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State v. Roach

June 04, 2001

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
WINSTON ROACH, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Per Curiam

Argued April 30, 2001

On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division.

The facts of this case are set forth at length in our prior opinion in State v. Roach, 146 N.J. 208 (1996) ("Roach I").

Briefly, defendant Winston Roach and two co-defendants, Billy Jackson and Lawrence Wright robbed a gas station in Newark. Two persons were killed during the robbery. Both Roach and Jackson were convicted of two counts of felony murder, two counts of armed robbery, two counts of aggravated manslaughter, conspiracy, and two counts of possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose.

Jackson was sentenced to two concurrent life terms with thirty years of parole ineligibility. Roach, who was thereafter sentenced by a different judge, received two consecutive life terms with a total of sixty years of parole ineligibility, a sentence double that imposed on Jackson.*fn1 Roach appealed. The Appellate Division affirmed. We granted certification, 142 N.J. 573 (1995), and ultimately reversed and remanded the case for re- sentencing. 146 N.J. 208, 233, cert. denied, 519 U.S. 1021, 117 S.Ct 540, 136 L.Ed.2d 424 (1996).

In so doing, we recognized that there was nothing intrinsically wrong with Roach's sentence:

In sentencing defendant, the trial court conformed to all sentencing guidelines and followed proper sentencing procedures. Further, the trial court's findings of the aggravating and mitigating factors were amply supported by the record. State v. O'Donnell, 117 N.J. 210, 216, 564 A.2d 1202 (1989). Moreover, the trial court gave extensive reasons for its sentencing decision. State v. Kruse, 105 N.J. 354, 363, 521 A.2d 836 (1987). The trial court acknowledged defendant's role as an accomplice, but determined that the conviction based on accomplice liability did not warrant any greater leniency.

The court followed proper procedures and standards in imposing consecutive, not concurrent, sentences. N.J.S.A. 2C:44-5a. Consecutive sentences are not an abuse of discretion when the crimes involve multiple victims and separate acts of violence. See State v. Louis, 117 N.J. 250, 254, 566 A. 511 (1989) (rejecting consecutive sentencing that was based on cruelty and inhumanity of crime rather than independent nature of victims or violent acts); State v. Ghertler, 114 N.J. 383, 392, 555 A.2d 553 (1989) (affirming consecutive sentencing that was based on independent nature of multiple criminal acts). Defendant's sentences were based on two convictions for felony murder. The court's findings suggest that the deaths of the two victims were separate acts of violence caused by distinct types of conduct.

Even if the murders occurred in close sequence, consecutive sentencing is not improper. State v. Brown, supra 138 N.J. at 560, 651 A.2d 19. The court also did not believe that there should be any difference between the punishments meted out to Jackson or defendant despite the differences in their roles in the crimes or because defendant was an accomplice. See State v. Rogers, 124 N.J. 113, 115-16, 590 A.2d 234 (1991) (ruling that defendant accomplice who supplied the guns and drove getaway car could be sentenced to two consecutive thirty-year mandatory terms for felony murder convictions). [Roach I, supra, 146 N.J. at 230-31.]

Relative to Jackson's sentence however, we found that Roach's sentence would appear to be a "paradigmatic example of non-uniformity." State v. Pillot, 115 N.J. 558, 576, 560 A.2d 634 (1989). The record strongly indicates dissimilar sentences imposed on similar defendants. Moreover, the disparity between the sentences is not minimal–- it is huge: thirty additional years in prison. [Id. at 233.]

Regarding the trial court's explanation for the disparity, we stated:

The record does not present an acceptable justification of defendant's sentence in light of the sentence imposed on his co- defendant. The trial court was cognizant of the sentences imposed on co-defendant Jackson and defendant but felt that it could disregard the sentences imposed on the co- defendant. The court explained that it had the discretion to sentence defendant more severely than the co-defendant because it had "lateral jurisdiction" and considered the co- defendant to have received "a very lenient sentence."

The court's explanation implies that it considered defendant and the co-defendant to be "similar" but that they did not deserve "similar sentences." A disparate sentenced based ...


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