New Jersey Criminal Lawyer Robert (Bob) Bianchi Defends the Continued Use of New Jersey’s 3 Strikes Law
Robert (Bob) Bianchi, Esq., appeared again on the Emmy award winning show Due Process hosted by Sandra King and Raymond Brown.
The fascinating topic dealt with New Jersey’s criminal sentencing law called the Persistent Offender Law, better known as the “3 Strikes Law.”
The NJ Sentencing code, like all states, is complex and only after years of study and practice is it understood. Essentially, however, as the 3 Strikes law implies, offenders convicted of a 3rd violent offense are given significant sentencing “enhancements” of up to life in prison. For the particulars of the law, you can watch the show debate which was very well produced by our friends at Due Process.
As a former head NJ County Prosecutor who now practices NJ Criminal Defense law, I have often dealt with the NJ sentencing law in one form or another. And as a NJ prosecutor and NJ criminal defense attorney, as well, I have seen defendants that in my mind are not deserving of the draconian penalties that mandatory sentencing in many forms comes to us on many other types of NJ criminal cases.
To be sure, we have too many “tough” and unfair laws for low-level crimes, many of which affect first-time offenders that in reality are not a danger to the community. We have enough laws already, so I beg the politicians to stop creating more “tough on crime laws” that in reality leave the players on the field of the courtroom unable to do our jobs in a just, reasoned, and principled way.
But, with New Jersey’s 3 strikes law, I differ from that philosophy. To me, this is one law that makes sense when you consider what the law enforcement system is supposed to be doing- – protecting the citizens from violent offenders. To me, as a prosecutor, a citizen, even as a New Jersey criminal defense lawyer, I feel that this law serves a useful purpose in our sentencing code. As I say in the Due Process show, the 3 Strikes law is not used often, and prosecutors still have discretion not to charge it, if they feel a particular case may warrant lesser punishment.
However, in the cases where a person has continued to demonstrate a continuing pattern of behavior that is violent there needs to be enhanced punishments in my mind to protect the community.
Some say, as did my co-guest, that the normal sentencing alone for violent offenses is deterrent and punishment enough. There is some truth to this position. But, it is also true that eventually people leave prison, and most times unfortunately for them and us, not better than when they went in. And in another interesting way, is it fair to punish a seasoned career violent offender in the same way as a first offender?
And, in the real world that I work in, my lawyering or prosecuting was not an academic exercise. It was real life cases, with real victims, real families destroyed by murder, rape, etc…, and with real defendants that were released from jail who did some pretty bad stuff afterward.
I have seen the most liberal philosophers of law (and politics), become the most conservative advocates to punish a violent person, when it is they or their family member that is killed, raped, kidnapped, assaulted and suffering from serious bodily injury, and the like, by a person who was allowed to commit violent offenses before and was later released to harm their loved ones. And, when they find out of the offenders serious, violent history they will all ask the same question: Who let this happen?
So in general, as you will see from the clip as a New Jersey criminal lawyer, I generally do not like mandatory sentencing for lower level offenses, especially when it mandates jail time in all cases for first-time offenders. We have seen some heartbreaking injustices done with those laws and they need to be changed.
But, when it comes down to serious, violent offenders who continue to harm innocent people, I draw the line.
Like in all things in life there needs to be balance and moderation. I agree we need a massive sentencing overhaul in New Jersey. But on the 3 strikes law, I say keep it. It may literally save your loved one, your friend, or fellow citizen.
What are your thoughts?
© 2016 Robert (Bob) Bianchi, Esq.
NJ Supreme Court Certified Criminal Trial Attorney
NJ Criminal Defense Attorney
National TV Legal Analyst
Former head NJ County Prosecutor