In this first opportunity for the New Jersey Supreme Court to interpret the recently enacted compassionate release statute, the Court has to set the parameters for when a person is incapacitated enough to qualify for release. F.E.D. was convicted of three murders in the 1970s. He is now suffering from serious heart disease and lives full time in the prison infirmary. Under the statute, people who are permanently physically incapacitated may seek a certificate of eligibility from the DOC. That certificate then enables them to seek release from the courts, who are tasked with determining whether public safety would be compromised. In this case the DOC issued a certificate of eligibility because of F.E.D.’s ill health. The trial court found that the certificate was invalid because while F.E.D. could not conduct some activities of daily life (e.g. eating, toileting) without assistance, he was able to conduct others. The Appellate Division affirmed. In the view of the trial court and the Appellate Division, to qualify for consideration under the statute a person must be unable to perform any of those activities.
Our brief argued that the courts read the statute too strictly: a person should qualify for a certificate if they cannot conduct some activities of basic daily living. We urged the court to reverse the eligibility determination and remand for real consideration of the public safety factors.