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Doe v. City of Trenton

Decided: June 30, 1976.

JANE DOE, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF HER MINOR SON, A.A., AND ON BEHALF OF ALL PERSONS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
CITY OF TRENTON, MUNICIPAL COURT OF THE CITY OF TRENTON, TRENTON POLICE DEPARTMENT, AND GEORGE DOUGHERTY, CITY ATTORNEY FOR CITY OF TRENTON, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS



Carton, Crahay and Handler. The opinion of the court was delivered by Carton, P.J.A.D.

Carton

[143 NJSuper Page 130] This is a challenge to the constitutionality of the City of Trenton's "parent responsibility ordinance."*fn1 The attack centers on the ordinance's presumption that a parent (as defined by the ordinance) is responsible for the misbehavior of a child who twice within one year is adjudged guilty of acts defined as violations of the public peace. The acts so defined include adjudications for delinquency and of the status of being a juvenile in need of supervision (JINS). See N.J.S.A. 2A:4-44 (defining delinquency)

and N.J.S.A. 2A:4-45 (defining JINS offenses). A parent convicted under the ordinance may be fined up to $500.

Plaintiff was cited in a sworn complaint for violation of the ordinance. The complaint recited that her son, age 13, "was convicted a second time within a one year period of a violation of the public peace by the Mercer County Juvenile [ sic ] Court." Ruling on cross-motions for summary judgment, the trial judge upheld the validity of the ordinance and its attendant presumption.

The term "presumption" is used in the law to express a variety of concepts. Basically, however, the effect of a presumption is this: proof of fact B (the proved fact) establishes a presumption of the truth of fact A (the presumed fact). The present case graphically illustrates the effect of a presumption. The fact of two public peace convictions on the minor's part within a year (the proved fact) establishes a rebuttable presumption that the violations stemmed from active or passive parental fault (the presumed fact).

The relatively widespread existence of presumptions in our law is attributable to a variety of factors involving considerations of policy, fairness and convenience. However, as one distinguished writer observed, most presumptions have arisen from the belief that

The establishment of presumptions favorable to the government in criminal and quasi -criminal cases raises delicate issues of due process under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. See generally, Ashford & Risinger, "Presumptions, Assumptions, and Due Process in Criminal Cases: A Theoretical Overview," 79 Yale L.J. 165 (1969). While such presumptions are not constitutionally interdicted (e.g., Tot v. United States , 319 U.S. 463, 63 S. Ct. 1241, 87 L.

Ed. 1519 (1943)), they must possess certain qualities of trustworthiness. In general, inquiry as to whether a particular presumption is up to constitutional requirements focuses on the degree to which the presumed fact tends, in reality, to flow from the established fact. See McCormick, op. cit. , ยง 344 at 811-17. In Tot v. United States, supra , that standard was enunciated as follows:

[A] statutory presumption cannot be sustained if there be no rational connection between the fact proved and the ultimate fact presumed, if the inference of the one from proof of the other is arbitrary because of the lack of connection between the two in common experience. [319 U.S. at 467, 468, 63 S. Ct. at 1245]

The court also spoke in terms of "the normal balance of probability." 319 U.S. at 469, 63 S. Ct. 1241.

In Leary v. United States , 395 U.S. 6, 89 S. Ct. 1532, 23 L. Ed. 2d 57 (1969), the court reviewed its treatment of Tot's "rational connection," "common experience" and "normal balance of probability" approaches to presumptions and concluded that:

A criminal statutory presumption must be regarded as "irrational" or "arbitrary," and hence unconstitutional, unless it can at least be said with substantial assurance that the presumed fact is more likely than not to flow from the proved fact on which it is ...


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