On February 28, 2020, the Appellate Division invited the ACLU-NJ (and the Attorney General to participate as amicus curiae in a case that addressed whether a judge could consider for sentencing purposes (on another charge) conduct for which the defendant had been acquitted.
Michelle Paden-Battle was charged with murder and other offenses. The jury acquitted her of murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and weapons offenses, but convicted her of kidnapping, conspiracy to commit kidnapping, and felony murder. In sentencing her for kidnapping and felony murder, the judge increased her sentence because he found that she had “ordered” the victim’s “execution.”
In the brief, the ACLU-NJ argued that where juries have been asked to consider particular conduct and have acquitted the defendant of that conduct, judges cannot disregard the jury’s determination and sentence the defendant as if he had been convicted on the acquitted charges. The brief explains that such a rule is commanded by: 1) the Sixth Amendment’s protection of the right to trial by jury, 2) principles of due process, and 3) the doctrine of fundamental fairness.
Additionally, the brief explains that such a rule makes good policy, because the rare sentencing practice of considering acquitted conduct negatively impacts both decisions about whether to go to trial and strategy at trial.
The Appellate Division “conclude[d] that the judge erroneously enhanced the sentence based on his personal view that defendant committed the offenses for which she was acquitted” and remanded for resentencing.
The State appealed to the Supreme Court and the case is currently pending before the New Jersey Supreme Court, awaiting oral argument.