Vehicular Homicide and Consecutive Sentences (Part 3)

by | Oct 6, 2019 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

The New Jersey Supreme Court continued in relevant part: We find no “deviation from [the Code’s sentencing] objectives, in view of the standards and criteria therein set forth,” in the trial court’s determination, and accordingly we find no error. See Roth, (quoting Cox, 396 N.E.2d at 65). A court, acting within its broad discretion, could have imposed a concurrent term of incarceration for defendant’s aggravated manslaughter conviction or for one or both of his convictions of aggravated assault, but it was not an abuse of discretion to impose consecutive terms in this case. Nor do we find the sentence imposed by the trial court to shock the judicial conscience.

The Appellate Division partially premised its conclusion that the trial court’s sentence shocked the judicial conscience on a comparison between defendant’s sentence and sentences recounted in sixteen Appellate Division decisions. It suggested that the sentence was an abuse of discretion because it was not “shown to be in accord” with sentences imposed in similar circumstances

This Court, however, has never imposed on a trial court the obligation to demonstrate that a sentence comports with sentences imposed by other courts in similar cases. The Yarbough guidelines promote proportionality not by a comparative analysis of the sentencing practices of different courts, but by focusing the trial court on the “facts relating to” the defendant’s crimes. Here, the trial court properly focused on the case before it, and on the devastating impact of defendant’s crimes.

We recognize, as the trial court recognized, that defendant may spend the rest of his life in jail. We agree with the trial court, however, that its task was not to ensure defendant’s eventual release, but to devise a sentence commensurate with defendant’s crimes.

Defendant’s consecutive terms do not violate statutory or judicial guidelines for sentencing, and they do not shock the judicial conscience. There was no abuse of the trial court’s sentencing discretion in this case. The judgment of the Appellate Division is reversed, and the sentence imposed by the trial court is reinstated.

In writing that there is no requirement that a sentence comport with sentences imposed in similar cases, the Court overlooks their own precedent. In State v. Pillot, 115 N.J. 558, 576 (1989), the Court held that our justice system must embrace an institutional commitment to achieving greater uniformity and parity.