April 5, 2017 (Date Decided)
For Appellant: Carol M. Henderson, Assistant Attorney General (Christopher S. Porrino, Attorney General of New Jersey, attorney).
For Respondent: Daniel S. Rockoff, Assistant Deputy Public Defender (Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney).
The Court considered whether a defendant seeking a waiver of the mandatory minimum sentence under the Graves Act is entitled to discovery of the prosecutor’s files from cases in which other defendants were granted waivers of the mandatory minimum penalty.
The Graves Act prescribes a minimum term of incarceration for certain firearm-related offenses. For some first-time offenders, Section 6.2 of the statute allows the assignment judge, upon motion of the prosecutor or request of the sentencing judge with the prosecutor’s approval, to waive the mandatory minimum sentence and impose either probation or a reduced mandatory custodial term.
Here, defendant was standing in the drive-thru lane of a restaurant when a vehicle approached. A verbal altercation ensued, and defendant brandished a firearm. Defendant was charged with second-degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, which is subject to the mandatory minimum sentence under the Graves Act. As a first-time offender, defendant filed a motion asking the trial court to refer his case to the assignment judge. The prosecutor opposed the motion as procedurally improper because under section 6.2 a sentencing court, not the trial court, is authorized to refer the case to the assignment judge, with the prosecutor’s approval.
After the prosecutor denied defendant’s request for a waiver, defendant sought discovery of documents from other cases where the prosecutor had approved waivers. Defendant claimed this information would allow him to demonstrate the arbitrariness of the prosecutor’s decision. The prosecutor declined to provide the files.
Defendant pleaded guilty to possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose. The Appellate Division vacated defendant’s conviction, remanded the matter, ordered the prosecutor to provide defendant with a written statement of reasons, and allowed defendant to renew his request for discovery of previously granted waivers.
The Court affirmed the Appellate Division’s finding that, when denying a Graves Act waiver, the prosecutor must provide a statement of reasons. However, the Court held that defendants are not entitled to discovery of the prosecution’s files for cases in which Graves Act waivers have been granted to other defendants. The assignment judge retains ultimate authority to review the prosecutor’s waiver decisions for arbitrariness and discrimination. Accordingly, the Graves Act affords meaningful judicial review of a prosecutor’s decision to deny a Graves Act waiver. No case-specific information beyond a statement of reasons was intended to be accessed by a Graves Act defendant seeking to demonstrate that the prosecutor acted arbitrarily.