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State v. Roleson

Decided: February 1, 1954.


On certified appeal from the Appellate Division of the Superior Court.

For affirmance -- Chief Justice Vanderbilt, and Justices Heher, Oliphant, Burling, Jacobs and Brennan. For reversal -- Justice Wachenfeld. The opinion of the court was delivered by Heher, J.


[14 NJ Page 405] The contention here is that the defendant Roleson is confined in the State Prison under cumulative

sentences void for want of compliance with R.S. 1937, 2:192-4, now N.J.S. 2 A:164-17, as amended by L. 1953, c. 276, providing that all sentences to the State Prison "be for a maximum and minimum term, except sentences for life," the maximum term not to be "in excess of the maximum term prescribed by law for the offense for which the offender was convicted," and the minimum term to be "not * * * less than one year," saving the power to suspend sentence and place the offender on probation as provided in R.S. 1937, 2:199-1, now N.J.S. 2 A:168-1.

On April 14, 1950 the defendant prisoner pleaded nolo contendere to seven indictments severally charging the uttering with fraudulent intent of a worthless check in violation of R.S. 1937, 2:134-17, now N.J.S. 2 A:111-15, and was thereupon sentenced to imprisonment in the State Prison at hard labor "for the maximum term of one year and the minimum term of one year," the sentences "to run consecutively." There were like sentences of imprisonment upon some 16 additional indictments for the same offense, to "run concurrently with sentence imposed" on the last of the first-stated group of indictments. These sentences were imposed after anti-social behavior constituting a violation of the conditions of probation attending the suspension of earlier sentences of imprisonment for the same offenses.

On habeas corpus, first in the Mercer County Court and later on in the Appellate Division on appeal, it was held that under State v. Moore, 21 N.J. Super. 419 (App. Div. 1952), an "illegal sentence" is not reviewable by writ of habeas corpus, but is correctible by resentence under Rule 2:7-13, now R.R. 3:7-13. State v. Roleson, 22 N.J. Super. 40 (App. Div. 1952).

A subsequent application for resentence addressed to the Passaic County Court under the cited rule was denied. Judge MacLeod affirmed that the purpose was to confine the defendant in the State Prison "rather than in one of the reformatories where an indeterminate sentence might be utilized," and this "could only be accomplished by imposing sentences wherein the minimum and maximum are identical,"

and such was permissible under R.S. 1937, 2:192-4, supra. The Appellate Division sustained this determination, holding that "the case presents an exception to the general rule of State v. Moore," cited supra. State v. Roleson, 25 N.J. Super. 461 (App. Div. 1953).

It is the judicial province to resolve accusations of crime; the Legislature determines the punitive consequences of a conviction of crime, the mode and method of penal administration, and the reformative techniques and procedures to prepare the prisoner for a return to free community life. Parole and the indeterminate or indefinite sentence are coordinate measures for the maintenance of prison morale and discipline and ultimately, and primarily, apart from a degree of punishment for the past transgression, the rehabilitation and social adjustment and integration of the contrite and potentially useful prisoner. All offenders are not incorrigible; and these procedures are constituents of a social regenerative process that would enlighten and inspire and extend the helping hand to those who are not irredeemable. The design is, by these redemptive means, and in smaller measure the commutation for earned good-conduct time and for work performance, to supplant despair by hope and recalcitrance and rebellion by a conforming mood and disposition of mind, and eventually to develop the better instincts and qualities of the fallen prisoner and fit him for the acceptance of social responsibilities, in the common and individual interest.

The minimum-maximum concept written in R.S. 1937, 2:192-4 constitutes an imperative socio-economic policy rather than an absolute discretionary procedure subject to whim and caprice. Making the minimum almost identical with the maximum term is an abuse of authority that had its genesis in the early opposition of judges to the principle of the indeterminate sentence. For the philosophy of the indefinite sentence, see Sutherland's Principles of Criminology, 515 et seq. (1939). Only by uniformity and consistency of policy may there be avoided the unequal sentences which make for resentment subversive of the corrective

process. Vide, Encyclopedia of Criminology, ...

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