Justia Juvenile Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Supreme Court of New Jersey
New Jersey in the Interest of D.M.
The State of New Jersey charged fourteen-year-old D.M. with delinquency based on conduct which, if committed by an adult, would constitute first-degree aggravated sexual assault. The State alleged D.M. committed acts of sexual penetration against an eleven-year-old acquaintance, Z.Y. With the parties’ consent, the Family Part judge considered the lesser-related charge of third-degree endangering the welfare of a child. In this appeal, the issue presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court's review centered on whether a juvenile could be adjudicated delinquent for endangering the welfare of a child when the juvenile and his alleged victim were fewer than four years apart in age and the Family Part judge made no findings of sexual penetration, force, or coercion. An Appellate Division panel reversed the juvenile adjudication, reasoning that the Legislature did not intend for the endangering statute, N.J.S.A. 2C:24-4(a)(1), to support a delinquency adjudication based on a juvenile’s sexual contact with another minor fewer than four years younger than he, in the absence of a finding of sexual penetration, force, or coercion. The New Jersey Supreme Court did not concur with the Appellate Division panel’s construction of the endangering statute. Although the Legislature may decide that statute: "nothing in the current text of N.J.S.A. 2C:24-4(a)(1) precludes the adjudication in this case. We decline to rewrite the statute’s plain language in this appeal." The Court concluded, however, that the Family Part court’s adjudication had to be reversed: "When the court, at the disposition hearing, disavowed critical aspects of its previously-stated factual findings and characterized its decision to adjudicate D.M. under the lesser-related offense as a humanitarian gesture, it undermined its determination as to both offenses. In this extraordinary setting, it is unclear whether the State met its burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that D.M. violated N.J.S.A. 2C:24-4(a)(1)." View "New Jersey in the Interest of D.M." on Justia Law
New Jersey in the Interest of A.R.
In the sexual assault trial of fourteen-year-old “Alex,” the family court admitted into evidence the "tender-years" exception to the hearsay rule: the video-recorded statement that seven-year-old “John” gave to police, in which he alleged that Alex had sexually touched him on a school bus. John, who suffered from severe developmental disabilities, who during out-of-court and in-court questioning was unable to distinguish between fantasy and reality, and who was declared incompetent as a witness by the court, was permitted to testify pursuant to the incompetency proviso of N.J.R.E. 803(c)(27). The State recalled John to the stand. He had difficulty answering simple questions. For example, he stated “It’s right,” if the prosecutor referred to a spider as a flower, and in response to a leading question, indicated that the color black might be red. John stated that Alex, whom he identified in the courtroom, touched him on “my clothes, my pee-pee and my butt.” However, John stated that a little boy named Alex sat near him and that the little boys and big boys were separated on the bus. The family court adjudicated Alex delinquent. Alex appealed. The Appellate Division held that John was effectively unavailable for cross-examination, and therefore the admission of his statement to the detective violated Alex’s federal confrontation rights. The panel did not address any state-law evidentiary claims and remanded to the family court to assess whether the State’s remaining evidence was sufficient to prove the adjudication beyond a reasonable doubt. The Court granted the State’s petition for certification. The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed Alex’s delinquency adjudication on state-law grounds, concluding John's video-recorded statement was not admissible because the statement did not possess a sufficient probability of trustworthiness to justify its introduction at trial under N.J.R.E. 803(c)(27). Striking the recorded statement from the record did not leave sufficient evidence in the record to support, on any rational basis, the adjudication of delinquency against Alex. View "New Jersey in the Interest of A.R." on Justia Law
New Jersey in the Interest of J.A.
The issue before the New Jersey Supreme Court in this matter centered on the admissibility of evidence procured from a home after police officers’ warrantless entry. A man was attacked at a bus stop in Willingboro and his cell phone was stolen. He and a police officer tracked the phone’s location to a nearby house using a phone tracking application. Several officers arrived at the house, and one spotted the stolen cell phone’s case through a window. When no one responded to their knocks on the door, the officers entered the house through an unlocked window. Once inside, they performed a protective sweep to determine whether the suspect was inside, and they found defendant, J.A., then seventeen years of age, under the covers of a bed. Shortly thereafter, defendant’s mother and brother arrived home. After the officers explained their investigation, defendant’s mother consented to a search of the house, and defendant’s brother voluntarily retrieved the stolen phone. Defendant was later charged with second-degree robbery for theft of the phone. Defendant moved to suppress the evidence, arguing that the officers’ entry into his home was unconstitutional because the officers entered without a warrant and there were no circumstances that would justify an exception to the warrant requirement. The trial court denied defendant’s motion to suppress, finding that although the officers’ search procedure may have been imprudent, it was ultimately defendant’s brother - without any coercion or duress from law enforcement - who retrieved the cell phone. The Appellate Division affirmed. The Supreme Court disagreed with the appellate panel’s determination that the officers’ warrantless entry was justified by the claimed exigency faced by the officers. However, the Court agreed defendant’s brother’s actions did not constitute state action and were sufficiently attenuated from the unlawful police conduct. Because we find that the brother’s independent actions operated to preclude application of the exclusionary rule to the evidence, the Court did not reach the question of defendant’s mother’s consent to search. Accordingly, the Court modified and affirmed the judgment of the Appellate Division. View "New Jersey in the Interest of J.A." on Justia Law
New Jersey in the Interest of C.K.
In New Jersey, juveniles adjudicated delinquent of certain sex offenses were barred for life from seeking relief from the registration and community notification provisions of Megan’s Law. That categorical lifetime bar cannot be lifted, even when the juvenile becomes an adult and poses no public safety risk, is fully rehabilitated, and is a fully productive member of society. Defendant C.K. was adjudicated delinquent for sex offenses committed more than two decades ago and challenged the constitutionality of N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(g)’s permanent lifetime registration and notification requirements as applied to juveniles. After review of the specific facts of this case, the New Jersey Supreme Court concluded subsection (g)’s lifetime registration and notification requirements as applied to juveniles violated the substantive due process guarantee of Article I, Paragraph 1 of the New Jersey Constitution. “Permanently barring juveniles who have committed certain sex offenses from petitioning for relief from the Megan’s Law requirements bears no rational relationship to a legitimate governmental objective.” The Court determined that in the absence of subsection (g), N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(f) provided the original safeguard incorporated into Megan’s Law, and a criminal defendant may petition to be released from registration and notification requirements when a superior court judge is persuaded the defendant has been offense-free and does not likely pose a societal risk after a fifteen-year look-back period. Defendant may apply for termination from the Megan’s Law requirements fifteen years from the date of his juvenile adjudication, and be relieved of those requirements provided he meets the standards set forth in N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(f). View "New Jersey in the Interest of C.K." on Justia Law
New Jersey v. Zuber
The defendants in these appeals committed very serious, violent crimes when they were juveniles. One was serving a sentence of 110 years imprisonment and would not be eligible for parole until he spent 55 years in jail. At that time, he would be about 72 years old. The second was serving a 75-year term and was ineligible for parole until he served 68 years and 3 months in jail. He would then be 85 years old. The United States Supreme Court recognized the mitigating qualities of youth and directed that judges in those cases consider a number of factors at sentencing, including immaturity and failure to appreciate risks and consequences; family and home environment; family and peer pressures; an inability to deal with police officers or prosecutors or the juvenile s own attorney; and the possibility of rehabilitation. The New Jersey Court found the same concerns applied to sentences that were the practical equivalent of life without parole, like the ones in these appeals. "The proper focus belongs on the amount of real time a juvenile will spend in jail and not on the formal label attached to his sentence. To satisfy the Eighth Amendment and Article I, Paragraph 12 of the State Constitution, which both prohibit cruel and unusual punishment, we direct that defendants be resentenced and that the 'Miller' factors be addressed at that time. [. . .] In short, judges should exercise a heightened level of care before they impose multiple consecutive sentences on juveniles which would result in lengthy jail terms." Both cases were remanded for resentencing. View "New Jersey v. Zuber" on Justia Law
New Jersey in the Interest of N.H.
What began as a fight between two students, C.W. and D.W., ended in the death of one of them. N.H., who was seventeen years old at the time, attended the fight to support his friend, D.W. N.H. allegedly grabbed a handgun from another individual and shot C.W. four times, including once in the back of the head. A video captured parts of the incident, and several witnesses made statements to the police that implicated N.H. N.H. also spoke to the police and said that he had shot only at the ground. At oral argument before the New Jersey Supreme Court, the State explained that it had not disclosed certain items in its possession which it did not intend to rely on at the waiver hearing. Those materials included additional witness statements, other police reports, and other videos of the event taken from different angles. N.H. moved for full discovery before the waiver hearing, and the trial court granted the request. The court analogized the filing of a juvenile complaint to the filing of a criminal indictment, which would trigger full discovery under Rule 3:13-3(b). The trial court stayed its order pending the outcome of the State's motion for leave to appeal. The Appellate Division affirmed the trial court's order. The issue raised by the State's appeal in this matter was whether a juvenile was entitled to full discovery when the State sought to waive jurisdiction and transfer a case from juvenile to adult court. The Supreme Court held the State is indeed required to disclose all discovery in its possession when it seeks to waive jurisdiction and transfer a case from juvenile to adult court. View "New Jersey in the Interest of N.H." on Justia Law