Trenton –Senator Sandra Cunningham and Senator Nick Scutari today introduced legislation to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for all nonviolent offenses. The new bill, S-3658, is identical to the measure rejected by Governor Murphy with a conditional veto.
“We don’t want to give up on our long fought effort to bring real reforms to the criminal justice system by eliminating mandatory minimum sentences,” said Senator Cunningham, who served on the New Jersey Criminal Sentencing and Disposition Commission, a panel formed by the Governor and the Legislature that issued a series of reform proposals, including the recommended abolition of mandatory minimums. “These mandated sentences played a significant role in New Jersey having the worst disparity in the country for rates of incarceration between Black and white offenders.”
“We shouldn’t lose the historic opportunity to undo a judicial mandate that has driven mass incarceration, increased racial disparities and crippled judicial discretion,” said Senator Cunningham. “We want to give the Governor the opportunity to fully appreciate the importance of this reform and reconsider his action. This is the same bill but we hope the Governor will act differently when it gets to his desk.”
“I want the Governor to fully understand that by removing mandatory minimums on non-violent offenses we can return the discretionary power to our judges and allow them to issue sentences that are in the best interest of justice,” said Senator Scutari, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who also serves as a municipal prosecutor. “Mandatory minimums are a sad legacy of an era that created laws that were discriminatory and ineffective. If we are going to end racial disparities in our criminal justice system we have to bring an end to mandatory minimums. Other states that enacted similar legislation have experienced a decline in crime rates and a significant reduction in costs.”
The bill rejected by the Governor, S-3456, was approved by the Senate with a vote of 23-14 and by the Assembly a tally of 46-20.
It gained the support of a wide range of legal organizations and social justice groups, including the State Bar Association, New Jersey Together, a coalition of more than 50 religious congregations and non-profits, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and FAMM, a national organization committed to a fairer and more effective justice system.
President Joe Biden expressed his support for ending mandatory minimums during the campaign, saying he would work for the passage of legislation to repeal mandatory minimums at the federal level and give states incentives to repeal their mandatory minimums. Biden said he would create a new $20 billion competitive grant program to accelerate criminal justice reform at the state and local levels. In order to receive this funding, states would have to eliminate mandatory minimums for non-violent crimes.