Juveniles in NJ Won't Face Life Sentences for Non-Homicide Crimes

By George Khoury, Esq. on January 18, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Supreme Court for the state of New Jersey, in an opinion released last week, just changed the way judges in the state will sentence most juvenile offenders. The opinion, which actually decided two criminal conviction sentencing appeals, centered on whether a juvenile should be sentenced to life without parole for a non-homicide related crime.

The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that not only should juveniles not get life without parole, they ruled that sentences that are in essence, life without parole, (i.e. 75 year sentences) are functionally the same thing as a life sentence.

Agreeing With the US Supreme Court

Following the rational of a 2012 US Supreme Court decision basically prohibiting (as unconstitutional) life sentences for juveniles that hadn't killed anyone, the high court in NJ ruled in favor of two violent criminals, who were both sentenced to "functional" life terms at the age of 17.

Now, the lower courts in each case must revisit the sentences of those two convicts and issue a new sentence. In one of the two cases, a significantly shortened sentence could result in the release of one of the convicts, since the original conviction happened 36 years ago, in 1981, and each will surely be given credit for time served.

Juvenile Crime and Serious Time

While neither of the two convicts committed a murder themselves, there is no dispute as to the seriousness of their offenses. One was convicted of two gang rapes, while the other was convicted on multiple armed robbery charges (wherein an accomplice shot and killed a person during one robbery). Both were sentenced at the age of 17, and the soonest either would be eligible for parole wouldn't be until after they reached 70 years old.

While some might find these sentences appropriate, factually, they are inconsistent with the norms of punishment. For instance, in some states, a murder charge would result in lesser punishment than either of the 17 year old convicts received for their lesser crimes. Even in New Jersey, a person convicted of first degree murder could face a sentence of only 30 years.

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