NJ lawmakers try to end mandatory prison time for corrupt officials
TRENTON — Legislation that would eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for some nonviolent crimes, as recommended by a state commission, was amended by the state Senate to add another offense that applies only to government officials.
The late-August amendment to a pair of bills intended to eliminate racial disparities in New Jersey prisons has sponsor Assemblywoman Yvonne Lopez, D-Middlesex, unhappy, according to a Politico report. Gov. Phil Murphy also opposes the change.
“This is largely addressing minimum mandatory sentences for nonviolent crimes and some juvenile justice elements as well,” Murphy said of the bill, when asked at his coronavirus Wednesday news briefing. “It was roundly supported by county prosecutors, law enforcement, the commission itself, legislative, certainly our offices.”
“Let me say unequivocally: Official misconduct was not on the list,” Murphy said. “So I just want to say as clearly as I can, I do not support official misconduct being roped into this legislation.”
Official misconduct is a felony that prosecutors use to go after corrupt public servants such as elected officials, judges, teachers, firefighters and police officers. The offense carries mandatory two or five-year prison sentence without possibility of parole depending on whether it's graded as a third- or second-degree crime.
The bill generally enacts some of the recommendations of the New Jersey Criminal Sentencing and Disposition Commission.
It would end mandatory minimum sentences for various nonviolent drug-related and property crimes, typically fixed at one-third to one-half of the sentence imposed. It would also reduce the mandatory minimum for second-degree robbery or burglary from 85% to 50% of the sentence imposed.
The mandatory imprisonment for public officials or employees convicted of crimes of misconduct was unanimously approved in 2007. That law applies to 19 crimes, and the other 18 – including criminal coercion, theft, bribery and others – would not be changed by the current proposal.
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at email@example.com.