Neil Cohen will serve the term either in prison or a mental hospital. The state Corrections Department will decide which venue within the next 10 days. He could become eligible for release and be placed under intense supervision in several months.
Appearing pale and unsteady, Cohen, 59, did not speak during sentencing. His lawyer told the judge the former assemblyman has been suicidal and has several mental health issues, including chronic depression. He has been hospitalized for months, according to the lawyer, Mark Tuohey.
Tuohey told the judge that Cohen decided not to address the court because he is taking medication for his conditions. Cohen concurred when addressed directly by the judge.
Judge Gerald Council imposed the sentence in Mercer County Superior Court.
"This is a sad day," the judge said. "But for this incident, he had an unblemished record."
Cohen pleaded guilty in April to endangering the welfare of a child (distribution of child pornography). The five-year term was negotiated as part of the plea.
Tuohey said Thursday he'd hoped Cohen could be hospitalized rather than incarcerated, but Council said he wouldn't second-guess the plea deal. Any psychiatric treatment will be administered while Cohen serves his prison term.
Cohen served 17 years in the state Legislature as a Democrat representing Union County. He resigned following his arrest in July 2008.
The former lawmaker admitted viewing images of underaged girls on computers in his legislative office and law office.
Anthony Picione, the deputy attorney general who prosecuted the case, said 34 images of girls in various stages of undress were found on the computers. He said authorities have been able to match some of the images to photos on the list of Missing and Exploited Children.
"By viewing and distributing child pornography, Mr. Cohen made himself a part of the network of suppliers and users whose actions serve to promote this abhorrent exploitation of children," Attorney General Paula Dow said. "Prison is the appropriate sentence for his crime."
The Attorney General's Office said Cohen admitted printing copies of some images and placing the copies in the desk of a female receptionist in the legislative office.
Cohen must register as a sex offender under Megan's Law, and he'll be barred from holding public office and using social networking Web sites. He's a lawyer and will likely be disbarred.