State v Benjamin is a currently pending decision by the New Jersey Supreme Court, in which the defendant was denied a Graves Act sentencing waiver that would have reduced his sentence by 30 months. Under normal circumstances, when convicted of unlawfully carrying a firearm in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5b, the mandatory minimum sentence is 42 months in state prison. However, some individuals may qualify for a waiver of this mandatory sentence and be sentenced to a 1 year mandatory minimum sentence or probation with the consent of the prosecutor.
The prosecutor may refuse to sign off on this waiver, also known as an “escape valve” for a number of reasons including a significant prior record, the nature and circumstances of the offense, or gang affiliation (to name a few). But what happens when the defendant feels that they do fall within a category of defendant that deserves this waiver or escape valve but is denied by the prosecutor’s office?
The defense has the burden of proof in making an “Alvarez motion” which is the name of the motion that must be made to the court in order for the defendant to be granted a waiver under the Graves Act minimum mandatory sentencing guidelines. The defense must demonstrate to the court “that the prosecutor arbitrarily or unconstitutionally discriminated against a defendant in determining whether the interest of justice warrant reference to the Assignment Judge for sentencing under the escape valve.” State v. Mastapeter, 290 N.J. Super. 56, 65 (App. Div.) (citation omitted), certif. denied, 146 N.J. 569 (1996).