Following Murphy veto of mandatory sentencing legislation, New Jersey lawmakers introduce identical bill

(The Center Square) – Gov. Phil Murphy recently vetoed legislation to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenses, prompting a pair of state senators to reintroduce the exact same bill.

Following Murphy’s conditional veto of S-3456, state Sens. Sandra Cunningham and Nick Scutari introduced S-3658.

“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,” Cunningham said in a news release. “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,” Cunningham added. “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.”

Cunningham was on the New Jersey Criminal Sentencing and Disposition Commission, which recommended eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug and property crimes.

Murphy, a Democrat, conditionally vetoed S-3456, saying in a tweet it would have “eliminated mandatory prison sentences for a number of public corruption offenses, including official misconduct.”

“This bill goes far beyond the recommendations of the Criminal Sentencing and Disposition Commission,” Murphy said on Twitter.

Murphy also pointed to a directive, 2021-4, that New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal issued last week to support his decision. The order instructs prosecutors to waive so-called “parole disqualifiers,” or mandatory minimum prison terms, for nonviolent drug offenses.

“It’s been nearly two years since I first joined with all 21 of our state’s County Prosecutors to call for an end to mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug crimes,” Grewal said in a news release.

“It’s been more than a year since the Governor’s bipartisan commission made the same recommendation,” Grewal added. “And yet New Jerseyans still remain behind bars for unnecessarily long drug sentences. This outdated policy is hurting our residents, and it’s disproportionately affecting our young men of color. We can wait no longer. It’s time to act.”

Additionally, under the order, prosecutors will file a joint application to repeal mandatory periods of “parole ineligibility” for anyone in prison for a non-violent drug offense, effectively eliminating a mandatory minimum sentence.

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