For some people, being charged with a crime can be the best thing that ever happens to them. Misdemeanors, drug crimes, even more serious felonies can act as a turning point for people who may be headed down the wrong path, and the threat of a criminal record, jail time, and other consequences can be enough to encourage defendants to start living better. A criminal charge can act as a wake-up call and motivate a person to change his or her ways.
Last month, the state Supreme Court instructed judges to take into account any of these drastic changes in lifestyle that a defendant may have undergone between the time he or she committed a crime and the time of sentencing. Justice Lee Solomon wrote that “the trial court should view a defendant as he or she stands before the court on the day of sentencing” and take into account any mitigating factors that may demonstrate a defendant’s commitment to change and rehabilitation.
State v. Jaffe
In August of 2011, Joseph Jaffe, from Morris County, pleaded guilty to a third-degree drug possession charge. The prosecutor’s office made a deal with Jaffe—if he would cooperate with the investigation and the police department, they would recommend his sentence be issued at the lower end of the range for his crime. It took almost a year for Jaffe to be sentenced, and he used that year to turn his life around.
Jaffe did not commit any other offenses in the year between pleading guilty and being sentenced, and he kept his record clean. He stopped using drugs, began attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings and joined a support group where he counseled at-risk teens. He also got engaged, and his fiancée described Jaffe as a “great father” to her 5-year-old child. Jaffe had completely abandoned his old lifestyle and asked Superior Court Judge Thomas Manahan to consider the changes he had made when determining his sentencing.
Despite his changes, Jaffe was still sentenced to a three-year jail term. Judge Manahan ruled that he could not use Jaffe’s changes in behavior and lifestyle to issue a lighter sentence because, unlike the federal criminal justice system, the state’s Code of Criminal Justice had no provisions for considering these factors in sentencing. Jaffe appealed the ruling, and his case ended up before the state Supreme Court.
Precedent: State v. Randolph
Solomon applied a previous case, State v. Randolph, in which the court ruled that a defendant’s conduct could be used at a resentencing hearing. Additionally, before the version of the criminal justice code used today, judges had more freedom to sentence according to the person standing in the sentencing court. As Solomon said, “the code does not…require the trial court to ignore a defendant’s individual characteristics and circumstances,” and in Jaffe’s case, his actions in the year in question made it likely that he would not commit this crime again, that he will respond positively to probation and that an extended prison sentence would be a hardship for his family.
At Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, our criminal attorneys represent any clients who feel they may have been sentenced without consideration for the positive strides they have made since their arrests. If you have questions about your options for appeal, contact one of our criminal lawyers today.