In New Jersey, the law dictates that certain sentences should be issued for certain crimes. A sentencing court is not always required to comply with sentencing guidelines, though, and can issue downgraded sentences in certain situations. A New Jersey court discussed when downgraded sentences are appropriate in a recent case in which the defendant was sentenced to probation following a conviction for a drug offense. If you are charged with drug trafficking or another drug crime, it is prudent to confer with an assertive New Jersey drug charge defense attorney to discuss what evidence you may be able to set forth in your favor.

The Alleged Crimes

It is reported that the defendant was arrested at an airport after it was revealed that two drug containers in his suitcase that were marked as laxatives actually contained cocaine. He stated a relative asked him to carry the drugs back into the country from the Dominican Republic and to deliver them to an individual in his town. He was charged with third-degree possession of a dangerous controlled substance and first-degree possession of a dangerous controlled substance with the intent to distribute.

Allegedly, the third-degree charge was dismissed, and the first-degree charge was reduced to a second-degree offense in exchange for a guilty plea. Additionally, the prosecution recommended a five-year prison term. During the sentencing hearing, the defendant’s attorney cited multiple mitigating factors and asked that the defendant be sentenced as a third-degree offender to a non-custodial probationary sentence. The court found the defense’s reasoning to be appropriate and sentenced the defendant to probation. The State appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in sentencing the defendant. The appellate court agreed and reversed the trial court ruling.

Reduced Sentences Under New Jersey Law

The appellate court noted that there are two New Jersey statues that address sentencing in criminal matters. The first is geared towards determining whether a defendant will be imprisoned rather than the length of the term of a sentence contemplated by the downgrade provision. The court explained that a serious injustice caused by an unanticipated and extraordinary circumstance must be found in order for a defendant to avoid prison time pursuant to the first provision, while a sentence may be downgraded if a court finds it necessary to satisfy the interests of justice.

Prior to issuing a downgraded sentence, a judge must be clearly convinced that the mitigating factors significantly outweigh the aggravating factors and that the interest of justice compels a downgraded sentence. As the focus remains on the crime and not the criminal, the circumstances that present a compelling reason for a downgrade must arise from the crime itself.

In the subject case, the court found that the trial judge stated that the mitigating factors outweighed the aggravating factors. She neglected to focus on the crime in finding that a downgraded sentence was in the interest of justice, however. As such, the sentence was vacated, and the matter was remanded for resentencing.

Talk to a Skillful New Jersey Attorney

In some cases, even if a person is convicted of a drug crime, the court may issue a lesser sentence than expected. If you are charged with trafficking narcotics or another drug offense, the skillful New Jersey drug distribution defense attorneys and drug possession lawyers of The Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall can assist you in pursuing the best legal outcome available under the facts of your case. You can contact us by calling 877-450-8301 or using our online form to set up a meeting.