Can an Inmate Could Cut His Sentence Short and Be Released Because of COVID-19 and a Worsening Health Condition?
Appellate Docket No.: A-3786-19T4
Decided August 25, 2020
Submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
In a recent unpublished decision, the Appellate Division reviewed whether an inmate could cut his sentence short and be released because of COVID-19 and a worsening health condition.
In State v. Lopez, Defendant sought to amend his sentence and permit his release under Rule 3:21-10(b)(2) because the stage IV renal failure from which he suffered when he was sentenced advanced to stage V, and he recently had an arterial venous fistula implanted to facilitate kidney dialysis treatment. He also sought to end his prison sentence early because of COVID-19 and argued he was at risk for the Coronavirus to vastly affect his health.
In order amend his prison sentence, defendant had to first demonstrate a change of circumstances resulting in a severe depreciation of his health since sentence was imposed. If he made a predicate showing, the trial court [would be compelled to] weigh various factors that affect the decision whether to grant a release such as, the nature and severity of the crime for which he is imprisoned, his criminal record, the risk that might result to the public by his release, . . . the nature of th[e] illness and the availability of appropriate medical services in prison to adequately treat or cope with that illness.
Defendant also had to also establish that the medical services unavailable at the prison would be not only beneficial but are essential to prevent further deterioration in his health.
The trial court found that although the defendant made an initial showing of changed circumstances, he did not demonstrate that he lacked medical treatment in prison, as he received dialysis. Further, his criminal record indicated he would likely commit crime upon release. Lastly, the Court found that general fear of contracting a virus is insufficient grounds to amend a prison sentence. Defendant’s motion to end his jail sentence early was denied. Defendant appealed and the Appellate Division affirmed on substantially similar grounds.
In order to amend your prison sentence in New Jersey, not only do you have to show that your circumstances have changed since incarceration, but that the reason for your release outweighs the risks of harm to the public in looking at your criminal record, reason of imprisonment, and risk of recidivism. Furthermore, it is not enough to argue fear of contracting COVID-19 as grounds for your release. You need to demonstrate other circumstances that would tend to favor your release in addition to COVID-19 fears, even for those who have a higher risk of adverse symptoms.
If you seek to amend or end your prison sentence early, or have been charged with any, first degree crime, second degree crime, third degree crime, fourth degree crime, disorderly persons offense, municipal ordinance violation, or traffic ticket / DUI/DWI, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney today. Failing to hire a defense attorney and putting your faith in a public defender could give you adverse results.
At Hark & Hark, we represent clients in Superior Court and municipal court for criminal matters like the present case. We vigorously defend our clients by fighting to ensure prosecutors, police, and even judges follow the law.
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