On June 4, 2020, a three-judge appellate panel decided the Sussex County case of State v. Andres Chavarria. The principal issue under N.J.S.A. 2C:43-2 concerned the legality of sentencing a defendant to county jail time with mandatory parole ineligibility as a condition of probation following fourth-degree driving with suspended license convictions.
Former Monmouth County criminal Judge Vernoia wrote for the Court in relevant part: For each of defendant’s criminal convictions, the court imposed a term of imprisonment in precise compliance with the requirements of N.J.S.A. 2X:40-36(c). The court sentenced defendant for each conviction to a 180-day term of imprisonment subject to the requirement that he serve 180 days without eligibility for parole. See N.J.S.A. 2C:40-26(c). Defendant’s aggregate sentence totaled 360 days, all of which is to be served without parole eligibility.
As noted, an authorized sentence under N.J.S.A. 2C:43-2(b)(2) for conviction of a crime includes “imprisonment for a term fixed by the court not exceeding 364 days . . . as a condition of probation.” Here, defendant’s separate sentences for each conviction under N.J.S.A. 2C:40-26, and his aggregate sentence, fall within the parameters of the permissible term of imprisonment under N.J.S.A. 2C:43-2(b)(2) for a split sentence. Thus, defendant’s sentences are expressly authorized by N.J.S.A. 2C:43-2(b)(2)’s plain language, and they are not illegal. Moreover, the periods of parole ineligibility the court imposed are required by N.J.S.A. 2C:40-26(c).
Defendant ignores the plain language of N.J.S.A. 2C:43-2(b)(2), and he contends the statute does not authorize a split sentence where the term of imprisonment imposed includes a mandatory period of parole ineligibility. We reject that argument because the statute does not include such a limitation, and “it is not our job to engraft requirements on a statute that the Legislature did not include. It is our role to enforce the legislative intent as expressed through the words used by the Legislature.”
We are also not persuaded by defendant’s claim the split sentences imposed are illegal because they are not expressly authorized by the Criminal Code. Defendant asserts there is no statutory provision permitting a split sentence that includes a term of imprisonment subject to a mandatory period of parole disqualification, and, for that reason, his sentences are illegal.
The defendant’s position speaks to the trend towards legislating harsher punishments. When New Jersey’s Criminal Code was drafted, there were no statutes and punishments akin to 2C:40-26(c).