The ACLU-NJ participated as amicus at the New Jersey Supreme Court in a case that addresses when juveniles can receive extreme prison sentences. James Zarate was convicted of a murder he committed when he was 14. He originally received a life sentence. After a remand, in light of the New Jersey Supreme Court’s decision in State v. Zuber and Comer, he was resentenced to a term of 50 years. The prosecutor and judge in the resentencing believed that the sentence was low enough — but just low enough — to avoid scrutiny as a de facto life sentence.
Our brief contended that Zarate did not receive a hearing that allowed the judge to meaningfully consider the unique disabilities associated with youth (e.g., impetuousness, susceptibility to peer pressure, etc.).
Additionally, our brief argues that the time has come for the Court to establish when juveniles who receive lengthy sentences are entitled to present evidence of their rehabilitation and maturation. Drawing on social scientific evidence, we urge the Court to draw that line at 15 years.