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State in Interest of K.V.N.

Decided: October 29, 1971.


Kilkenny, Labrecque and Lane. The opinion of the court was delivered by Lane, J.A.D.


[116 NJSuper Page 583] K.V.N., a juvenile 17 years old at the time, was found delinquent based upon a complaint charging that on February 6, 1970 he endangered his health, morals and general welfare by being "under the influence of a narcotic drug, namely heroin." On August 5, 1970 he was committed to the New Jersey Reformatory (now Youth Correctional Institution Complex) for an indeterminate term not to extend beyond his twenty-first birthday (N.J.S.A. 2A:4-37). Following his commitment the juvenile moved to limit the term of commitment to not more than six months on the ground that that was the maximum senence an adult could receive for being under the influence of a narcotic drug, then a violation of the Disorderly Persons Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:170-8 (now dealt with in N.J.S.A. 24:21-20(b)). The trial court denied the motion, setting forth its reasons in a comprehensive written opinion. State in the Interest of K.V.N. , 112 N.J. Super. 544 (J. & D.R. Ct., 1970). The juvenile appeals from the order denying his motion.

The juvenile argues that because he is a juvenile he has been committed to the Youth Correctional Institution Complex for an indeterminate term, with the possibility of being confined for four years, when the maximum sentence an adult could receive for the same conduct would be six months' imprisonment. He further argues that since in fact there are no distinctions made at the Correctional Institution between adults and juveniles he thereby receives no special beneficial and rehabilitative treatment while he is confined and thus the classification based on age for the purposes of confinement is unjustifiable. Essentially he argues that he has been denied his constitutional guarantee of equal protection.


Recent United States Supreme Court cases have indicated that the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment should be available to the juvenile in appropriate aspects of the juvenile system.

In In re Gault , 387 U.S. 1, 87 S. Ct. 1428, 18 L. Ed. 2d 527 (1967), the United States Supreme Court held that neither the Fourteenth Amendment nor the Bill of Rights was for adults alone. Applying the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to juvenile court proceedings, the court held that a juvenile has the right to notice of charges, right to counsel, right to confrontation and examination of witnesses, and right to privilege against self-incrimination. The court was careful to poiut out that it was not considering the impact of the Fourteenth Amendment or Bill of Rights upon the totality of the relationship between juvenile and state. Neither was it considering the entire process relating to juvenile delinquents, specifically stating that it was not considering any aspect of the dispositional process of the system. The court appeared to assume the validity of confinement of a juvenile which possibly could be longer than that of an adult for the same conduct. The

court appeared to base its application of the due process standards to a juvenile court proceeding partially on this assumption.

See also In re Winship , 397 U.S. 358, 90 S. Ct. 1068, 25 L. Ed. 2d 368 (1970).

In Kent v. United States , 383 U.S. 541, 86 S. Ct. 1045, 16 L. Ed. 2d 84 (1966), Justice Fortas indicated the court's concern over the practical application of the juvenile proceedings. He said:

While there can be no doubt of the original laudable purpose of juvenile courts, studies and critiques in recent years raise serious questions as to whether actual performance measures well enough against theoretical purpose to make tolerable the immunity of the process from the reach of constitutional guaranties applicable to adults. There is much evidence that some juvenile courts, including that of the District of Columbia, lack the personnel, facilities and techniques to perform adequately as representatives of the State in a parens patriae capacity, at least with respect to children charged with law violation. There is evidence, in fact, that there may be grounds for concern that the child receives the worst of both worlds: that he gets neither the protections accorded to adults nor the solicitous care and regenerative treatment postulated for children. [383 U.S. at 555-556, 86 S. Ct. at 1054.]

Recent decisions in New Jersey have considered the effect of In re Gault, supra , 387 U.S. 1, 87 S. Ct. 1428.

In State in the Interest of J.W. , 57 N.J. 144 (1970), in holding that a juvenile was not entitled to a jury trial, the court discussed the effect of In re Gault as to the New Jersey juvenile system. The court said:

We agree with the general statement of the Pennsylvania Superior Court which said in Commonwealth v. Johnson , 211 Pa. Super. 62, 234 A.2d 9 (Super. Ct. 1967), cited by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in In re Terry , 438 Pa. 339, 265 A.2d 350, 355 (1970), prob. juris. noted [McKeiver v. Pennsylvania], 399 U.S. 925, 90 S. Ct. 2271, 26 L. Ed. 2 d 791:

"It is inconceivable to us, however, that our highest Court attempted, through Gault , to undermine the basic philosophy, idealism and purposes of the juvenile court. We believe that the Supreme Court did not lose sight of the humane and beneficial elements of the juvenile court system; it did not ignore the need for each judge

to determine the action appropriate in each individual case; it did not intend to convert the juvenile court into a criminal court for young people. Rather, we find that the Supreme Court recognized the juvenile courts, while acting within the constitutional guarantees of due process, must, nonetheless, retain their flexible procedures and techniques. The institution of jury trial in juvenile court, while not materially contributing to the fact-finding function of the court, would seriously limit the court's ability to function in this unique manner, and would result in a sterile procedure which could not vary to meet the needs of delinquent children." [57 N.J. at 145-146.]

In State in the Interest of L.N. , 109 N.J. Super. 278 (App. Div.), aff'd o.b. 57 N.J. 165 (1970), the court held that subsections (i) and (m) of section (2) of N.J.S.A. 2A:4-14, permitting an adjudication of delinquency to be based either on a juvenile's growing up in idleness or delinquency, or on deportment endangering morals, health or general welfare of the juvenile, was not a violation of due process. The court discussed the effect of In re Gault:

We are satisfied that the Supreme Court did not intend In re Gault to undermine the basic philosophy, idealism and purposes of juvenile courts. Commonwealth v. Johnson , 211 Pa. Super. 62, 234 A.2d 9 (Super. Ct. 1967). The juvenile court proceeding is not the trial of a child charged with a crime but is mercifully designed to save him from such an ordeal in the future. State v. Monahan , 15 N.J. 34, 37 (1954), cert. den. 348 U.S. 889, 75 S. Ct. 210, 99 L. Ed. 698 (1954). It has been said to be designed to make men out of errant boys. State, in the Interest of Carlo , 48 N.J. 224, 244 (1966) (concurring opinion Weintraub, C.J.); State v. Tuddles , 38 N.J. 565, 571-573 (1962). The State as parens patriae has a duty to see to it that a minor does not live a life of delinquency. In re State in Interest of S.I. , 68 N.J. Super. 598, 604 (J. & D.R. Ct. 1961). In general, the determination of what activities involve danger that a child will become a hazard to himself or to society rests with the Legislature, and its policies may not be interfered with by us simply because we may disagree with their wisdom. State v. Monahan, supra , 15 N.J. at 46. [109 N.J. Super. at 285-286]

Notwithstanding the seeming reluctance of our courts to extend the Gault philosophy further than necessary, it is doubtful that a juvenile can be denied the constitutional guarantee of equal protection within the dispositional process

of the juvenile system. We proceed on the assumption that he cannot be denied such guarantee. The question is whether the classification for dispositional purposes based upon the age of the violator is contrary to the equal protection clause.


While a State has broad classification power, Ferguson v. Skrupa , 372 U.S. 726, 732, 83 S. Ct. 1028, 1032, 10 L. Ed. 2 d 93, 98 (1963), the United States Supreme Court has said that the equal protection clause requires more of a state law than nondiscriminatory application within the class it establishes. It imposes a requirement of some rationality in the nature of the class singled out. It is not a demand that a statute necessarily apply equally to all persons. It does require that in defining a class subject to legislation, the distinctions that are drawn have some relevance to the purpose for which the classification is made. Rinaldi v. Yeager , 384 U.S. 305, 308-309, 86 S. Ct. 1497, 1499-1500, 16 L. Ed. 2d 577, 580 (1966). While a state has broad power when it comes to making classifications, it may not draw a line which constitutes an invidious discrimination against a particular class. The test is whether the line drawn is rational. Levy v. Louisiana , 391 U.S. 68, 71, 88 S. Ct. 1509, 1511, 20 L. Ed. 2d 436, 439, rehearing denied 393 U.S. 898, 89 S. Ct. 65, 21 L. Ed. 2d 185 (1968). The equal protection clause does not require that things different in fact be treated in law as though they were the same. Tigner v. Texas , 310 U.S. 141, 147, 60 S. Ct. 879, 882, 84 L. Ed. 1124, 1128 (1940). Generally state legislatures are presumed to have acted within their constitutional power despite the fact that in practice their laws result in inequality. A statutory discrimination will not be set aside if any state of facts reasonably may be conceived to justify it. McGowan v. Maryland , 366 U.S. 420, 425-426, 81 S. Ct. 1101, 1105, 6 L. Ed. 2d 393, 399 (1961).

In applying the equal protection clause to social and economic legislation the United States Supreme Court has [116 NJSuper Page 588] given great latitude to the legislatures in making classifications. Dandridge v. Williams , 397 U.S. 471, 485, 90 S. Ct. 1153, 1161, 25 L. Ed. 2d 491, 501-502 (1970); Levy v. Louisiana, supra , 391 U.S. at 71, 88 S. Ct. 1509. See McGowan v. Maryland, supra , 366 U.S. 420, 81 S. Ct. 1101; Williamson v. Lee Optical Co. , 348 U.S. 483, 489, 75 S. Ct. 461, 465, 99 L. Ed. 563, 573 (1955). However, it has been extremely sensitive when civil rights are involved, adopting a strict standard. Levy. v. Louisiana, supra; Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections , 383 U.S. 663, 669-670, 86 S. Ct. 1079, 1082-1083, 16 L. Ed. 2d 169, 174 (1966); Skinner v. Oklahoma ex rel. Williamson , 316 U.S. 535, 541, 62 S. Ct. 1110, 1113, 86 L. Ed. 1655, 1660 (1942). It has not hesitated to strike down a classification as invidious even though the legislation had history and tradition behind it. Brown v. Bd. of Ed. , 347 U.S. 483, 74 S. Ct. 686, 98 L. Ed. 873 (1954); Harper v. Virginia Bd. of Elections, supra , 383 U.S. at 669, 86 S. Ct. 1079. Where a classification is either predicated on race, alienage, nationality or penalizes a fundamental right, the classification must be carefully and meticulously scrutinized; the presumption of constitutionality disappears, and the state has the burden of showing a compelling governmental interest. Graham v. Richardson , 403 U.S. 365, 91 S. Ct. 1848, 1852, 1854, 29 L. Ed. 2d 534, 541-542 (1971); Kramer v. Union Free School District , 395 U.S. 621, 626, 89 S. Ct. 1886, 1889, 23 L. Ed. 2d 583, 589 (1969); Cipriano v. City of Houma , 395 U.S. 701, 704, 89 S. Ct. 1897, 1899, 23 L. Ed. 2d 647, 650-651 (1969); Shapiro v. Thompson , 394 U.S. 618, 634, 89 S. Ct. 1322, 1331, 22 L. Ed. 2d 600, 615 (1969); Loving v. Vir. ginia , 388 U.S. 1, 8-9, 11, 87 S. Ct. 1817, 1822, 1823, 18 L. Ed. 2d 1010, 1015-1016, 1017-1018; Harper v. Virginia Bd. of Elections, supra , 383 U.S. at 670, 86 S. Ct. 1079; McLaughlin v. Florida , 379 U.S. 184, 196, 85 S. Ct. 283, 290, 13 L. Ed. 2d 222, 231 (1964); Korematsu v. United States , 323 U.S. 214, 216, 65 S. Ct. 193, 194, 89

L. Ed. 194, 199 (1944), reh. den. 324 U.S. 885, 65 S. Ct. 674, 89 L. Ed. 1435 (1945); Skinner v. Oklahoma ex rel. Williamson, supra , 316 U.S. at 541, 62 S. Ct. 1110. See, discussion of the equal protection clause in Oregon v. Mitchell , 400 U.S. 112, 91 S. Ct. 260, 266, 27 L. Ed. 2d 272, 282 (1970); ...

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