New Jersey Court Discusses Plain Error in Issuing Criminal Sentences

When a defendant is convicted of a crime, the sentencing court will typically assess his or her prior criminal record to determine an appropriate sentence. Further, while the courts often must adhere to sentencing guidelines, they can issue a reduced sentence if they find there are mitigating factors that warrant leniency. Thus, if a court relies on inaccurate information regarding a defendant’s background and history, it can result in a sentencing error and may provide a basis for asking the sentence to be vacated. This was demonstrated in a recent New Jersey case in which the court issued a sentence to a defendant convicted of illegal reentry into the United States based on facts that were inaccurate. If you are charged with a state or federal crime, it is in your best interest to speak to an experienced New Jersey criminal defense attorney to consider what defenses you may be able to assert.

Factual and Procedural History  

It is reported that the defendant was arrested in 2018 for illegal reentry into the United States. He pled guilty to his charges. Prior to his 2018 arrest, he had been convicted in March 2001 on drug charges, after which he was removed from the country. He reentered illegally and was convicted of state and federal drug crimes in 2007, after which he was once again deported in 2013. His most recent arrest was after his 2013 return.

Allegedly, during the sentencing hearing, the defendant argued that his most recent return was not to engage in criminal activity, but so that he could assist his wife with their children. The judge, in recounting the defendant’s criminal history, improperly stated that the defendant was convicted of drug crimes after the birth of his children and that he was deported three times for such crimes, rather than two. After his sentence was issued, the defendant appealed, arguing that the errors undermined his request for leniency.

Demonstrating That a Court Committed a Plain Error

As the defendant’s attorney did not object to the court’s summation of the defendant’s criminal history, the court found that the defendant forfeited the right to do so. As such, the court reviewed the sentenced for plain error. In other words, the court stated that to demonstrate that the sentence should be vacated, the defendant was required to show that the court committed an error, that the error was plain, and that it prejudiced his substantial rights. Further, the defendant was required to prove that not correcting the error would greatly impact the integrity, fairness, or public reputation of judicial proceedings.

While the court acknowledged this was a heavy burden, it nonetheless found that the defendant sufficiently demonstrated the sentencing court had committed a plain error. As such, his sentence was vacated, and the matter was remanded for resentencing.

Speak to a Skilled New Jersey Attorney

When a court relies on improper information to convict or sentence a defendant, it may constitute grounds for appeal. If you are charged with a criminal offense, you should speak to an attorney regarding your rights. The skilled New Jersey criminal defense attorneys of The Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall are adept at helping people accused of drug crimes or other offenses in the pursuit of just outcomes, and we can help you set forth persuasive arguments in your defense. You can reach us through our online form or at 877-450-8301 to set up a meeting.

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