Sentencing Downgrade (Part 9) – State v. Jones

by | Jan 20, 2016 | Blog, Criminal Law, Jail Time and Probation

This brings us to the case of State v. Jones, 197 N.J. Super. 604, 607(App. Div. 1984), where the Appellate Division vacated and remanded the trial court’s downgrading of the defendant’s second-degree theft by deception, N.J.S.A. 2C:20-4, conviction to the third-degree, finding an abuse of discretion. This case is a favorite of prosecutor’s because it seems to indicate that sentences should almost never be downgraded. There are, however, important distinguishing features in Jones that should be noted in arguing for a downgraded sentence.

Initially, it should be noted that Jones involved a negotiated plea calling for a five year prison sentence. Jones, at 605. Thus, a five year prison sentence was presumptively reasonable for Jones. No such presumption of reasonability regarding a specific prison sentence applies to cases resulting in a conviction after a trial since those cases do not involve a negotiated plea.

Jones also involved the trial court sentencing the defendant to probation, as opposed to prison for a second degree crime. Id. at 606. Therefore, a much greater justification is necessary to warrant Jones’s downgrade to probation, as opposed to a downgrade to a lesser period of imprisonment. See Megargel, at 499 (explaining the qualitative differences between downgrades involving lesser periods of prison under 2C:44-1f(2) and downgrades involving no imprisonment under 2C:44-1(d)). Jones was later overruled to the extent that the trial and appellate courts treated her county jail sentence that was a condition of probation as satisfying the “presumption of imprisonment.” See State v. O’Connor, 105 N.J. 399, 404-405 (1987). Thus, Jones’s the language regarding rehabilitation and “the trial judge’s desire to rehabilitate” in imposing a probationary sentence has no application to downgraded prison sentences. See Jones at 607-608.