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The Debate Over Mandatory Minimum Sentences

October 21, 2016 | Posted In Criminal Law

According to the New Jersey Department of Corrections, the state began use of mandatory minimum sentences in 1979, requiring inmates to serve the mandatory portion of their sentences before they can be eligible for parole for certain crimes.  As of January 2016, 74 percent of New Jersey’s adult offenders have mandatory minimum sentences with a median sentence of 5 years.  26 percent of those adult offenders have a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 or more years. 

These statistics are reflected in national totals with the United States having the highest rate of incarceration of any country in the world leading to former Attorney General Eric Holder’s sentencing reform. “Smart on Crime” recognized that 47 percent of federal inmates were serving time for drug-related crimes and that filling prisons with non-violent drug offenders may not be the best method of punishment when the focus could be placed on violent offenders, violent street gangs and leaders of drug organizations.

Trend Shows a Move Away from Mandatory Minimums

During the past decade, New Jersey has witnessed a trend away from mandatory minimum sentences.  On January 12, 2010, New Jersey Governor Corzine signed Bill A2762 which ended mandatory prison sentences for some non-violent drug offenses.  Laws such as this nationwide

More recently, on January 15, 2015, the New Jersey Supreme Court struck down a state statute that had allowed criminal judges to impose mandatory minimum prison terms without first having a jury review the evidence.  In the case of State v. Grate and Cromwell, two gang members were convicted of unlawful possession of weapons.  Gang membership prevented these individuals from seeking parole for a minimum of five years which was found to violate their constitutional rights by the state’s highest court.

Charged With or Convicted of a New Jersey Crime?

The Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University Law School reported in October of 2015 that New Jersey reduced its prison population from 2011 through 2014 by five percent, more than almost every other state.  During that same time, New Jersey crime rates fell by 20 percent.  While these statistics reflect the trend to remove minimum sentences, if you or a loved one are arrested or charged with a crime, you need a New Jersey criminal defense attorney that understands which laws still require mandatory minimum sentences and which non-violent crimes do not have such minimums. 

For example, although crimes such as Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) and Driving While Licensed Suspended (DWLS) are both are treated as traffic offenses in the state of New Jersey, recent cases still confirm the use of mandatory prison sentences as in the case of State v. French, where New Jersey Superior Court required 180 days jail time rather than a drug treatment program. 

The experienced criminal defense lawyers at Helmer, Conley & Kasselman, P.A. understand how minimum sentences can result in devastating consequences for both you and your family.  Speak to one of our attorneys today so that we can begin to prepare your best possible defense. 

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