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State in Interest of K.V.N.

Decided: December 8, 1970.

THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY IN THE INTEREST OF K.V.N.


Kentz, P.J.J. & D.r.c.

Kentz

[112 NJSuper Page 545] A complaint was filed against the juvenile charging that he was under the influence of heroin, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2A:4-14. The juvenile was adjudicated delinquent on the complaint and on August 5, 1970 an order was entered committing the juvenile to the New Jersey Reformatory for Males for an indefinite term not to extend beyond his twenty-first birthday, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:4-37. At the time of the entry of the order the juvenile was 17 years of age.

Thereafter, a motion was made to limit the commitment to a term not greater than six months. It is argued that the maximum sentence an adult could be given for the same offense is six months, N.J.S.A. 2A:170-8, 2A:169-4, and that an indefinite term such as was here imposed constitutes an unjustifiable differentiation in treatment, thereby denying the juvenile equal protection of the law. This attack upon the dispositional phase of the juvenile system presents a novel issue in this State.

It is contended that in light of In re Gault , 387 U.S. 1, 87 S. Ct. 1428, 18 L. Ed. 2 d 527 (1967), and subsequent interpretations and extensions of the Gault decision granting additional constitutional safeguards to juveniles, the juvenile in the present case is being denied equal protection of the law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

The juvenile system has had the benefit of continuous judicial refinement in recent years. The United States Supreme Court decided in In re Gault, supra , that a juvenile was entitled to the four basic rights of notice of the charges, representation by counsel, confrontation and cross-examination of witnesses, and the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. See, e.g., In re Winship , 397 U.S. 358, 90 S. Ct. 1068, 25 L. Ed. 2 d 368 (1970), holding that a determination of delinquency in a juvenile proceeding must be based upon proof beyond a reasonable doubt; State in the Interest of Carlo , 48 N.J. 224 (1966), applying the constitutional safeguards with respect to voluntariness to govern the use of confessions in juvenile court; State in the Interest of B.D. , 110 N.J. Super. 585 (App. Div. 1969), aff'd 56 N.J. 325 (1970), excluding confessions not obtained by methods consistent with due process requirements; State v. J.M. , 110 N.J. Super. 337 (App. Div. 1970), requiring that all the elements of the crime charged be proven in order to constitute proof beyond a reasonable doubt: State in the Interest of W.O. , 100 N.J. Super. 358 (App. Div. 1970), allowing sequestration of witnesses in juvenile hearings;

State v. Lowry , 95 N.J. Super. 307 (Law Div. 1967), applying the search and seizure provisions of the Fourth Amendment to juveniles; State in the Interest of L.B. , 99 N.J. Super. 589 (J. & D.R. Ct. 1968), holding that a motion to suppress evidence may be made in Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court; State in the Interest of B.H. , 112 N.J. Super. 1 (J. & D.R. Ct. 1970), interpreting the defense of statute of limitations under the Disorderly Persons Act as substantive and available to juveniles. See also, State in the Interest of C.S. and J.C. , 112 N.J. Super. 144 (App. Div. 1970); State in the Interest of L.M. , 56 N.J. 358 (1970); State v. Tuddles , 38 N.J. 565 (1962); State v. Van Buren , 29 N.J. 548 (1959); State in the Interest of L.M. , 109 N.J. Super. 278 (App. Div. 1970), aff'd 57 N.J. 165 (1970).

It is clear that the United States Supreme Court by its decision in Gault initiated a trend toward the application of the constitutional safeguards available to adults to the juvenile court system. The court was skeptical about the claimed benefits granted juveniles by reason of the informal atmosphere and rehabilitative dispositions to training schools or correction centers. Mr. Justice Fortas, speaking for the court, stated:

The fact of the matter is that, however euphemistic the title, a "receiving home" or an "industrial school" for juveniles is an institution of confinement in which the child is incarcerated for a greater or lesser time. [387 U.S. at 27, 87 S. Ct. at 1443.]

Although Gault specifically stated that the dispositional phase of juvenile proceedings was not an issue there, 387 U.S. at 10, 87 S. Ct. 1428, it has been argued by counsel for the juvenile herein that subsequent cases have extended the Gault principle to reach this question. In re Wilson , 438 Pa. 425, 264 A.2d 614 (Sup. Ct. 1970).

The disposition of juvenile offenders to terms which may result in commitment for a period of time longer than that

which an adult could receive for the same offense has been held to be not violative of the equal protection clause of the Constitution by five Circuit Courts of Appeals. Cunningham v. United States , 256 F.2d 467 (5 Cir. 1958); Carter v. United States , 113 U.S. App. D.C. 123, 306 F.2d 283 (1962); Standley v. United States , 318 F.2d 700 (9 Cir. 1963); Rogers v. United States , 326 F.2d 56 (10 Cir. 1963); Brisco v. United States , 368 F.2d 214 (3 Cir. ...


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