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State in Interest of M.L.

Decided: March 19, 1974.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY IN THE INTEREST OF M.L., JUVENILE-APPELLANT


For modification -- Chief Justice Hughes and Justices Jacobs, Hall, Mountain, Sullivan, Pashman and Clifford. Opposed -- None. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Sullivan, J.

Sullivan

[64 NJ Page 439] This appeal involves the question whether the juvenile and domestic relations court was authorized under the then provision of the "juvenile and domestic relations court law, N.J.S.A. 2A:4-37(a), to require a juvenile, adjudicated to be delinquent, to pay a fine as a condition of probation.*fn1

The juvenile herein was found to have been involved in the disruption of a class in a public high school, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2A:149A-2. He was adjudicated a delinquent and was put on probation for one year and fined $15. The Appellate Division affirmed, 124 N.J. Super. 459 (1973). This Court granted certification, 64 N.J. 309 (1973), limited to the issue of the power of the juvenile court to impose a fine on the juvenile.

The question is one of statutory interpretation. The juvenile and domestic relations court is a creature of statute and has only the powers and jurisdiction conferred on it by the Legislature. Gregg v. Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, 133 N.J.L. 89 (E. & A. 1945). It has no inherent power or authority.

Some review of the development of juvenile court legislation would be helpful in resolving the question. Originally, juveniles in this State were held to adult responsibility for their anti-social actions and were subject to fine and imprisonment as provided by law, in the same manner as an adult. Commencing in 1850, legislative steps were taken to provide for the separate confinement of children. In 1867 the State Reform School for Juvenile Delinquents at Jamesburg was opened, followed shortly thereafter by the State Industrial School for Girls at Trenton. See, State v. Monahan, 15 N.J. 34, 38-39 (1954).

Finally legislative recognition was given to the proposition that some children should not be held to adult responsibility for their anti-social actions. By L. 1903, c. 219, a court for the trial of juvenile offenders, presided over by the judge of the court of common pleas, was established in every county of the State. Juveniles charged with a crime, disorderly conduct, habitual vagrancy or incorrigibility, were brought before that court which, upon an adjudication of delinquency, could (1) commit the juvenile to a facility established for the care, custody, instruction and reform of juvenile offenders, (2) suspend sentence, (3) suspend sentence and place

the juvenile on probation upon such conditions as the court determined, or (4) render such judgment of imprisonment or fine, or both, as was provided by law for the offense upon which the conviction of juvenile delinquency was based. In essence, this statute gave the judge of the court for the trial of juvenile offenders the discretion either to hold the juvenile offender to adult responsibility, or to utilize the new statutory alternatives for juvenile treatment and rehabilitation including probation.

In 1912 the Legislature passed an act providing for the creation of juvenile courts in counties of the first class and defining the jurisdiction and powers thereof. L. 1912, c. 353. These courts were empowered, upon a finding of delinquency, to commit the child to a juvenile facility for care, custody, instruction and reform, or order the child to be placed on probation upon such conditions as the court determined. It is to be noted that the 1912 Act omitted the provision contained in the 1903 Act giving the court discretion to fine or imprison the juvenile.

The incongruity of the foregoing was apparent. In 19 counties of the State, the court for the trial of juvenile offenders could hold the child to adult responsibility, or else apply the alternative procedures for treatment of a juvenile, including probation. In the counties of Essex and Hudson juvenile court disposition was limited to the care, custody, instruction and reform of the child, or probation on terms. The Report of Juvenile and Probation Study Commission (1928), p. 13, noted that although prohibited by law in counties of the first class, small fines were at times assessed in juvenile cases in other counties. This Report discussed at length the disparate handling of juvenile matters in the several counties because of the separate statutes, and recommended that the juvenile procedures then existing in Hudson and Essex Counties be extended to all counties by enactment of a juvenile and domestic relations court law.

An act embodying the Commission's recommendations was adopted, L. 1929, c. 157, and the present juvenile and domestic

relations court came into existence. Its jurisdiction in juvenile matters was substantially the same as had been previously vested in the juvenile courts in Essex and Hudson Counties under the 1912 statute. The court was also given jurisdiction over certain domestic relations matters which are not ...


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