Advancing criminal justice reform, the full Assembly voted 70-3-1 clearing legislation (A-4373) on Thursday that would give courts the discretion to consider the age of a defendant as a mitigating factor in sentencing for crimes committed before the age of 26.
Sponsors of the bill, Assembly Democrats William Spearman (D-Camden, Gloucester), Angelica Jimenez (D-Bergen, Hudson) and Adam Taliaferro (D-Gloucester, Salem, Cumberland), released the following joint statement:
“The social, emotional and mental maturity of a youthful defendant is complex and nuanced. That very fact makes it critical for the age of a defendant to be factored by the court in criminal culpability. Young people are impressionable and particularly susceptible to peer pressure. More broadly, when placed in the wrong correctional environments and without appropriate interventions, they are more likely to reoffend.
“The goal, first and foremost, is to ensure our justice system always treats our young people with compassion. Allowing the courts to consider age as a mitigating factor would align juvenile sentencing with best practices that stem from neurological evidence and prevent disproportionately harsh sentencing.
“Ultimately, our young people must have the opportunity to grow and redefine themselves beyond their wrongdoing.”
Twenty other states consider the defendant’s age at the time offense as a mitigating factor in some way.
The bill now goes the Senate for consideration.