Kolovsky, Bischoff and Botter. The opinion of the court was delivered by Botter, J.A.D.
[143 NJSuper Page 74] These three appeals were consolidated for argument and accelerated by order of the court.
They involve a common question as to the meaning of the term "age of majority" in N.J.S.A. 2A:4-48(c). N.J.S.A. 2A:4-48*fn1 established the means for prosecuting a juvenile offender as an adult, by waiving jurisdiction of the juvenile court and referring the case to a court with jurisdiction over crimes committed by adults, providing the court finds that: the juvenile was 16 or 17 years of age at the time he probably committed a certain type of delinquent act, such as a homicide or other violent crime against a person, and prosecution as an adult is required to protect the public and "there are no reasonable prospects for rehabilitation of the juvenile prior to his attaining the age of majority by use of the procedures, services and facilities available to the court."
The question is whether the Legislature intended "age of majority" to mean age 18 or 21 as the standard for determining the reasonable prospects for the offender's rehabilitation under a juvenile court disposition.
For purposes of prosecution for acts of delinquency or as a juvenile in need of supervision (defined by N.J.S.A. 2A:4-45), a juvenile is a person "under the age of 18 years," and an adult is defined as a person who is "18 years of age or older." N.J.S.A. 2A:4-43(a) and (b). N.J.S.A. 2A:4-46 provides that the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court has exclusive jurisdiction in all cases where a juvenile is charged with an act of delinquency.*fn2 However, in the case of juveniles who are 16 or 17 years of age, jurisdiction of the juvenile court may be waived voluntarily (N.J.S.A. 2A:4-49) or involuntarily (N.J.S.A. 2A:4-48).
Thus, all persons who commit criminal acts when they are 16 or 17 years of age may be prosecuted either as juveniles or as adults. A person under age 16 at the time of the offense can be prosecuted only as a juvenile, and all persons 18 or older can be prosecuted only as adults. N.J.S.A. 2A:4-46c; see In re Smigelski , 30 N.J. 513, 522 (1959).
These provisions were part of the revision of the laws dealing with juveniles and the jurisdiction and proceedings of the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court which went into effect on March 1, 1974. L. 1973, c. 306; N.J.S.A. 2A:4-42 et seq. (hereinafter referred to as the 1973 Juvenile Act). When that act was adopted age 18 was the age of majority for most purposes of the law: for civil rights and disabilities (N.J.S.A. 9:17B-1, enacted by L. 1972, c. 81, effective January 1, 1973), and for criminal responsibility (except that age 16 would apply if juvenile court jurisdiction is waived, In re Smigelski, supra , 30 N.J. at 522). However, it does not appear that the Legislature intended "age of majority" to mean age 18 for the purposes of N.J.S.A. 2A:4-48(c).
The 1973 Juvenile Act changed the conditions for waiver of juvenile court jurisdiction. The need to show that the juvenile cannot be rehabilitated before reaching the age of majority was not contained in the prior law.*fn3 Therefore we must consider the term "majority" in relation to other parts of the 1973 Juvenile Act, as well as other laws in effect at that time. See State v. Carter , 64 N.J. 382, 390-391 (1974); State v. Brown , 22 N.J. 405, 415 (1956).
The juvenile court can make numerous and varied dispositions of an adjudicated delinquent. These include release to the supervision of a parent or guardian, probation for a period not exceeding three years, or commitment to an institution for purposes of rehabilitation for an indeterminate term not exceeding three years, or longer for a homicide, subject to the maximum term provided by law for the offense (if committed by an adult). N.J.S.A. 2A:4-61. However, all dispositions other than commitment to an institution for rehabilitation are limited in duration to the period ending when the juvenile reaches 18 years of age, or one year from the date of the order, whichever is later. N.J.S.A. 2A:4-63.*fn4 Thus, while age 18 is significant in determining the duration of juvenile dispositions, the 1973 Juvenile Act clearly contemplates dispositions for rehabilitative purposes
of 16 and 17-year-old delinquents for periods extending beyond their 18th birthday. Where the disposition is confinement, the period of confinement and parole may be as long as three years, or longer for homicides, regardless of the delinquent's age. Other dispositions may continue beyond the delinquent's 18th birthday, for as long as one year from the date of disposition.
Since the delinquents with whom we are concerned will be more than 16 years of age at the time of disposition it would be unduly restrictive to hold that the likelihood of rehabilitation must be evaluated in terms of the short interval before they reach age 18. Some will be approaching 18 at the time of disposition and others will have passed their 18th birthday, depending on their age when the offense was committed and the time it takes for disposition of the particular case. It would be unreasonable to conclude, therefore, that the Legislature decreed that any delinquent who could not be ...