State v. F.E.D. (086187) (Essex County & Statewide)

SYLLABUS This syllabus is not part of the Court’s opinion. It has been prepared by the Office of the Clerk for the convenience of the reader. It has been neither reviewed nor approved by the Court and may not summarize all portions of the opinion. State v. F.E.D. (A-12-21) (086187) Argued March 14, 2022 -- Decided August 3, 2022 PATTERSON, J., writing for a unanimous Court. In this appeal, the Court considers what showing is required under the Compassionate Release Statute, N.J.S.A. 30:4-123.51e, for a court to order the release of an inmate not otherwise eligible for parole based on the inmate’s suffering from “a permanent physical incapacity,” N.J.S.A. 30:4-123.51e(f)(1). Petitioner F.E.D., now seventy-three years old, was convicted of three counts of first-degree murder and will not be eligible for parole until 2040. In February 2021, the Managing Physician of the New Jersey Department of Corrections submitted to the Commissioner of Corrections a Request for Compassionate Release on behalf of F.E.D. In accordance with N.J.S.A. 30:4-123.51e(b), the Request included attestations of “medical diagnosis . . . made by two licensed physicians” designated by the Commissioner of Corrections. The first attesting physician diagnosed F.E.D. with “severe dilated cardiomyopathy with unclear etiology” and “heart failure with reduced ejection fraction.” The doctor opined that F.E.D. should be housed in the corrections facility’s infirmary unit due to “diminished ability in instrumental activities of daily living,” and that, if released, F.E.D. would require “significant help” with laundry, grocery shopping, preparation of meals appropriate to his condition, and house cleaning. The second attesting physician concurred with the primary diagnosis of cardiomyopathy and viewed F.E.D.’s prognosis to be “[p]oor due to heart failure with low cardiac function.” Noting that F.E.D. was “[a]ble to do [activities of daily living] but takes a long time,” the second doctor stated that F.E.D. “may need [a] walker or wheelchair when breathing problems worsen,” that he would need assistance with grocery shopping, meal preparation, laundry, and cleaning if he lived in a home setting, and that he “[m]ay require [n]ursing home if no home setting with assistance.” Based on the diagnoses provided by the attesting physicians, the Managing Physician found that F.E.D. “meets the medical conditions established” by N.J.S.A. 30:4-123.51e. Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 30:4-123.51e(d)(1), the Commissioner issued a Certificate of Eligibility for Compassionate Release. 1 F.E.D. filed a petition for compassionate release pursuant to N.J.S.A. 30:4-123.51e. The trial court held an evidentiary hearing on the motion. F.E.D. presented the testimony of a cardiologist, who testified about his treatment of F.E.D.’s cardiomyopathy. The doctor stated that when he initially evaluated F.E.D., F.E.D. was incapable of grocery shopping, but provided no further opinions on that issue. F.E.D. also presented the testimony of the Managing Physician, who reiterated his view that F.E.D. met the criteria for compassionate release and opined that it was “possible” that F.E.D. would have a terminal condition in the next six months. The Managing Physician testified that F.E.D.’s ability to perform activities of daily living “is very limited.” He explained that …

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