judge Geiger held in relevant part: If a defendant violates a condition of a term of parole supervision under NERA, he or she “may be returned to custody not only for the balance of the original custodial term, but for the remaining length of the parole supervisory period.” This can result in the defendant remaining imprisoned beyond the completion of the underlying prison term. Cannel, cmt. 3 on N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2.
We conclude that mandatory periods of parole supervision imposed under NERA cannot be reduced by prior service credits, even where the defendant was imprisoned longer than he should have been due to a failure to properly award such credit. Defendant cannot trade unused prior service credit for mandatory parole supervision time on a NERA offense. To rule otherwise would be contrary to the Legislature’s purpose in enacting the mandatory parole supervisory period.
We are also convinced that defendant should not be permitted, at this late date, to withdraw from his guilty plea. Defendant did not move to withdraw his plea when the sentencing court determined in October 2015 that it would not apply the prior service credit to both indictments. Defendant’s decision not to withdraw his plea at the time of sentencing suggests that he sought to both obtain the benefit of the favorable plea agreement while repudiating the application of prior service credit to only the first indictment. Moreover, “the subsequent accrual of additional jail credit that makes the risk of going to trial more palatable is not a valid reason for setting aside a guilty plea.” State v. Williams (App. Div. 2019).
Prior service credit refers to time spent in jail pre-sentence. These credits are given “day for day”, i.e. without the ability to earn additional work or commutation credits. Post-sentence credits are more valuable to inmates as work and commutation credits are added to them.