The opinion of the court was delivered by: FORMAN
This matter arises on an order to show cause obtained by the petitioner, Lawrence J. Johnson, also known as Lawrence Johnson, Jr., and as Lawrence Albert Johnson, on the respondent, William Lagay, Principal Keeper of the New Jersey State Prison Farm at Rahway, New Jersey, why a writ of habeas corpus should not issue in accordance with his petition filed herein.
The petitioner, Johnson, has been confined by New Jersey authorities since 1944, when, at the age of 15 years, he was sentenced to life imprisonment.
The background of the law against which the petition is filed begins with the case of In re Mei, 122 N.J.Eq. 125, 192 A. 80, 110 A.L.R. 1080, decided in 1937 by the former Court of Errors and Appeals. Therein a boy of 15 years was charged with murder in the Hudson County Court of Oyer and Terminer. It was contended in his behalf that he could commit no crime and that the Court of Oyer and Terminer was without jurisdiction over him by reason of the enactment of New Jersey Juvenile Delinquency Statutes, Chapters 284 and 285 P.L. 1935 N.J.R.S. 9:18-12 (now N.J.S.A. 2A:4-14). By virtue of this statutory protection, a person under 16 was deemed incapable of committing a crime and could have been held only as a juvenile delinquent even if he were found to have performed an act which, when committed by an adult, would have been a crime. And jurisdiction over juvenile delinquency, by statute, was given to the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court. However, the court in the Mei case held that, insofar as it applied to those under 16 charged with murder, the Juvenile Delinquency Act was unconstitutional, and determined that the Court of Oyer and Terminer had jurisdiction over the indictment and trial of such persons under 16 years. It concluded that the crime of murder was of such heinous character as to be excepted from the juvenile delinquency statutes and affirmed the conviction and sentence of Mei.
On March 21, 1954, the New Jersey Supreme Court overruled the Mei case in State v. Monahan, 15 N.J. 34, 104 A.2d 21, 48 A.L.R.2d 641. In the latter case, a 15 year old boy had been charged as an accomplice with his father to a felony murder. A motion was made on his behalf to transfer the proceedings from the Union County Court to the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court of Union County on the ground that under N.J.S.A. 2A:85-4
and N.J.S.A. 2A:4-14
jurisdiction was exclusively in the Juvenile Court. The motion was denied and an appeal was taken. The New Jersey Supreme Court in recognition of modern sociological views oriented toward the rehabilitation rather than the punishment of juvenile offenders, held that
'* * * Our present legislation lawfully vests exclusive jurisdiction in the juvenile court over misconduct by children under 16, including misconduct which would constitute murder or other heinous crime if committed by an adult * * *.' 15 N.J. at page 46, 104 A.2d at page 27.
On October 1, 1943, at the age of 14, petitioner Johnson participated in a robbery in the course of which a man was killed. On January 20, 1944, he pleaded not guilty to an indictment for murder returned by the September 1943 Term Grand Jury of the Court of Oyer and Terminer of Camden County, New Jersey. On May 17, 1944, petitioner changed his plea to non vult and was sentenced that same day by the Court of Oyer and Terminer of Camden County to life imprisonment at hard labor. He was received at Trenton State Prison on May 19, 1944; later transferred to the Rahway Reformatory; and on July 12, 1948, transferred again to the Trenton State Prison. Following the pronouncement on March 22, 1954, of the decision in the Monahan case, and deeming himself in identical status with Monahan, Johnson applied to the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, for a writ of habeas corpus, alleging violation of his rights under the 14th Amendment of the Federal Constitution. His application was denied on June 22, 1954. In re Johnson Law Div.1954, 31 N.J.Super. 382, 106 A.2d 560. On appeal from that decision the New Jersey Supreme Court, on May 2, 1955, in Johnson v. State, 18 N.J. 422, 114 A.2d 1, 7 held:
(1) that denial of the petition for writ of habeas corpus should be affirmed;
(2) that the 1944 conviction and sentence was void on the ground that no child under 16 is capable of committing any crime;
(3) that the original charge should have been 'juvenile delinquency';
(4) that the matter should be remanded to the Camden County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court for proper action in accord with its (the Supreme Court's) decision; and
(5) that the jurisdiction should be retained by Camden County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court 'pending action by the board of managers where his application for discharge may be made.' On the same day the Supreme Court entered its mandate implementing its opinion.
A rehearing was denied by the New Jersey Supreme Court on May 31, 1955 and on January 9, 1956, the United States Supreme Court denied certiorari, Johnson v. State, 350 U.S. 942, 76 S. Ct. 318, 100 L. Ed. 822.
No action was taken under the mandate of the New Jersey Supreme Court until September 27, 1956, and Johnson's confinement was continued, except that he was transferred from the New Jersey State Prison at Trenton to the New Jersey State Prison Farm at Rahway. On July 23, 1956, Johnson petitioned this court for a writ of habeas corpus. He reiterated his assertion of the denial of his rights under the Federal Constitution.
An order was entered to show cause why the writ of habeas corpus should not be issued, pursuant to which a hearing was held on August 13, 1956, in which the petitioner was represented by counsel and the respondent was represented by a Deputy Attorney General of New Jersey.
Following an intimation that the petitioner's release might be imminent as a result of administrative procedure, decision was reserved. On September 27, 1956, during its pendency, the petitioner was presented by the Prosecutor of Camden County at the bar of the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court of that county, pursuant to the mandate of the New Jersey Supreme Court of May 2, 1955; whereupon the court made the following order:
'Present: Benjamin J. Dzick Esquire, Judge of the Camden County Juvenile and ...