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State v. Brown

Decided: February 14, 1975.

THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
FLETCHER BROWN, DEFENDANT



Alterman, J.d.c., Temporarily Assigned.

Alterman

This is a motion for discovery in a criminal case. Defendant stands indicted in two counts for assault with intent to rob while armed. The victims of the alleged offenses are both juveniles.

Defendant seeks to compel the State to disclose the record of delinquency adjudications against each juvenile or, alternatively, to reveal whether the juveniles are presently on

probation and whether juvenile delinquency complaints are now pending against either of them. The prosecution contends that such information is nondiscoverable because of the State's established policy of maintaining the confidentiality of juvenile proceedings.

The Legislature has provided:

No disposition under this act shall operate to impose any of the civil disabilities ordinarily imposed by virtue of a criminal conviction, nor shall a juvenile be deemed a criminal by reason of such disposition.

The disposition of a case under this act shall not be admissible against the juvenile in any criminal or penal case or proceeding in any other court except for consideration in sentencing. [ N.J.S.A. 2A:4-64]*fn1

But, relying on Davis v. Alaska, 415 U.S. 308, 94 S. Ct. 1105, 39 L. Ed. 2d 347 (1974), defendant asserts that his Sixth Amendment right to confrontation is impinged if he is deprived of any information which is useful in affecting a witness' credibility.

In Davis v. Alaska the court examined the conflict between the accused's constitutionally guaranteed right "to be confronted with the witnesses against him" and the state's interest in protecting the anonymity of juvenile offenders. There the juvenile was a crucial witness in proving defendant's identification, but the trial court prevented the defense from making inquiry as to the witness' probation status under a juvenile court adjudication at the time that he originally identified defendant. The court held that in the attendant circumstances "the right of confrontation is paramount to the State's policy of protecting a juvenile offender." 415 U.S. at 319, 94 S. Ct. at 1113, 39 L. Ed. 2d at 355.

Davis does not hold, however, that past adjudications of delinquency are always admissible to affect a witness' credibility. Rather, the language of the court clearly distinguishes between the use of juvenile adjudications for the purpose of impeaching the general credibility of a witness and the use of that evidence in cross-examination to reveal the bias, prejudice or ulterior motive of a witness.

There is no authority in this State for permitting prior adjudications of juvenile delinquency to be used for the purpose of impeaching the general credibility of a witness. On the contrary, use of juvenile adjudications for this purpose has been prohibited -- either against a defendant in a criminal case, State v. Wolak, 26 N.J. 464, 483 (1958); State v. DePaola, 5 N.J. 1, 17-18 (1950), or against a nonparty witness. State v. Laws, 50 N.J. 159, 178-179 (1967). New Jersey's policy of maintaining the confidentiality of juvenile proceedings is sustained within present constitutional limits by ...


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