Three Strikes Laws were adopted in certain jurisdictions to protect the public from habitual offenders who repeatedly commit certain violent crimes. These law typically mandate a sentence of life imprisonment without parole for a third-time offender.
In New Jersey, the crimes that constitute “strikes” include those such as murder, manslaughter, aggravated assault, kidnapping, sexual assault and robbery.
But should crimes committed as juveniles be considered predicate offenses under the rule?
On February 7, 2022, in State v. Samuel Ryan, the Supreme Court of New Jersey answered this question.
In State v. Samuel Ryan, the Defendant was facing his third conviction for an armed robbery. In 1990, when the Defendant was sixteen years old, he committed an armed robbery at a gas station and another armed robbery at a Bridgeton, New Jersey apartment complex within the same week. He was prosecuted as an adult and convicted of those two robberies concurrently. In 1996, a few years after his release from prison, the Defendant committed an armed robbery at a Wawa in Vineland, New Jersey and another armed robbery at a gas station in Bridgeton, New Jersey. The Defendant was convicted of these two robberies separately. Thus, the State moved to sentence the Defendant pursuant to the Three Strikes Law and Defendant was sentenced accordingly.
The Defendant later appealed his convictions and sentence on the grounds that the sentence imposed was unconstitutional because his first “strike”, the 1990 conviction, occurred when he was a juvenile. The Defendant relied on the United States Supreme Court decision in Miller v. Alabama and the Supreme Court of New Jersey’s decision in State v. Zuber, both of which indicate that a sentence of life without parole for juvenile offenders is unconstitutional.
The Court held that the Three Strikes Law and the mandatory sentence of life without parole that was imposed on the Defendant are not unconstitutional. The Court pointed out that the holdings in Miller v. Alabama and State v. Zuber apply only to juvenile defendants, and that neither decision prohibit imposing the mandatory sentence of life without parole on an adult defendant. The Court further mentioned that most states that have Three Strikes Laws count juvenile convictions as “strikes” in cases where the defendant was waived up to adult court.
Thus, although the first offense occurred when the Defendant was a juvenile, it is not unconstitutional for the conviction to count as a “strike” in this jurisdiction.