Jersey City, New Jersey – Fines and forfeiture of assets such as cash, cars, homes and pensions, are common penalties for crimes in New Jersey. Sometimes, the financial impact of these fines and forfeitures seem excessive in relation to the offense committed. For instance, if a person is convicted of selling $100 of drugs out of his or her car, the state can seize that car. For many years, regardless of the value of the drugs and the value of the car, the state kept the car. Recently, the United States Supreme Court held that the forfeiture must be proportional to the crime. So, in our example, if the car used by the drug dealer was worth $2,500, the state would be able to keep the car. But, if the car was worth $75,000, it is unlikely the state would be able to keep the car. This specific issue has not been addressed by the New Jersey courts, yet, but a similar issue was just decided.
On March 30, 2020, the Appellate Division decided State of New Jersey v. Bennie Anderson. Mr. Anderson worked in the Jersey City Tax Assessor’s office for nearly 40 years before he was convicted in the District Court of New Jersey of accepting a $300 bribe in exchange for an unjustified change in a property’s tax description. Subsequent to that conviction, the State of New Jersey forfeited Mr. Anderson’s entire pension, which equaled $60,173.67 per year. Mr. Anderson appealed arguing the forfeiture of his entire pension was an excessive fine that would be unlawful under the federal and state constitutions.
The court first evaluated whether the pension forfeiture was a fine under the law. A forfeiture is a fine if it constitutes punishment for an offense. All parties agreed the forfeiture was not remedial, and therefore was a penalty.
A fine is excessive if it is grossly disproportionate to the gravity of the offense. The court began its analysis with the fact the New Jersey Legislature enacted legislations specifically authorizing the forfeiture of an entire pension for official misconduct that touches upon the defendant’s public office. The court also cited that Mr. Anderson could have faced up to twenty years in prison for his offense, which is a severe penalty. Lastly, the court also found the damage to the public trust, even from a bribe of $300, was colossal and justified the forfeiture.
It is unclear at this time if Mr. Anderson will further appeal to the New Jersey Supreme Court.
If you or someone you know is charged in New Jersey Superior Court or the federal district court with bribery, official misconduct, fraud or other related charges, the Jersey City criminal defense lawyers at the Law Office of Eric M. Mark can help.