Ex post facto laws are those laws that conjure new punishments after the fact of a specific case and its original attendant punishments. The U.S. Constitution guarantees that no state can pass an ex post facto law. New Jersey must abide by this constitutional guarantee. Paramount to the ex post facto clause is that defendants deserve not to be hit with after-the-fact punishments for crimes they committed under a different, less harsh, threat of penalty.
State v. Hester
The New Jersey Appellate Division reviewed four cases in consolidation in State v. Hester. Each of the four cases questioned the same issue as it related to community service for life (CSL), which is a sentencing condition of Megan’s Law. The issue raised was whether New Jersey’s recently passed law that increases a CSL violation penalty after the fact is in violation of the state’s ex post facto clause. Born of a 2014 amendment, the increased sentencing significantly increases prison sentences for CSL violations.
All the defendants in State v. Hester had been sentenced to CSL prior to 2014 (when the amended sentences were implemented). At the time these defendants were charged, a CSL violation was a fourth-degree charge and carried a maximum prison sentence of 18 months. Once the amendment passed in 2014, a CSL violation became a third-degree charge with a significantly longer prison sentence of five years. All four defendants were convicted of their crimes and sentenced to CSL before 2014; these defendants knew that any violation of their CSL sentence could result in a fourth-degree charge. Each of these men was charged with violating their CSL sentences after the 2014 amendment took effect, and all found themselves facing harsher sentencing than their original crimes called for.
Applying the Ex Post Facto Clause
The ex post facto clause provides three conditions under which a law will be found in violation:
- It punishes an act (that was innocent when committed) as a crime;
- It increases the punishment for a crime after the fact; or
- It deprives a defendant of a defense that would have been viable at the time the crime was committed.
State v. Hester came down to whether crime, as used in these three conditions, refers to the original offense or to the crime of violating the sentence of CSL.
In the end, the court ruled that crime indeed referenced the original crime that carried the sentence of CSL and not the violation of CSL. The 2014 amendment was therefore found unconstitutional as it relates to crimes committed before its inception in 2014. Pre-amendment cases aren’t subject to this after-the-fact punishment.
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If you’ve been charged with a CSL violation in New Jersey, the Law Offices of Leon Matchin can help. Our experienced criminal defense attorneys have the skill and dedication to fight for your rights and to obtain the best outcome for you case. Your case is important; give us a call at 732-662-7658 or contact us online today.