New Jersey’s No Early Release Act (NERA) became law in June 1997, spurred by the “get tough on crime” era of the 1990s.
NERA, modeled on federal “Truth in Sentencing” guidelines, requires those convicted of specific serious crimes to serve at least 85% of their sentence before being eligible for parole.
Which offenses are included?
Before NERA took effect, those convicted of serious violent crimes typically became parole-eligible after serving one-third of their sentence. On average, these individuals served about half their total sentence. But NERA changed all that, requiring them to serve at least 85% if convicted of these crimes:
- Manslaughter or aggravated manslaughter
- Aggravated assault
- Reckless vehicular homicide
- Sexual assault or aggravated sexual assault
- Disarming a police officer
- Aggravated arson
- Drug-induced deaths
- Possessing or producing chemical, nuclear, biological or radiological weapons
- Trafficking firearms
- Endangering a child’s welfare
- Planting booby traps when producing or distributing a controlled dangerous substance
Federal review casts doubt on NERA’s effectiveness
The U.S. Department of Justice studied the law’s impact several years after it took effect. The review focused on four areas where significant changes were expected. Those areas and conclusions were:
- Prosecution: While some sentence lengths were reduced, the 85% requirement meant incarcerated individuals still served more time behind bars.
- Courts: Guilty plea rates stayed about the same, and trial rates did not increase.
- Corrections: Inmates serving 85% sentences had fewer disciplinary infractions, which were expected to increase.
- Victims: Satisfaction for victims of serious crimes and their families actually declined after the law’s passage.
Another conclusion found that New Jersey did not see a federal funding windfall, as was expected by states adopting these harsher sentencing guidelines.
Seek immediate and aggressive criminal defense
The overriding legacy of NERA is overcrowded prisons and jails, and the inability to consider individual circumstances for each case. That’s why it’s crucial to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible if you are charged or under investigation for a NERA-related offense.
A knowledgeable defense lawyer will scrutinize evidence as well as law enforcement tactics to protect your rights under the law. In some cases, this can result in charges being dismissed, reduced penalties or alternate sentencing opportunities.