In 1995, New Jersey passed a “three strikes” law mandating a life sentence to defendants who are repeatedly convicted of certain violent crimes. According to a February 2022 ruling by the state’s Supreme Court, crimes committed by juveniles can be counted as “strikes” under that law.
The case before the court involved a man who was 16 years old when he was convicted of his first armed robbery. After he was convicted of two more armed robberies at age 23, a judge sentenced him to life without the possibility of parole because he was a three-time offender.
The man appealed his sentence as unconstitutional, citing recent decisions by both the Supreme Court of New Jersey and the U.S. Supreme Court that held it is cruel and unusual punishment to sentence minor defendants to life in prison without parole.
However, in a 4-2 ruling, the New Jersey Supreme Court denied his appeal. In the majority opinion, Justice Lee Solomon wrote that rules prohibiting life sentences for juvenile offenders didn’t apply because the man was an adult when he committed his latest crimes.
In a dissenting opinion, Justice Barry Albin wrote that mandatory sentences for youthful offenders go against “the evolving standards of decency” demonstrated in recent state and federal court rulings.
New Jersey’s three strikes law
Under the state’s criminal law code, defendants with two previous criminal convictions shall be sentenced to life in prison if they commit one of the following offenses:
- Aggravated manslaughter
- Aggravated sexual assault
As the court ruling held, offenses by juveniles may count as strikes under the law. It’s advisable for defendants accused of third-strike offenses to establish a solid defense strategy and vigorously fight the charges. If convicted, judges are mandated to hand down a life sentence.