Vehicular Homicide and Consecutive Sentences (Part 2)

by | Oct 3, 2019 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

Justice Patterson continued in relevant part: Nothing in the trial court’s determination in this case suggests that it reached its decision through the application of a presumption, contrary to the Appellate Division’s suggestion. In the court’s detailed consideration of the facts before it, and its citation to the language of Carey, there was no mention of a presumption. We detect in the trial court’s analysis no misunderstanding of the governing principles.

Consistent with Yarbough and Carey, the trial court acted within its discretion when it found that the injuries inflicted on multiple victims in this case warranted consecutive sentences. As Carey mandated, the trial court carefully considered whether the accident’s impact on multiple victims “renders the collective group of offenses distinctively worse” than those offenses would be had defendant killed or injured only one individual. The court deemed the impact of defendant’s conduct on both R.S. and M.J.G. to be the “worst consequences imaginable,” and observed that the impact of defendant’s conduct on M.G. to be “extremely serious”: a child, R.S., was killed; another child, M.J.G., was permanently paralyzed; and M.G. was seriously and permanently injured. To the trial court, the imposition of concurrent sentences for defendant’s offenses would not ensure accountability.

The trial court considered the fairness of a thirty-two-year aggregate NERA sentence, taking into account defendant’s age. See State v. Cuff, ___ N.J. ___ (2019) (slip op. at 37-38) (reminding trial courts to consider the fairness of an aggregate sentence); State v. Abdullah (2005) (same). It properly viewed its primary obligation, however, not to ensure that defendant would live long enough to be released on parole, but to craft a sentence warranted by the offenses.

Every consecutive sentence in multiple victim cases strengthens the informal presumption against concurrent sentences. This is because the New Jersey Supreme Court also requires sentencing parity, i.e. that similar cases have similar sentences.