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State v. Buren

Decided: April 20, 1959.


On appeal from order of the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.

For affirmance -- Chief Justice Weintraub, and Justices Burling, Jacobs, Francis and Proctor. For reversal -- None. The opinion of the court was delivered by Weintraub, C.J.


Defendant was charged with murder arising out of a holdup of a food market in which his role allegedly consisted of operating the get-away car. Defendant being 17 years of age, the complaint came before the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court of Union County. The court decided to relinquish jurisdiction and referred the matter to the county prosecutor. The grand jury then returned an indictment for murder. Assigned counsel thereafter appealed from the order of transfer and apparently also asked the juvenile court for a rehearing. The juvenile court indicated its desire to hold a further hearing and to that end we granted an application to remand the cause prior to our consideration of it. Upon the further hearing, the juvenile court reaffirmed its action, and the validity of its order is now before us.

N.J.S. 2 A:4-14 provides that, except as stated in 2 A:4-15, the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court shall have exclusive jurisdiction of all cases of juvenile delinquency. Juvenile delinquency is there defined to include the commission by a child under 18 years of age of any act which when committed by a person of the age of 18 years or over would constitute a "felony, high misdemeanor, misdemeanor, or other offense." The crime of murder is included. State v. Monahan, 15 N.J. 34 (1954). The exception to the court's exclusive jurisdiction appears in N.J.S. 2 A:4-15, which reads:

"If it shall appear to the satisfaction of the juvenile and domestic relations court that a case of juvenile delinquency as defined in section 2A:4-14 of this title committed by any juvenile of the age of 16 or 17 years, should not be dealt with by the court, either because of the fact that the person is an habitual offender, or has been charged with an offense of a heinous nature, under circumstances which may require the imposition of a sentence rather than the disposition permitted by this chapter for the welfare of society, then the court may refer such case to the county prosecutor of the county wherein the court is situate.

Any juvenile of the age of 16 or 17 years may demand a presentment and trial by jury and, in such case, when this fact is made

known to the court, such case, together with all documents pertaining thereto, shall be referred to the county prosecutor.

Cases so referred to the county prosecutor shall thereafter be dealt with in exactly the same manner as a criminal case."

The action here complained of was taken under that section.

Defendant urges (1) the statute, or at least an implementing rule of court to which we will later refer, contemplates the same type of preliminary hearing provided for persons charged with crime, i.e., to determine the existence of probable cause to bind an accused over to await final determination; (2) the juvenile court is required to exhaust all avenues of investigation to determine whether defendant is incorrigible, apparently on the thesis that a reference to the prosecutor may not be made unless it is first found that the juvenile is beyond rehabilitation under the Juvenile Delinquency Act; and (3) the court abused its discretion under the circumstances of this case.

The history of the treatment of juvenile delinquency in this State appears in Monahan, supra (15 N.J. 34). There is no doubt that insofar as conduct is treated as delinquency the approach is protective and rehabilitative rather than punitive. But, as Monahan reveals, there has not been universal agreement as to what acts should be so handled. In some jurisdictions murder is excluded, Annotation, 48 A.L.R. 2 d 663 (1956), and it was judicially held in this State, prior to Monahan, that it was beyond the legislative power to include homicide within juvenile delinquency whatever the age of the offender.

So also, as to offenses generally, disagreement has been evident with respect to the age which should mark the jurisdictional limit of the juvenile court. In our State the jurisdiction of that court was enlarged in 1943 to include juveniles of the ages 16 and 17, but upon an intermediate approach under which an offense could be dealt with either as a crime or as juvenile delinquency. Chapter 97 of the laws of that ...

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