A defendant has the right to address the court at sentencing. Such statements are offered in mitigation of punishment, and typically include acceptance of responsibility and/or some showing of remorse for the underlying conduct. The New Jersey Supreme Court recently addressed the parameters of this right in State v. Jones. As the Court noted, there is relatively little case law on this issue, so the guidance offered by this opinion is valuable and worth a comment.
Briefly, Jones and a co-defendant were charged with the robbery of a woman and her daughter in a park in New Brunswick. Jones subsequently pleaded guilty to first degree robbery and a second degree certain-persons-not-to-have-weapons charge. The State’s sentencing recommendation was 15 years with an 85% parole disqualifier subject to the No-Early-Release Act, with a concurrent 7-year sentence on the certain persons charge. At the sentencing hearing, defense counsel asked the Court to correct the pre-sentence report to note that the gun was unloaded at the time of the robbery, and to honor the plea agreement and sentence Jones in accordance with the State’s recommendation. The Court then asked Jones if he wanted to speak. Jones stated that the was “a hundred percent guilty” of the offense, but was not sorry for what he did. The sentencing judge then stated “You’re not sorry?”, to which Jones replied that the victim was not the target, and then stated “Other than that, then that’s it.” The Court then asked the State if it wished to be heard, and the prosecutor stated that the victim was “the intended target once [Jones changed] his mind in the park.” Jones then asked to be heard again, but the Judge denied his request.
Jones did not appeal, but instead filed a pro se motion for post-conviction relief. His issues were eventually disposed of by an excessive sentencing panel which held, among other things, that the sentencing court did not violate Jones’s right to allow him to speak at his own sentencing. The Supreme Court granted certification to review this claim. Continue reading