Youth as a Sentencing Factor (Part 2)

by | Feb 8, 2022 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

Juvenile DelinquencyThe New Jersey Supreme Court concluded with the following in relevant part: The court reached its conclusion even though defendant had never been arrested or adjudicated delinquent as a juvenile and the State conceded mitigating factor nine — defendant is unlikely to reoffend. In doing so, the court failed to provide detail about the weight assigned to each aggravating and mitigating factor and how those factors were balanced with regard to the defendant.

The sentencing court was obliged to consider defendant as “she stood before the court on the day of sentencing.” As in Jaffe, defendant had taken meaningful post-offense steps towards rehabilitation, including ending her abusive relationship with co-defendant Martinez and making educational plans. Defendant had no prior juvenile adjudications, no arrests, and no criminal record. Defendant cooperated substantially with law enforcement and expressed sincere remorse for her role in the crime. She stood before the court as a first-time offender and should have been considered as one.

In conclusion, the presumption that a defendant’s youth may have prevented the defendant from having a criminal record cannot support a finding of aggravating factor three. We therefore hold that youth may be considered only as a mitigating factor in sentencing and cannot support an aggravating factor. Accordingly, we must vacate defendant’s sentence and remand for resentencing.

On resentencing, the court should give due consideration to all credible evidence in the record and all relevant sentencing factors on the day defendant stands before the court. In other words, both defendant and the State are entitled to bring all relevant factors to the court’s attention, so long as they are supported by competent and credible evidence. Also, the court on resentencing is free to consider defendant’s youth at the time of the offense and apply mitigating factor fourteen, which was given immediate effect in all sentencing proceedings on or after October 19, 2020.

For the reasons expressed, we reverse the judgment of the Appellate Division and remand for resentencing proceedings consistent with this opinion.

As rare as it is for a judge to explicitly state that s/he believes that if a defendant were older, she would have committed more offenses, the State’s position here was even rarer with regard to conceding mitigating factor nine. Conceding that the defendant is unlikely to re-offend calls for speculation in the defendant’s favor and that factor would likely have been rejected by the sentencing court.