The Court concluded with the following in relevant part: The Legislature tacitly acknowledged such a purpose in the Assembly Bill, noting: Current law provides thirteen mitigating factors that the court may consider when sentencing a defendant. The only mitigating factor related to the age of a youthful defendant permits the court to consider whether the defendant’s conduct was substantially influenced by another, more mature person. Under the bill’s provisions, the court would be permitted broadly to consider as a mitigating factor whether a defendant was under the age of twenty-six when an offense was committed.
Unquestionably, the Legislature wanted to fill a void in N.J.S.A. 2C:44-1(b) by making a convicted person’s youth a standalone factor in the court’s sentencing calculus. This draws the new mitigating factor in line with other statutes deemed to satisfy the ameliorative exception and justifies “retroactive” applicability. For instance, the New Jersey Supreme Court noted–with implicit approval–the Appellate Division’s determination that the revised juvenile waiver statute was an ameliorative statute ‘because it was intended to ameliorate the punitive sentencing previously meted out to adolescent offenders after waiver.
Yet in J.V., the juvenile was refused retroactive benefit from the revised waiver statute because he had already been waived to adult court, convicted and sentenced, all prior to the enactment of the new waiver law. The court noted that no evidence existed to indicate the Legislature intended the revised waiver statute to “reach concluded cases which have already passed through the proverbial pipeline.” In contrast, the defendant in J.F. did benefit from retroactive effect from the new waiver law because he “had pending proceedings in the juvenile court both before and after the new law became effective.”
The Legislature intended the new mitigating factor to take effect immediately, not at some distant point in the future, as transpired with the waiver law in J.V. In the present case, defendant has yet to “pass through the proverbial pipeline.”
“It is the reduction of a criminal penalty which constitutes the amelioration.” D.C. v. F.R. (App. Div. 1996). The inclusion of an additional mitigating factor has the potential to affect a “reduction of a criminal penalty,” thereby rendering N.J.S.A. 2C:44-1(b) ameliorative. Ibid. The lack of finality in defendant’s case, coupled with the ameliorative nature of the new mitigating factor and her age at the time of the offenses, thus warrant “retroactive” effect of N.J.S.A. 2C:44-1(b)(14).
This is not intended to mean cases in the pipeline in which a youthful defendant was sentenced before October 19, 2020, are automatically entitled to a reconsideration based on the enactment of this statute alone. Rather, it means where, for a reason unrelated to the adoption of the statute, a youthful defendant is resentenced, he or she is entitled to argue the new statute applies.
The defendant in this case was convicted of murder at 19 years old. She was sentenced to life in prison with 85% parole ineligibility and a consecutive 40-year sentence.