Monday, September 21, 2009

Jail Credit

State v. Allen - A discussion
[Unpublished Decision of the Appellate Division - Decided September 18, 2009]

The facts in brief: The defendant pled guilty in Middlesex County to second-degree robbery pursuant to an agreement with the State. He was sentenced to a six-year term of imprisonment, one year less than the sentence the State recommended, subject to the No Early Release Act. Also pursuant to the plea agreement, the sentence was concurrent with a sentence the defendant was already serving in Mercer County, for another second-degree robbery. He was awarded "gap time" credits for the 97-day period between his sentencing in the two counties.

[Gap time is relevant when a defendant, who has been sentenced previously to a term of imprisonment, is sentenced again for a different offense committed prior to the imposition of the earlier sentence. In that circumstance, the defendant is credited at the time of the second sentence for the time of imprisonment served on the prior sentence.]

He was arrested for and confined pursuant to the Mercer County charge between January 20, 2005, and his sentencing in Mercer County on March 10, 2006, and was therefore awarded jail credits for those 415 days as time served on the Mercer County sentence. On January 28, 2005, eight days after he was arrested and confined in Mercer County, he was arrested for the Middlesex County robbery. Because he was already confined on the Mercer County charge, the judge did not award jail credits against the Middlesex County sentence.

Defendant did not appeal from the judgment of conviction, but instead filed a petition for post-conviction relief, claiming entitlement to jail credits against his Middlesex County sentence. The trial judge denied the petition.

The issues: The defendant raised five issues on appeal: (1) Should he have been given jail time credit against his Middlesex County sentence from January 28, 2005, through March 10, 2006, in addition to the 97 days' gap time? (2) Was the sentence imposed illegal? (3) Was the defendant denied effective assistance of counsel, resulting in his guilty plea? (4) Should the PCR (post-conviction relief) Court have conducted an evidentiary hearing to determine the issues raised in defendant's post-conviction relief petition? (5) Is reversal required because of the cumulative effects of the errors during the sentencing hearing and the ineffectiveness of appointed trial counsel?

The court's holding: The arguments raised in Points 2, 4, and 5 lack sufficient merit to warrant discussion. The arguments raised in Point 3 was not raised at the trial level, and therefore cound not be considered on appeal.

The trial court's decision regarding sentencing was affirmed.

The Appellate Division determined that the trial court did not err by declining to exercise discretion and award duplicate jail credits to the Middlesex County sentence that had already been awarded against the Mercer County sentence. Although neither the Criminal Code nor the Court Rules address the propriety of duplicating jail credits in this fashion, jail credits are generally understood to apply only to confinement attributable to the offense that gave rise to the sentence, and impermissible if the confinement is due to the service of a prior-imposed sentence or another charge. Because the defendant's confinement as of January 20, 2005, was attributable to the charge pending in Mercer County, the trial court's refusal to award them against the Middlesex County sentence was consistent with precedent. It also did not deprive the defendant of the benefit of his plea agreement, which was for concurrent sentencing, not sentences that would end on the same date.

The end result: The defendant had to serve his sentences as set forth by the trial judges in Mercer and Middlesex Counties, with the sentences running concurrently but the Middlesex County sentence ending at a later date than that in Mercer County.

What does all of this mean to you: If you are already in jail pending trial on two separate charges at the same time, pursuant to two separate offenses, your "time served" jail credits can only be awarded against one of the sentences, the one pertaining to the offense for which you were actually being held in custody.

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