NJ Supreme Court: Convicted Hopatcong Murderer Must Face Victim’s Family at Sentencing

On Tuesday, April 2nd, I posted an article entitled, “Defendant’s Rights vs. Victim’s Rights: Who Wins ” The article detailed the efforts of Giuseppe Tedesco, who was recently convicted of the March 27, 2010 murder of Alyssa Ruggieri, to absent himself from sentencing, despite the wishes of the victim’s family that he be present to hear their statements. The issue, one of “first impression,” was appealed all the way up to the New Jersey Supreme Court by Tedesco’s attorney.

By way of background, New Jersey Court Rule 3:21-4 permits defendants to waive their right to be present at sentencing. In this case, the New Jersey Supreme Court of New Jersey was called upon to decide whether that rule is trumped by the Crime Victim’s Bill of Rights (incorporated into the New Jersey Constitution), which grants victims and/or their families the right to address the court at sentencings of defendants.

According to the New Jersey State Supreme Court, the victim wins. In a decision released yesterday, the Supreme Court held that a defendant does not have an absolute right to absent himself from sentencing. Rather, trial judges have discretion to decide whether to grant requests for waivers. Defendants must give specific reasons that demonstrate “special circumstances,” which will then be weighed the concerns of the public, the State, and the victim.

In this case, because Tedesco did not establish any “special circumstances,” and because crime victims (here, the family members of Alyssa Ruggieri) are entitled “to be treated with dignity and compassion by the criminal justice system,” Tedesco must appear at his sentencing.

Click here to read the decision in its entirety.

Tedesco’s sentence has been rescheduled for July 17th before the Honorable N. Peter Conforti in the Sussex County Superior Court. He faces life imprisonment plus 20 years.

For more information, see the Star-Ledger article entitled, “Hopatcong killer must attend sentencing, listen to anguish of the victim’s mother.”