On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 365 N.J.Super. 320 (2004).
(This syllabus is not part of the opinion of the Court. It has been prepared by the Office of the Clerk for the convenience of the reader. It has been neither reviewed nor approved by the Supreme Court. Please note that, in the interests of brevity, portions of any opinion may not have been summarized).
(NOTE: This Court wrote no full opinion in this case. Rather, the Court's reversal of the judgment of the Appellate Division is based substantially on the reasons expressed in State v. Wade and State v. Ferencsik.)
The issue before the Court is whether the pre-amendment No Early Release Act, N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2, (NERA) is applicable to a conviction for vehicular homicide.
On August 18, 2000, Kevin Jarrells was driving his car in Newark when he struck two children riding on bicycles, killing one and injuring the other. Jarrells left the scene of the accident, attempted to repair his car, and initially gave a false statement to police. Jarrells was driving with a suspended license at the time of the accident.
On December 7, 2001, Jarrells pled guilty to second-degree vehicular homicide, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-5, and related charges. He was sentenced on the vehicular homicide charge to a term of five years, subject to an eighty-five percent parole ineligibility term under NERA.
On appeal to the Appellate Division, Jarrells argued that his conviction for vehicular homicide should not have been subject to NERA because his plea was entered prior to the 2001 amendment that expressly included "vehicular homicide" in NERA's list of covered offenses. Jarrells claimed that the different sentencing provisions of NERA and the vehicular homicide statute created an "ambiguity" that violated his due process rights, specifically the right to know with reasonable certainty what punishment follows specific criminal behavior.
The vehicular homicide statute includes a mandatory term of imprisonment for a defendant who was operating a vehicle while his driver's license was revoked or suspended. Pre-amendment NERA subjects a defendant convicted of a "violent crime" to eighty-five percent parole ineligibility.
The Appellate Division reasoned that the ambiguity created by the different sentencing provisions in the NERA and the vehicular homicide statutes violates Jarrell's due process right to know with reasonable certainty what punishment he will face for his crime. Therefore, the Appellate Division held that NERA does not apply to a vehicular homicide that occurred prior to the 2001 NERA amendment. Jarrells' eighty-five percent paroleineligibility sentence was vacated and the matter was remanded to the trial court for resentencing.
The Supreme Court granted the State's petition for certification.
HELD: The judgment of the Appellate Division is REVERSED substantially for the reasons expressed in State v.Wade and State v. Ferencsik. The No Early Release Act applies to second-degree vehicular homicide.
1. In State v. Wade, the Court held that a sentence for second-degree vehicular homicide was subject to the version of NERA that predated the 2001 amendment. In so doing, the Court relied on State v. Ferencsik. Here, the Court disagrees with the Appellate Division's conclusion that Wade is distinguishable because State v. Manzie was not considered. Wade was decided after Manzie, and the Court continues in its view that NERA applies to second degree vehicular homicide. Jarrells' sentence is reinstated. (Pp. 2-3)
CHIEF JUSTICE PORITZ and JUSTICES LONG, LaVECCHIA, ZAZZALI, WALLACE, and RIVERA-SOTO join in this PER CURIAM opinion. ...