Humans have been grappling with mistakes—how many are allowable, how to punish them, what type of mistakes we can forgive and which are unconscionable, and how to stop people from making them in the first place—ever since the very beginning of society. Now, the latest iteration of our attempts to address stupid decisions has been handed down by the Supreme Court of New Jersey.
A Major Change to New Jersey's Third-Strike Law
In a polarizing 4-2 vote, the six state Supreme Court judges ruled that a violent crime committed as a minor can count when sentencing an offender under New Jersey's “three strikes” law.
There are third-strike laws on the books in just over half of the 50 states. New Jersey's version, enacted over two decades ago in 1995 after unanimous approval by the State Senate, is called the Persistent Offenders Accountability Act. In essence, it removes the possibility of parole for offenders facing a third conviction for violent crimes.
Supreme Court Ruling In State v. Samuel Ryan
Previously, crimes committed by juveniles were not considered as a “strike.” That changed in February 2022, however, when the N.J. Supreme Court ruled in the case of State v. Samuel Ryan. In 1990, as a 16-year-old, Ryan was convicted of two armed robberies. Just a few months out of prison after serving three years for his crimes, Ryan committed an additional two armed robberies. He was then sentenced to life without parole.
Ryan appealed, citing recent rulings by the New Jersey Supreme Court as well as the U.S. Supreme Court. Both held that it was unconstitutional, as well as cruel and unusual punishment, to impose a sentence of life without parole for juvenile offenders. But the state's highest court, although split in its decision, ruled that the juvenile offenses will count under the three-strike law.
Another Sea Change for Juvenile Offenders
The ruling, and the opinion written by Justice Lee Soloman, was something of a surprise, coming as it did on the heels of another recent New Jersey Supreme Court decision about juvenile crime and punishment. This one drastically slashed the minimum mandatory sentence for minors convicted of murder, which was 30 years without parole. Now, convicted minors will serve no more than 20 years without being considered for parole or resentencing.
You Need the Best Possible Criminal Defense
No matter if you agree with the court's majority or minority, one thing is certain: making changes to the judicial system on any level is a very difficult and slow-moving process. In the meantime, the best defense is—well, an excellent defense by an experienced and aggressive defense attorney. Choosing a law firm whose attorneys have an extensive track record of successful criminal defense is imperative. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the expert team at the Lento Law Firm are committed to doing their level best when it comes to defending those accused of violent crimes.
If you're the parent or guardian of a minor child who is facing trial for a violent offense, contact the Lento Law Firm today to tell us about your case and learn how we can help during this difficult time. Call 888-535-3686.