Burlington County, NJ Law Blog

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

NJ Supreme Court Overturns Murder Sentence Because of Judge’s Comments

Earlier this month, the New Jersey Supreme Court overturned a 60 year prison sentence in a murder case because the judge who had done the sentencing said during another, unrelated case “I always give defendants convicted by a jury a minimum of 60 years … and you can check my record.”

The Supreme Court said this was not okay because judges are supposed to make the sentences they give out match the crime that the defendant was convicted of, not just pick out a random number. This case has a lot of people wondering if the sentences they or their loved ones received were fair, or just a number the judge likes.

Were you sentenced by Judge Billmeier?

The Supreme Court said that Judge Robert Billmeier’s comments about always sentencing defendants in murder cases to a minimum of 60 years, and other remarks he made guaranteeing his sentence would be longer than that offered to a defendant as a plea deal, were inappropriate. They also noted that he had sentenced at least four murder convicts to 60 year sentences.

If you or a loved one was sentenced by Judge Billmeier, you should talk to a criminal defense lawyer about this recent NJ Supreme Court case, and determine whether it is worth investigating whether the sentence in you or your loved one’s case is also questionable.

Even if you weren’t sentenced by Judge Billmeier, you should take a closer look at your sentencing.

The New Jersey Supreme Court has said time and time again that the sentence imposed must fit the crime committed. Each crime has a sentencing guideline that is supposed to help the court set the correct punishment.

For example, the New Jersey’s state court judges are required to sentence people convicted of first degree murder to somewhere between 30 years to life in prison. The judge is supposed to consider the unique circumstances surrounding the crime, and facts about the defendant, like number and severity of prior convictions, to determine where the sentence for the conviction at hand should fall within the proscribed range.

If you don’t feel like the judge took unique facts into consideration when sentencing you or a loved one, that is something that can be investigated.

The first step is to order a copy of the trial and sentencing transcripts. This record of everything said in the courtroom during trial and sentencing is, unfortunately, not available in every case. It is also not cheap.

Once a transcript is secured, an experienced attorney can help you read through the transcript and look for statements that suggest the judge was biased during the sentencing, or had a number in mind before learning more about the crime and the defendant.

The sentencing records from other similar cases where the same judge presided should also be examined to see if there is a pattern. If every murderer is being sentenced to 60 years, a higher court might determine there is something fishy going on, even if the judge has never made comments like the ones made by Judge Billmeier.

If evidence of improper sentencing is found, an appeal may be possible. To be clear, the appeal would be of the sentence, not of the underlying conviction.

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