Should a convicted criminal receive a lighter sentence if they’ve turned their life around in between their arrest and sentencing? New Jersey’s Supreme Court has ruled the factor must, at the very least, be given some consideration.
The ruling, published earlier this week, held that the behavior of Joseph M. Jaffe, a 42-year-old Brick man, cleaned up his act between the time he was arrested in 2011 on charges of cocaine distribution in Dover, Morris County, and when he was sentenced on the charges in 2012 to three years in prison.
A plea deal had left open the possibility of Jaffe avoiding jail time, but a trial court judge handed down a three year jail term, citing Jaffe’s three prior convictions on indictable offenses – New Jersey’s version of a felony, and how he was at a high risk of re-offending. In the case in question, Jaffe had pleaded guilty to third degree conspiracy to possess cocaine with the intent to distribute, but had agreed to testify against two other defendants.
Jaffe’s attorney had told the judge that his client was “gainfully employed and had been acting as the de facto father to his girlfriend’s 5-year-old child,” the Star-Ledger reported in a story on the case, which took played out in the Morris County court system. Jaffe’s attorney also told the court that he remained sober and joined Narcotics Anonymous.
The judge in the case, however, said he could not legally consider “post-offense conduct” during sentencing, which became the basis for an appeal of Jaffe’s sentence that made it’s way to New Jersey’s highest court.
“Because a sentencing analysis is a fact – sensitive inquiry, which must be based on consideration of all the competent and credible evidence raised by the parties at sentencing , the trial court must consider evidence of a defendant’s post-offense conduct,” the court ruled.
The trial judge should “view a defendant as he or she stands before the court on the day of sentencing,” the ruling said. “This means evidence of post-offense conduct, rehabilitative or otherwise, must be considered in assessing the applicability of, and weight to be given to, aggravating and mitigating factors.”
The case has now been remanded back to Morris County Superior Court, where Jaffe will be resentenced.
A full version of the Supreme Court’s decision is available here.