April 28, 2011
WILLIAM R. GEIGER, APPELLANT,
NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, RESPONDENT.
On appeal from the New Jersey Department of Corrections.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted March 22, 2011
Before Judges Messano and St. John.
William R. Geiger, an inmate at Southern State Correctional Facility, appeals from a final agency decision denying his request for "a projected maximum expiration date based upon present earning pattern."*fn1
On December 15, 2009, Geiger submitted an Inmate Remedy System Form, stating that he had been incarcerated for thirty-three years for a 1976 murder conviction, but had not yet received a maximum expiration calculation for his term of imprisonment. Citing N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2b, Geiger claimed that his maximum term of imprisonment was seventy-five years, and, if reduced by accrued time credits, his sentence was set to expire in three to four months. Katrina Parsons, a Senior Classification Officer of Southern State Correctional Facility, responded:
The 75 year term you are referring to pertains to your parole eligibility date, not your maximum expiration date. Your maximum expiration date is life. I have confirmed this with staff at central office. Geiger filed an administrative appeal. In his administrative appeal, Geiger wrote:
Thank you for your clarification, but contrary to your response [the] Legislature, not the Dept. of Corrections, defines the terms of a life sentence. NJS 30:4-123.51 et. seq. and NJS 2C:43-7.2b use a 75 yr base as the maximum equivalent to a life term. I appeal your response therefore.
His appeal was denied. Carlos Albino, an administrator within the facility, in denying Geiger's appeal, stated:
Your assertion is not correct. NJS 2C:43-7.2b states 75 yrs shall be used "solely for the purpose of calculating the minimum term of parole ineligibility" on a life sentence.
This section of the criminal code does not support your position. With regard to a maximum term, life means life.
Geiger appeals the administrative decision and again argues that, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 30:4-123.51 and N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2, his maximum sentence is seventy-five years.
To the extent that the administrative decision implicates legal principles, we independently evaluate those legal assessments de novo. See Manalapan Realty, L.P. v. Twp. Comm. of Manalapan, 140 N.J. 366, 378 (1995); Finderne Mgmt. Co., Inc. v. Barrett, 402 N.J. Super. 546, 573 (App. Div. 2008), certif. denied, 199 N.J. 542 (2009).
Effective June 29, 2001, the Legislature amended the No Early Release Act (NERA), N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2, to make it applicable to life sentences for murder. See State v. Andino, 345 N.J. Super. 35, 38-40 (App. Div. 2001); State v. Allen, 337 N.J. Super. 259, 271-74 (App. Div. 2001), certif. denied, 171 N.J. 43 (2002). N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2 now provides that "a sentence of life imprisonment shall be deemed to be seventy-five years" exclusively for the purpose of "calculating the minimum term of parole ineligibility." NERA does not apply to murder convictions for crimes antedating the amendment. State v. Manzie, 335 N.J. Super. 267, 271-78 (App. Div. 2000), affirmed by an equally divided court, 168 N.J. 113 (2001). Geiger was sentenced more than two decades prior to the date of the amendment to NERA. As such, its provisions are irrelevant to his sentence.
Additionally, N.J.S.A. 30:4-123.51(a), which addresses parole eligibility regarding life sentences for murder imposed pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3, expressly provides that "commutation and work credits shall not in any way reduce any judicial or statutory mandatory minimum term and such credits accrued shall only be awarded subsequent to the expiration of the term." This statute is also irrelevant and does not in any way further Geiger's contentions.
"Because the crime of murder has no presumptive term, defendant, like every murderer, knows he is risking life in prison." State v. Abdullah, 184 N.J. 497, 508 (2005) (quoting State v. Abdullah, 372 N.J. Super. 252, 283 (App. Div.)). The Department of Corrections properly concluded that the maximum term of Geiger's life sentence is the duration of his life.