The Constitutionality of the Lunsford Act (Part 2)

by | Nov 10, 2019 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

Justice Patterson continued in relevant part: In this case, the prosecutor did not provide the sentencing court with a statement of reasons for his decision to offer defendant a twenty-year term of incarceration with a twenty-year period of parole ineligibility. On remand, the prosecutor should provide such a statement of reasons to the sentencing court. The court should review whether the prosecutor’s exercise of discretion was arbitrary and capricious. If the sentencing court finds that the prosecutor’s action was arbitrary and capricious, it should vacate its order denying defendant’s motion to modify his sentence; the court should then permit defendant to withdraw his guilty plea as to first-degree aggravated sexual assault or renegotiate his plea agreement. If the sentencing court does not find the prosecutor’s action to be arbitrary and capricious, it should resentence defendant as directed by the Appellate Division’s decision, which we leave undisturbed aside from the single issue as to which we granted certification.

We hold that the JLA does not violate the separation of powers doctrine, provided that the State presents a statement of reasons explaining its decision to depart from the twenty-five year mandatory minimum sentence specified in N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(a), and the court reviews the prosecutor’s exercise of discretion to determine whether it was arbitrary and capricious. So that the standard we adopt today may be applied in this matter, we remand to the sentencing court for further proceedings in accordance with this opinion.

This case presents an interesting dynamic in that the defendant was given five years less than the prison sentence otherwise required by statute. The defendant appealed, arguing that he should have received a more lenient sentence, notwithstanding that he received less than he could otherwise receive under the plain language of the statute. Here, the defendant was challenging the sentencing scheme in broad terms as opposed to the procedure underlying his particular sentencing.