Double jeopardy protected sex offender from additional penalties omitted from his sentence but required by law


A case decided by the New Jersey Supreme Court this fall held that a judgment of conviction for sexual assault could not be amended, after the defendant had served his sentence, to fix an error in the original sentence that had omitted legally-mandated lifetime community supervision requirements. Even though the original sentence was invalid due to the missing provisions, jeopardy attached as soon as that sentence was completed and the constitution prohibited the court from imposing additional penalties. State v. Schubert, 212 N.J. 295 (Oct. 22, 2012).


The defendant in Schubert pleaded guilty to second degree sexual assault in 1996 and was discharged from probation after completing his sentence in 2003. In 2007, however, the chairman of the parole board discovered that the original sentence had omitted mandatory lifetime community supervision requirements and at his request, the trial court entered an amended judgment in 2008 which added the missing provisions. The defendant then filed a petition to vacate the amended judgment, contending that the trial court had no jurisdiction to amend the sentence after it had been fully completed and that doing so violated the double jeopardy clause of the FIfth Amendment.


Although the double jeopardy clause is best known for protecting individuals from being prosecuting for the same offense after an acquittal, it also protects defendants from receiving multiple punishments for the same offense. The first factor to consider in determining whether an amended judgment amounts to this sort of unlawful multiple punishment is whether the additional sentence provisions are punitive or remedial: if they are remedial, then double jeopardy principles do not apply, but if they are punitive the court must then determine whether they constitute an unlawful additional penalty or merely a correction to an illegal sentence.


Applying these rules in Schubert, the court agreed with the defendant that community supervision for life is punitive in nature, not remedial, because an individual who is subject to community supervision for life has severely restricted freedoms. For example, he must receive permission from his parole officer before choosing where to reside and before commencing employment, and he can also be subject to random drug testing, yearly polygraphs, curfews, and restrictions on internet access, among other conditions. Moving to the second part of the double jeopardy inquiry–whether the amended judgment was an illegal additional penalty or an acceptable correction–the court explained that an unauthorized sentence can generally be corrected at any time before the sentence has been completed, but not after the defendant has served his term, as in this case.


For more information about New Jersey’s sex crimes laws or to schedule a free legal consultation, contact the law offices of Palumbo & Renaud at 908-337-7353.