New Jersey’s General Assembly recently approved a measure to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for certain nonviolent offenders. It is unclear, however, whether New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy will sign it. Although Murphy has long advocated for the elimination of mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent property and drug crimes, he has previously stated that he would not sign a bill that would eliminate these types of sentences for crimes of official misconduct. The measure, which passed with a vote of 46 in favor, 20 against, and four abstentions, would eliminate mandatory sentences for such crimes, leaving the future of the bill uncertain.
Justifications for the Bill
Proponents of the bill have provided several justifications for the proposed elimination of mandatory sentences, including racial disparity in incarceration rates, ineffectiveness of mandatory minimum sentences, and fairness issues.
Advocacy groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, New Jersey Together, and the state’s Public Defender Office, have also been strong advocates for the elimination of mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenses.
Crimes of Official Misconduct
As noted above, many who are opposed to the bill cite the elimination of mandatory sentences for crimes of official misconduct. Assemblyman John DiMaio, for example, who opposes the inclusion of official misconduct crimes, stated that it makes no sense to apply matters of social justice to elected people or public officials who are paid.
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal also disagrees with the inclusion of official misconduct crimes in the bill. A spokesperson for Grewal stated that the attorney general strongly opposes any effort to weaken laws designed to hold law enforcement officers and public officials accountable when they engage in misconduct.
Proponents of the elimination of mandatory sentences for official misconduct again cited fairness and social justice as justifications for its inclusion in the bill. For example, in commenting on its support of the bill, advocacy group New Jersey Together stated that in its review of a database of more than 36,000 people who are or have recently been incarcerated in New Jersey prisons, black people were three and a half times as likely to spend time in state prison for official misconduct as white people.
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