wipe out a responsibility and culpability for the offense he committed. It merely holds that under the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court Act the appellant, since he was a child as defined in that act, at the time his offense was committed, could not be charged with murder, tried and sentenced for that crime.' Johnson v. State, supra, 18 N.J. at pages 429, 430, 114 A.2d at page 5
And, again, 18 N.J. on page 431, 114 A.2d on page 6:
'The plea of 'non vult' entered by this appellant in the Camden Oyer and Terminer Court on May 17, 1944 established the fact that he had committed an unjustifiable homicide which called into play the parens patriae jurisdiction. Therefore, it would seem to follow that the decision in the Monahan case has retroactive effect only to the extent of rendering void his conviction of the crime of murder and the sentence imposed upon him for such crime as a matter of law. The effect of the decision in that case is that from the moment that plea was entered the appellant became subject to the parens patriae jurisdiction as set forth in the applicable statutes.'
It would seem from the foregoing statements that the court derived two separate but related effects, each with its own 'legal' significance, from Johnson's plea of non vult. One was the retroactive conferring of at least partial jurisdiction upon a court which was, in the same opinion, inferentially held to have lacked jurisdiction because of the juvenile court's exclusive jurisdiction (of juvenile delinquents under 16 years); and secondly, the simultaneous introduction of the parens patriae doctrine, as justification for the continued confinement of Johnson in the custody of the state.
It must be noted, however, that although the Court of Oyer and Terminer exercised in 1944 what it thought to be proper jurisdiction by reason of the Mei decision of 1937, the Monahan case in 1954 resolved any question of jurisdiction over juveniles under the age of 16, in homicide cases, by restoring the exclusive jurisdiction in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Courts originally conferred by statute. It therefore is difficult to reconcile the concept of jurisdiction conferred by virtue of a plea of non vult made in the Court of Oyer and Terminer with the import of the Monahan and Johnson opinions re-defining and re-emphasizing the exclusive jurisdictional role of the juvenile courts.
The New Jersey Supreme Court's observation that Johnson's plea of non vult in 1944 was an implied admission of guilt, and that the Monahan case 'could not wipe out a responsibility and culpability for the offense he committed,' though understandable, does not alter the fact that Monahan deprived the Court of Oyer and Terminer of any jurisdiction over Johnson. We are unable to agree that a plea before a court without jurisdiction can have any legal effect.
However, it would seem from the Supreme Court's opinion that the real effect of the plea of non vult was to vest in the state a parens patriae jurisdiction, the exercise of which made Johnson's confinement legal. Although the parens patriae doctrine would more properly have taken effect at the very moment the juvenile was apprehended by the authorities, and is intended to benefit and protect both the juvenile delinquent and the public, the doctrine cannot serve as a justification for illegal detention, no matter how labelled. From the date when Monahan became controlling, Johnson has been under continuous confinement, though his conviction and sentence were void under the law of the State of New Jersey.
It is to be observed that Johnson was given neither notice nor hearing by the Camden County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, whose order committing Johnson to the Bordentown Reformatory was in the nature of a proforma compliance with the mandate of the New Jersey Supreme Court. Nor was Johnson charged there with any act of juvenile delinquency. Therefore, it would appear that Johnson was not accorded due process in either the Court of Oyer and Terminer which had no jurisdiction over his person or the subject matter on which he was arraigned; nor was he accorded due process in the Juvenile Court, which afforded him neither notice nor hearing. The following language of the Supreme Court of the United States, in Cole v. Arkansas, 1948, 333 U.S. 196, 201, 68 S. Ct. 514, 517, 92 L. Ed. 644 is cogent:
'No principle of procedural due process is more clearly established than that notice of the specific charge, and a chance to be heard in a trial of the issues raised by that charge, if desired, are among the constitutional rights of every accused in a criminal proceeding in all courts, state or federal. * * * It is as much a violation of due process to send an accused to prison following conviction of a charge on which he was never tried as it would be to convict him upon a charge that was never made.'
Although this applies to criminal proceedings, it is no answer to say that Johnson is not entitled to such constitutional protections because finally, at this late date, he has been considered to have committed only an act of juvenile delinquency -- an act of a civil, not criminal, nature. As has been stated earlier, the liberalization of the criminal law to permit proceedings to determine acts of juvenile delinquency rather than acts of crime, was not designed to diminish the constitutional rights to fundamental fairness and justice.
The New Jersey Supreme Court also concludes that 'the restraint under the parens patriae doctrine is for curative rather than punitive purposes,' Johnson v. State, supra, 18 N.J. at page 431, 114 A.2d at page 5 and that Johnson 'by the statute is a 'juvenile delinquent' and is therefore a ward of the State subject to the jurisdiction of the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court' (18 N.J. at page 432, 114 A.2d at page 5). And further:
'By the decision in the Monahan cases the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court has acquired jurisdiction over the appellant even though he is past the age fixed by the statute of 18. N.J.S. 2A:4-17, N.J.S.A., inter alia, provides:
"In any case wherein the court shall have acquired jurisdiction of a child, such child may be committed to any institution to which he or she might have been committed by such court, notwithstanding such child shall have attained the age of 18 years after such court shall have acquired jurisdiction over such child.'(Italics supplied.)i
'The phrase 'such child' does not refer to just any child but must be read in the context in which it is used in the statute, and that is a child who has committed the offense of juvenile delinquency as defined in N.J.S. 2A:4-14, N.J.S.A., and such a child is under a disability.
'Age is a factor in the court's jurisdiction as of the time the unlawful act was committed. R.S. 9:18-16, N.J.S. 2A:4-20, N.J.S.A.; R.S. 9:18-13, N.J.S. 2A:4-17, N.J.S.A.'
This, however, can lead to strange results. Petitioner is now 28 years old. He has already been in continuous confinement for almost 13 years. Under the commitment for indefinite sentence by the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court of Camden County in September, 1956, he can be confined as of this date for approximately an additional four and a half years, as provided by N.J.S.A. 30:4-148.
Although specific statutes refer to situations where the individual has passed his 18th birthday, the context in which one finds these references strongly negates any assumption that the 'past 18' is to extend indefinitely beyond this age. The continued and repeated use of the words 'child' and 'children'
lends significant support for this construction. And N.J.S.A. 2A:4-2 specifically states that '* * * it is hereby declared to be a principle governing the law of this state that children under the jurisdiction of said court are wards of the state * * *'(Emphasis supplied.)
To state that 'age is a factor in the (juvenile) court's jurisdiction as of the time the unlawful act was committed' is, of necessity, a truism. But does this mean that when an act of juvenile delinquency is committed by one under 16 (which act would have constituted the crime of murder, or other felony if committed by an adult), and the wrongdoer is ultimately apprehended when he is 40 years old, the Juvenile Court acquires jurisdiction over this person because of his age at the time of the original wrongdoing? I think not.
The very purpose of the Juvenile Act, as Justice Brennan (now Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court) pointed out in the case of In re Lewis, 1953, 11 N.J. 217, 224, 94 A.2d 328, 331, is that
'The treatment of juvenile offenders is directed to their rehabilitation for useful citizenship through reformation and education and not to their punishment, even when the offense underlying the adjudication of juvenile delinquency is of a kind which when committed by an older person would merit indictment, conviction, and punishment.' Also quoted in State v. Monahan, supra, 15 N.J. at page 40, 104 A.2d at page 24.
It is obvious that such a purpose is no longer applicable to one who is well beyond the age when he might reasonably be considered a juvenile.
The Juvenile Act can properly provide for jurisdiction by the Juvenile Court of those over 18 years, but the age relationship must be a reasonable one. A sound legislative objective cannot be stretched beyond its constitutionally valid purpose, even by judicial interpretation. Obviously, some legislative provision is needed to avoid the jurisdictional and constitutional pitfalls that can arise when applying the present state of the law to a juvenile grown into adulthood, especially when the pitfalls become increasingly deeper with the former juvenile's advancing years.
I am not prepared to state at what precise age the jurisdiction of the Juvenile Court can no longer be operative. I do maintain, however, that age 27 is beyond the reach of the Juvenile Court, jurisdictionally speaking, under the circumstances surrounding this case.
There comes a time at which the operation of the statute relative to juvenile delinquents ceases to be 'curative' and becomes 'punitive', and a point beyond which the statute can no longer reasonably be said to apply. Both situations seem to have coincided in this case.
Hence, I conclude that since no valid cause has been shown by the respondent why a writ of habeas corpus should not be issued as requested in the petition of Johnson, the writ shall issue. Further, when issued, the writ should be granted and petitioner discharged from custody. But the release of Johnson will be stayed for a period of forty days to give respondent time to take such proceedings as he may be advised. An order in conformity with this opinion should be submitted.