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April 8 — A convicted killer will get a new sentence because the judge remarked in an unrelated matter that he “always” dishes out 60-year terms in first-degree murder cases, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled April 7.
Even though the comment came more than a year after Patrick McFarlane was sentenced for gunning down a robbery victim and even though the judge cited on the record the aggravating and mitigating factors he took into account when sentencing McFarlane, the statement cast enough of a cloud on the process that it undermined public confidence in the end result, the court said.
A reasonable person might deduce that this judge “arbitrarily imposes a predetermined sentence on those convicted by a jury of first-degree murder,” Justice Lee A. Solomon wrote for the unanimous court.
The court said that the trial judge didn't make any improper comments when sentencing McFarlane to 60 years in prison and that he didn't violate the sentencing guidelines or protocol either.
However, the judge's statement that he “always” sentences defendants convicted of first-degree murder to 60 years in prison “undermines public confidence that the unique facts of a defendant's case are considered before a sentencing decision is made,” the court said.
It said McFarlane was entitled to be resentenced by a different judge from the same “vicinage.”
The sentencing judge made the remarks 13 months after McFarlane was sentenced during a status conference in which a defendant named Brown had rejected the state's plea offer of 45 years for a first-degree murder charge.
The judge told Brown that the 45-year deal wasn't that bad because “I always give defendants convicted by a jury [of first-degree murder] a minimum of 60 years NERA [No Early Release Act], and you can check my record.”
The Public Defender's Office represented McFarlane. The Mercer County Prosecutor's Office represented the state.
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