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New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal in Trenton in 2018. (Photo: Office of the Attorney General/Tim Larsen.)

State launches portal allowing inmates to waive minimum drug sentences

System part of Murphy administration’s bid to work around standoff over mandatory minimum sentences bill

By Nikita Biryukov, May 19 2021 3:27 pm

New Jersey launched an online portal that will allow inmates serving sentences for certain drug offenses to request their mandatory minimum sentences be rescinded, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced Wednesday.

To qualify, inmates must be serving a sentence for qualifying non-violent drug charges that preclude them from parole. Those ineligible for parole based on for separate crimes cannot apply to have their sentences reduced.

The move follows from an April directive issued by Grewal that ordered prosecutors to waive mandatory minimum sentences when trying non-violent drug cases.

That directive came after a standoff between Gov. Phil Murphy and the legislature over a bill eliminating mandatory sentencing guidelines for a series of non-violent drug, property and public trust crimes.

An earlier version of that bill, drafted based on recommendations from the New Jersey Criminal Sentencing and Disposition Commission, died after State Sen. Nicholas Sacco (D-North Bergen) amended it to remove mandatory minimums for official misconduct.

Walter Somick, the son of Sacco’s longtime girlfriend, faces an official misconduct charge in North Bergen over an alleged no-show job, Politico New Jersey later reported.

Murphy and Grewal balked at the amended bill, saying the inclusion of official misconduct went against the commission’s recommendations. Assemblywoman Yvonne Lopez (D-Perth Amboy), who sponsored the original measure in her chamber, pulled her support.

But a later version of the bill that removed minimum sentencing guidelines for a greater array of crimes against the public trust, including bribery, money laundering and tampering with public records, still made it to Murphy’s desk.

It sat there unsigned for more than a month before it brushed up against a procedural deadline that threatened to make it law without the governor’s signature until he vetoed it last month. Grewal’s directive came at the same time.

Legislators haven’t given up their push. State Sens. Sandra Cunningham (D-Jersey City) and Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden) introduced an identical bill the next day, and while Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) praised Grewal’s directive, he said the action was less expansive than what was sought by the legislature and warned it could be overturned by a future attorney general.

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