For affirmance -- Chief Justice Hughes, Justices Jacobs, Mountain, Sullivan, Pashman and Clifford and Judge Kolovsky. For reversal -- None. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Sullivan, J.
We are here called upon to review the action of the Appellate Division modifying as excessive a sentence imposed on defendant by the trial court pursuant to a plea bargain.
On November 6, 1972 Willie Spinks, then 18 years of age, committed an armed robbery at a liquor store in Monmouth County. Six days later he participated in three more armed robberies at a gas station and two Cumberland Farms Stores, all in Monmouth County. He and his companions were apprehended shortly after the last robbery. Four indictments were returned against defendant charging him with these robberies while armed (one of the indictments was for aiding and abetting). A separate two-count indictment charged defendant with unlawful possession of a firearm.
Following negotiations with the prosecutor's office, defendant entered into a plea bargain under which he agreed to plead guilty to the four indictments charging robbery while armed in return for the prosecutor's recommendation that the sentences on the indictments were to run concurrently with each other, that defendant's "maximum exposure" be 25 years and that the indictment charging unlawful possession of a firearm be dismissed.
The trial court accepted the pleas of guilty and sentenced defendant as follows: On each of the four armed robbery indictments, defendant was sentenced to State Prison to a term of not less than 10 nor more than 15 years on the robbery count, and a consecutive term of not less than five nor
more than 10 years for committing the robbery when armed. The sentence on each indictment was made concurrent with the sentences imposed on the other indictments so that the aggregate of the sentences received by defendant was 15 to 25 years.*fn1 Following imposition of sentence, the trial judge advised defendant "that you have forty-five days from today's date within which to take an appeal from the sentences."
Defendant forthwith filed an appeal claiming that the sentence of 15-25 years was manifestly excessive and that he should have been sentenced to an indeterminate term at the Youth Correctional Institution Complex pursuant to N.J.S.A. 30:4-147.
The Appellate Division in an unreported opinion rejected defendant's contention that he should have been sentenced to the Youth Complex, but noted that defendant was then serving his prison sentence at Complex facilities pursuant to administrative transfer.
However, the Appellate Division found the 15-25 years aggregate prison sentences imposed to be excessive. For sentencing purposes, it viewed defendant's offenses as a single criminal episode and, in light of his age at the time the offenses were committed (18 years), immaturity and lack of any prior criminal record, concluded that sentences aggregating not less than 10 nor more than 15 years "would more properly fit this offender." It remanded the matter to the trial court for resentencing. We granted the State's petition and defendant's cross-petition for certification. 64 N.J. 492 (1974). We also granted leave to the Acting Prosecutor of Hudson County to file a statement supporting in part the argument presented by the State in its petition for certification.
The State argues: (1) the Appellate Division should not exercise its inherent jurisdiction to review excessive sentence
claims where the sentence imposed was in accordance with a plea bargain; (2) to do so is incompatible with the contractual nature of a plea negotiation; (3) the goals of sentence review are not served by appellate review of bargained sentences and (4) adequate procedures are available without resort to the appellate ...