Criminal Law Research Group

Penn Law

NJ Criminal Code Grading Study

The University of Pennsylvania Criminal Law Research Group was commissioned to do a study of offense grading in New Jersey.

After an examination of New Jersey criminal law and a survey of New Jersey residents, the CLRG issued this Final Report (PDF). (For the report of a similar project for Pennsylvania, see Report on Offense Grading in Pennsylvania, and for an article about the grading project, see The Modern Irrationalities of American Criminal Codes: An Empirical Study of Offense Grading, Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology (forthcoming 2011).)

The New Jersey study found serious conflicts between the relative grading judgments of New Jersey residents and those contained in existing New Jersey criminal law, as well as instances where mandatory minimum sentences often require sentences that exceed the maximum appropriate punishment, inconsistencies among the grading of similar offenses, overly broad offenses that impose similar grades on conduct of importantly different seriousness, and a flawed grading structure that provides too few grading categories, thereby assuring pervasive problems in failing to distinguish conduct of importantly different seriousness.

These systemic failures risk undermining the criminal justice system’s moral credibility with the community, improperly delegate the value judgments inherent in grading decisions to individual sentencing judges ad hoc, fail to give citizens notice of the relative importance of conflicting duties, and invite application of different sentencing rules to similarly situated offenders. The Report examines how these grading problems came about, how they might be fixed, and how such grading irrationalities might be avoided in the future.