On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division.
(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).
The issue in this appeal is whether the Persistent Offender Accountability Act, N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.1 (the "Three Strikes Law"), as amended in 2003, applies to this defendant, who had two prior convictions, but who did not commit the predicate offenses prior to the subject offense.
On December 13, 1999, defendant Howard Parks committed first-degree armed robbery at a Union County hotel. He was convicted on October 5, 2001. At that time, he had two prior convictions of separate and unrelated offenses. On January 17, 2001, he was convicted in Essex County of kidnapping and first-degree robbery. He committed those crimes on December 1, 1999. On December 1, 2000, he was convicted of federal bank robbery, which occurred on December 28, 1999.
In January 2002, at sentencing on the Union County conviction, the State sought an enhancement under the Three Strikes Law on the basis that defendant had three "strikes." At the time, the Three Strikes Law required that a court impose a term of life imprisonment, without the possibility of parole, on a defendant convicted of certain types of first-degree crimes (including robbery), where the defendant had previously been convicted, on two separate occasions, of those crimes in this state, another state, or under federal law. The trial court applied the Three Strikes Law and sentenced defendant to life in prison without parole. Defendant appealed.
While that appeal was pending, the Legislature amended the Three Strikes Law in April 2003. The Three Strikes Law now requires a term of life without parole when the defendant "has been convicted of two or more crimes that were committed on prior and separate occasions, regardless of the dates of the convictions."
On November 24, 2003, the Appellate Division affirmed defendant's conviction, but reversed and remanded the sentence to the trial court to determine whether the prior federal bank robbery was a "strike" within the meaning of the Three Strikes Law. On resentencing in April 2004, the trial court decided that defendant's prior federal conviction was a "strike" and imposed a life sentence without parole. The trial court did not indicate whether it was applying the original or the amended version of the Three Strikes Law.
The Appellate Division affirmed the sentence on May 18, 2006. The Supreme Court granted certification.
Re-argued September 10, 2007
This appeal involves the applicability of the Persistent Offender Accountability Act, N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.1 (the "Three Strikes Law"). It centers on a defendant who was resentenced after an amendment to the Three Strikes Law that declared that its applicability depends on the commission of two or more crimes prior to the crime for which the enhanced sentence is sought and not on the sequence of the prior convictions. Although the defendant in this case had two prior convictions, he did not commit the two predicate crimes prior to the offense at issue here. Thus, the statute is inapplicable to him. We therefore reverse the Appellate Division decision to the contrary and remand the case to the trial judge for a new sentencing under the amended Three Strikes Law.
On December 13, 1999, defendant Howard Parks entered a Hilton Hotel in Union County armed with a weapon and took money from the cash drawers. As a result, on October 5, 2001, he was convicted of first-degree armed robbery, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1. As of that date, defendant had been convicted on two prior occasions for separate and unrelated offenses, an Essex County kidnapping and robbery and a federal bank robbery. The Essex County crimes took place on December 1, 1999, with convictions on January 17, 2001. The federal crime occurred on December 28, 1999, with a conviction on December 1, 2000. Accordingly, at sentencing on January 18, 2002, the State moved for the imposition of an enhanced sentence under the Three Strikes Law on the basis that defendant had three predicate convictions, or "strikes." At that time the Three Strikes Law read as follows:
a. Life Imprisonment Without Parole. A person convicted of a crime under any of the following: N.J.S. 2C:11-3; subsection a. of N.J.S. 2C:11-4; a crime of the first degree under N.J.S. 2C:13-1, ...