This study examined New Jersey's No Early Release
Act (NERA). This act, which became effective on September 9, 1997,
required that offenders convicted of violent crimes serve at least 85
percent of their sentences before becoming eligible for parole. This
study's primary goal was to determine whether prosecutors changed
their charging and plea bargaining practices in order to obtain
sentences under NERA that were roughly equivalent to those imposed
before NERA. For comparison purposes, cases involving a burglary
charge, a felony not covered under NERA, were examined in addition to
cases involving charges covered by NERA. The following questions
guided the research: (1) Did prosecutors charge a greater proportion
of defendants at offense levels not covered by the law's "violent
offender" definitions after the act took effect? (2) As part of plea
agreements, did prosecutors reduce charges from those covered by the
act to offenses not covered by the act? (3) Did trial rates change for
those offenses covered by the act?
Data were obtained from the New Jersey
Administrative Office of the Courts for 1996 to May 2000. These data
cover defendants' progress through the New Jersey court system,
including the initial charge, indictment, and sentencing. The data
include every case in which a crime covered by the No Early Release
Act was charged and every case involving a burglary charge. Many of
these cases also involved other charges, and these charges are also
included in the data. From 1996 to May 2000 there were 468,944 charges
brought against criminal defendants for crimes covered by the No Early
Release Act, burglary, and less serious crimes that were also charged
as part of these felony legal cases.
Every charge in New Jersey from 1996 to May 2000 for a
crime covered under the No Early Release Act, every charge for
burglary, and all other charges involved in those cases.
Data were obtained from New Jersey's Administrative
Office of the Courts.
administrative records data
Variables include initial charge statute, initial
charge date, whether there was a codefendant in the case, initial
charge disposition date, initial charge disposition, initial charge
disposition reason, indictment statute, indictment date, indictment
disposition, indictment disposition reason, amount of fines and
compensation paid by offender, statute sentenced under, type of
sentence imposed, and sentence date.