On June 16, 2022, the New Jersey Supreme Court decided the Essex County case of State v. Rahee Lane. The principal issue under N.J.S.A. 2C:44-1 was whether the youthful defendant mitigating factor had retroactive or prospective application.
Justice Patterson wrote for the 6-1 majority in relevant part: First, we consider the language of the amendment. The statute is devoid of the slightest hint that the Legislature intended mitigating factor fourteen to apply retroactively. See L. 2020, c. 110. Indeed, we have repeatedly construed language stating that a provision is to be effective immediately, or effective immediately on a given date, to signal prospective application. In Pisack v. B & C Towing, Inc., we viewed the Legislature’s statement that a statutory amendment “shall take effect immediately” to “‘bespeak an intent contrary to, and not supportive of, retroactive application.'” In In re Registrant G.H., we affirmed an Appellate Division decision construing N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(g), a provision of Megan’s Law, to be prospective after finding “no statement of legislative intent, express or implied, that the amendment should be applied retroactively.” The Legislature did not explicitly provide that subsection (g) applied retroactively, i.e., to those convicted of sex offenses prior to 2002,” but “instead provided subsection (g) would be ‘effective immediately.'” (second alteration in original) (quoting L. 2002, c. 392, § 2)). And in Parolin, holding that amendments to the NERA should be prospective, we observed that “consistent with the presumption that criminal legislation is to have prospective effect, the Legislature stated that the amendments would take effect immediately.”
A counter to the Court’s analysis is that the “shall take effect immediately” language can signal that the Legislation is intended to cure a problem as soon as possible. Under those circumstances, the problem appears serious enough to also be cured in pending and/or prior cases. Application of the law to pending cases is often referred to as “pipeline retroactivity.”