Two N.J. criminal defense lawyer associations ask Murphy to sign mandatory minimums bill

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Two New Jersey criminal defense lawyer associations are asking Gov. Phil Murphy (D) to sign a bill that would end mandatory minimum sentencing for crimes such as drug possession, burglary, and official misconduct.

The Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers of New Jersey. Photo via acdlnj.org

By John Heinis/Hudson County View

“With this legislation, New Jersey has an opportunity to take historic action to restore some balance to the criminal legal system and provide a modicum of justice for thousands of incarcerated individuals, vastly people of color, who have served disproportionate prison terms,” National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers President Christopher W. Adams and the Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers of New Jersey President Linda Foster said in a joint statement.

“For decades, New Jersey prosecutors have used the threat of mandatory minimum sentences to coerce accused persons into guilty pleas and forego their constitutional right to trial. The over reliance on manipulative plea bargains — coupled with the trial penalty for those who are heard by a jury and categorically receive greater sentences than what prosecutors may have originally offered — has contributed to mass incarceration and prison overcrowding in New Jersey, which has had severe consequences for inmates and their families especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Their stance is essentially the polar opposite of the County Prosecutors of Association of New Jersey, who had group President Esther Suarez, the Hudson County prosecutor, wrote  a letter to Murphy last week asking him to veto the bill.

Murphy has indicated that he is also against the official misconduct portion of the bill, which was introduced by state Senator (D-32) Nick Sacco and Assemblyman Nick Chiaravalloti (D-31) in the upper and lower houses, respectively.

Thus far, the governor has not given a timeline on when he plans to take action on the legislation.

New Jersey Together, the state chapter of the ACLU, the Latino Action Network, Americans for Prosperity NJ, and the Justice Action Network are a few of about 20 different organizations that have publicly asked Murphy to sign the bill.