ROSELAND – In his capacity as Acting Governor last week, Senator Richard J. Codey signed into law a bill toughening the penalties for anyone found guilty of corrupting or influencing a jury hearing serious criminal cases.
Codey signed the bill while Governor Jon Corzine was temporarily out of state. He was joined at a private bill signing by Essex County Prosecutor and Attorney General Designate Paula Dow, Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura and Roseland Sheriff Richard McDonough.
“A trial by jury is one of the bedrocks of our democracy,” said Codey. “Victims, especially those of a serious crime, deserve to know that we are doing everything in our power to protect the integrity of the judicial system. Anyone convicted of threatening a juror deserves to have the book thrown at them.”
Bill A3526 is part of a larger anti-crime initiative intended, among other things, to target gang activity and is consistent with the state’s recent penalty upgrades for the crime of tampering with witnesses or informants. The law will upgrade the crime of tampering with a jury to a first degree offense if an individual uses threat or force against an official involved in the proceedings of crimes included in the “No Early Release Act.” Under a first degree crime, the upgraded penalty will carry a term of imprisonment of 10-20 years and a fine of up to $200,000.
The bill was unanimously approved by both houses of the legislature and was sponsored by Codey (D-Essex), Senator Bill Baroni (R- Mercer, Middlesex), and Assembly members John McKeon (D-Essex), Gordon Johnson (D-Bergen), Mila Jasey (D-Essex), and Cleopatra Tucker (D-Essex).
“This law will make it clear that anyone who attempts to thwart justice by preying on jurors will be held accountable with some of the toughest jury protections in the nation,” said Baroni.
“Our justice system is built around the premise that the truth, above all, must prevail,” said McKeon. “Anyone who would purposefully act to undermine the ability of the judges and juries to reach the proper, fair and correct decision must be held accountable.”
“Our legal system is based on equity and fairness for everyone, not who can best corrupt and influence a jury,” said Johnson. “As they were written, our laws didn’t do enough to harshly punish jury tampering, but we’re changing that with these upgraded penalties that send a clear message that our justice system must be respected.”
“This law will help to further uphold the integrity of our criminal justice system by making it clear that tampering with a juror by threat or violence is a serious crime and the perpetrator will face stiff penalties for any attempt to corrupt or influence a jury,” said Jasey. “Members of a jury serve the public in an important capacity and they should be able to make an objective decision and never feel threatened or coerced when performing such a critical civic duty.”
“People who work behind the scenes to tamper with a witness’s testimony selfishly do irreparable damage to the courts and cause of justice,” said Tucker. “We need to make it crystal clear that subverting the justice system, for whatever purpose, will not be tolerated and will be severely punished.”
The No Early Release Act includes crimes of a more serious nature, including: murder; aggravated manslaughter or manslaughter; vehicular homicide; aggravated assault; disarming a law enforcement officer; kidnapping; aggravated sexual assault; sexual assault; robbery; carjacking; aggravated arson; burglary; extortion; strict liability for drug induced deaths; terrorism; producing or possessing chemical weapons, biological agents or nuclear or radiological devices; and racketeering when it is a crime of the first degree.
Corrupting or influencing a jury will continue to be a crime of the second degree if the defendant uses force or the threat of force and the conduct occurs in connection with a crime that is not listed in the No Early Release Act. A crime of the second degree is punishable by a term of imprisonment of 5-10 years and a fine of up to $150,000. Otherwise, corrupting or influencing a jury will remain a crime of the third degree without a presumption of non-imprisonment. A crime of the third degree is punishable by a term of imprisonment of 3-5 years and a fine of up to $10,000.
The law now goes into effect immediately.
Pictured from left to right: Assemblyman John McKeon, Essex County Prosecutor Paula Dow, Acting Governor Richard Codey, Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura, Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, Roseland Sheriff Richard McDonough. Photo courtesy of NJ Senate Democrats
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