A petition for compassionate release is typically granted to inmates who suffer from a terminal illness or profound incapacity that renders them physically incapable of committing a crime in the future.
In New Jersey, there are specific requirements that must be met prior to a court’s consideration for compassionate release. First, an inmate must present a Certificate of Eligibility from the Corrections Department indicating that two department-designated physicians have determined that the inmate suffers from a terminal condition or permanent physical incapacity that did not exist at the time of sentencing.
After such a certificate is presented, the court may grant compassionate release but only if the court has found, by clear and convincing evidence, that the inmate is physically incapable of committing future crimes and that they pose no threat to public safety.
On August 16th, 2021, the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey decided in State v. F.E.D., that the inmate’s petition for compassionate release did not comply with the statutory requirements. The Court came to this conclusion based on the invalid Certificate of Eligibility.
The inmate, a 72 year old man with heart disease, had been convicted of three murders and was serving two life-sentences since 1982. He petitioned the Court for compassionate release because he had obtained a Certificate of Eligibility indicating that two department-designated physicians found his heart disease to be a permanent physical “disability”.
However, the Court denied his petition because the statute specifically requires that the inmate suffer from a physical permanent “incapacity” or a terminal condition.
A physical permanent incapacity, as described by the Court, must be evidenced by the inmate’s need for 24-hour care and their inability to perform basic daily tasks. In this case, the physicians concluded that the inmate would need some assistance in performing tasks such as laundry, grocery shopping, meal preparation and cleaning. However, the physicians did not conclude that the inmate would need assistance in basic daily tasks such as toileting, bathing, eating or dressing.
The Court also described a terminal condition as a condition likely to result in death in six months or less. Since the physicians made no mention of the inmate’s life expectancy, his condition could not be considered terminal.
Thus, due to the fact that his Certificate of Eligibility lacked a proper medical diagnosis of either a permanent physical incapacity or a terminal condition, the Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s decision to deny the inmate’s petition for compassionate release.
Although there are specific requirements to be met, the justice system in New Jersey recognizes that inmates with a terminal illness or physical incapacity should be considered for release if they pose no threat to public safety.
If you or a loved one needs legal assistance in filing a petition for compassionate release, please do not hesitate to contact our office for a free and confidential consultation.