New Jersey Criminal Defense Attorneys for Clients Charged With Aggravated Sexual Assault
There are special plea and sentencing implications that are triggered when someone charged with a New Jersey aggravated sexual assault offense falls within the Jessica Lunsford Act. This law increased the punishment for individuals convicted for aggravated sexual assault involving a victim who is less than 13 years old. The Lunsford Act requires imposition of a sentence that is fixed at between 25 years and life imprisonment. Prosecutors are authorized to make a pretrial offer that is outside this range but the minimum allowable under the Lunsford Act is 15 years and this floor cannot be comprised by a prosecutor or judge. The following are some of the more common questions that arise when someone is arrested for aggravated sexual assault and the Lunsford Act applies.
What Are The Considerations In Determining Whether To Offer A Reduced Sentence?
In determining whether or not to offer a reduced sentence in an aggravated sexual assault case involving a victim who is under 13 years old, the prosecutor is supposed to consider several factors. The following are some of the considerations:
- The degree of physical and emotional harm suffered by the victim and members of
the victim’s immediate family;
- The interest of the victim and members of the victim’s immediate family in avoiding the need to testify at trial or a pretrial hearing;
- The interest of the victim and members of the victim’s immediate family in avoiding the need to listen to testimony recounting the crime and/or its impact;
- The immediate and long-term interest of the victim and members of the victim’s immediate family in not having details of the crime and its impact publicized at a trial;
- The interest of the victim and members of the victim’s immediate family in the swiftest possible resolution of the criminal matter;
- The interest of the victim and members of the victim’s immediate family in the certainty of conviction resulting from a guilty plea;
- The position of the victim, where appropriate given his or her age, and the victim’s parent(s)/legal guardian(s) regarding the plea agreement; and
- The prosecutor’s assessment of the likelihood of obtaining a guilty verdict at a trial, recognizing that an acquittal on the aggravated sexual assault charge or adverse rulings in pretrial motions would impact adversely the interests of the victim and members of the victim’s immediate family.
Are There Restrictions On When A Reduced Sentence May Be Offered Under the Lunsford Act?
The prosecutor may only offer the maximum ten (10) year reduction or a plea to fifteen (15) years in prison at pre-indictment. Once the offer is rejected and the defendant is indicted, there is no legal authority under the Lunsford Act for a fifteen (15) year sentence. The plea authorized under this law must escalate once the defendant is indicted. The offer must increase to eighteen (18) years unless unless the County Prosecutor states, in writing, that there was a material change in circumstances that justify extending an offer of fifteen (15) to eighteen (18) years.
Is There A Requirement That Plea Offers Escalate Under The Lunsford Act?
Yes. The prosecutor’s pre-indictment offer must expire and escalate once the defendant is indicted. The new plea offer, if any, must carry a minimum of three (3) additional years of parole ineligibility. A common escalation is for the plea to increase from a pre-indictment of fifteen (15) years to twenty (20) years post-indictment.