The ACLU-NJ filed a motion in the trial court seeking to reduce the sentence of James Comer who, at the age of 17, was sentenced to serve 75 years in prison, with more than 68 without parole. Mr. Comer received his sentence in 2003 for his role in four robberies and a felony murder as a juvenile, with no consideration given to his youth at the time. Although he was not the one who was alleged to have pulled the trigger, Comer received a longer sentence than his two accomplices, the person who was charged with the murder and the other who was an adult at the time. Comer had no prior adjudications of delinquency and was 17 at the time of the crime, but the judge found no mitigating factors. Life sentences for people under 18 have not been categorically banned, but the Supreme Court of the United States was very clear that such sentences should be exceptional. The motion argued that his sentence is functionally a sentence of life without parole and is therefore cruel and unusual.
After the trial court held that he was entitled to a limited resentencing, the ACLU-NJ sought Direct Certification to the New Jersey Supreme Court. The Court agreed to take the case and held that, under the State and Federal Constitutions, children sentenced to long prison terms that amount to the factual equivalent of life sentences are entitled to resentencing hearings.
The Court ordered Mr. Comer resentenced.