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State v. Rumblin

February 28, 2001


On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 326 N.J. Super. 296 (1999).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Coleman, J.

Argued October 11, 2000

This appeal requires us to decide whether the No Early Release Act (NERA), N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2, may be applied to a defendant convicted of a first or second degree offense as an accomplice rather than as a principal. In a published opinion, the Appellate Division held that NERA may be applied to accomplices. State v. Rumblin, 326 N.J. Super. 296, 302 (1999). We granted defendant's petition for certification, 163 N.J. 396 (2000), and now affirm.


A Bergen County Grand Jury indicted defendant and his co- defendants, Everton Watts and Raheam Goosby, for first-degree robbery, N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1 (Count One); second-degree aggravated assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1b(1) (Count Two); third-degree aggravated assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1b(2) (Count Three); fourth- degree aggravated assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1b(4) (Counts Four, Five, Six, Eight, Nine, Ten, and Eleven); third-degree aggravated assault upon a police officer, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1b(5)(a) (Count Seven); fourth-degree resisting arrest, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-2a (Counts Twelve, Thirteen, and Fourteen); second-degree possession of a weapon for unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4a (Count Fifteen); third-degree unlawful possession of a weapon, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5b (Count Sixteen); fourth-degree unlawful possession of hollow-nose bullets, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-3f (Count Seventeen); third-degree possession of cocaine, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10a(1) (Count Eighteen); fourth-degree unlawful taking of means of conveyance, N.J.S.A. 2C:20-10d (Count Twenty); and fourth-degree receiving stolen property, N.J.S.A. 2C:20-7 (Count Twenty-One). In addition, the indictment charged only defendant Rumblin with third-degree receiving stolen property, N.J.S.A. 2C:20-7 (Count Nineteen).

Defendant negotiated a plea agreement with the State in which he would plead guilty to first-degree robbery, third-degree aggravated assault upon a police officer, two counts of fourth- degree resisting arrest, third-degree possession of cocaine, and third-degree theft by receiving a stolen 1985 Chevrolet Camaro motor vehicle. Defendant was informed that his guilty plea to first-degree robbery would invoke the sentencing provisions of NERA. For its part of the plea agreement, the State would recommend a maximum custodial base term of twenty years and would dismiss the remaining counts of the indictment.

Defendant provided a factual basis to support his guilt on each of the six counts to which he entered guilty pleas. Defendant admitted that his role was to assist in planning a robbery of the Radisson Inn hotel located in Paramus, New Jersey, and to provide transportation by driving the stolen Chevrolet Camaro to and from the scene on October 20, 1997. Defendant helped to plan the robbery, knowing that the two co-defendants would be armed with guns when they entered the hotel to commit the robbery. As planned, defendant drove Watts and Goosby to the Radisson Inn and waited outside in the stolen Camaro while they entered the hotel lobby and robbed Thomas Patterson, the hotel clerk. Defendant knew that Watts and Goosby were armed when they entered the hotel. After they robbed Patterson at gunpoint, they injured him by pistol-whipping him. When police officers arrived on the scene, Watts and Goosby pointed their weapons at the officers before they were arrested. At the time of their arrests, a police officer recovered one of the weapons used in the robbery. That gun contained three hollow-nose bullets. Defendant was arrested while attempting to flee in the stolen Camaro. He later admitted that he was an accomplice to the robbery and that he shared the intent and purpose of his co- defendants to commit the robbery while armed with guns.

Based on those facts, the court sentenced defendant for the first-degree robbery to a base term of thirteen years and required him to serve eighty-five percent, or eleven years and six months, before becoming eligible for parole. Concurrent terms were imposed on the remaining five counts. The Appellate Division affirmed the judgment of conviction in all respects.


Defendant argues that NERA does not apply to unarmed accomplices because NERA limits its scope to the "actor" who causes death or serious bodily injury or uses or threatens the use of a deadly weapon. See N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2d. The essence of defendant's assertion is that NERA applies only to principals and not accomplices. The State disagrees and maintains that because of the nature of accomplice liability under New Jersey law, NERA applies to both principals and accomplices alike.

Our analysis must begin with the statute itself. NERA, in pertinent part, provides:

a. A court imposing a sentence of incarceration for a crime of the first or second degree shall fix a minimum term of 85% of the sentence during which the defendant shall not be eligible for parole if the crime is a violent crime as defined in subsection d. of this section.

d. For the purposes of this section, "violent crime" means any crime in which the actor causes death, causes serious bodily injury as defined in subsection b. of N.J.S. 2C:11-1, or uses or threatens the immediate use of a deadly weapon. "Violent crime" also includes any aggravated sexual assault or sexual assault in which the actor uses, or threatens the immediate use of, physical force.

For the purposes of this section, "deadly weapon" means any firearm or other weapon, device, instrument, material or substance, whether animate or inanimate, which in the manner it is used or is intended to be used, is known to be capable of producing ...

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