On appeal from the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, Hunterdon County.
Michels, Pressler and Bilder. The opinion of the court was delivered by Pressler, J.A.D.
These consolidated appeals in two factually unrelated cases raise a question of first impression in this jurisdiction regarding the right of a juvenile to a speedy trial. More specifically, we are here called upon to construe the requirement of R. 5:8-2(e) that an officer taking a juvenile into custody shall file a complaint "forthwith" and to consider in terms of the continued viability of the complaint the consequences of noncompliance with the "forthwith" mandate.
P.J.W., then 16 years old, was taken into custody by a Raritan Township police officer on April 21, 1976, having been accused of tampering with a motor vehicle in a hospital staff parking lot and of being in possession of stolen property. He was released on the same day in the custody of an adult guardian, subject only to the guardian's undertaking to produce him in court and to the "proper authorities" in connection with the "charges pending against him."
A Juvenile and Domestic Court complaint charging him with juvenile delinquency on the basis of this conduct was not, however, filed until September 3, 1976, some 4 I/2 months later. H.M.T., also then 16 years old, was taken into custody by another Raritan Township police officer on June 26, 1976, accused of a variety of motor vehicle offenses, including driving an automobile while under the influence of alcohol, driving without a license and leaving the scene of an accident. In addition to the motor vehicle charges he was also accused of fleeing from a police officer, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2A:170-25.8. He, too, was released on the same day in the custody of his adult guardian, subject to the same condition of production for required appearances as was imposed in the case of P.J.W. The complaint charging him with juvenile delinquency based on that episode was filed on September 15, 1976, some seven weeks thereafter. Neither complaint having been filed "forthwith" following the initial custody, both were dismissed by the court below on the juveniles' respective motions.
The trial judge's action was based upon his reading of R. 5:8-2(e), which provides in full as follows:
When a juvenile has been taken into custody in accordance with this rule [R. 5:8-2], the officer taking him into custody or his superior officer shall forthwith file a complaint with the court in accordance with R. 5:8-1.
It was the trial judge's perception that this rule mandated the dismissal of the complaints irrespective of such considerations as whether the delay resulted in prejudice to the juveniles, the reason for the delay and the promptness of the juveniles' assertion of their right. We are unable to agree. In our view, when the juvenile who has been taken into custody pursuant to R. 5:8-2 is released virtually immediately thereafter and is subject to no further predisposition detention, the officer's failure to comply with the "forthwith" directive of R. 5:8-2(e) is not in itself fatal to the further prosecution of the charges.
In reaching our conclusion we are aware that juveniles are entitled to the same scope of procedural due process as is afforded to adults accused of crime to the extent consistent with the basic rehabilitative purposes of the juvenile process. See N.J.S.A. 2A:4-60. And see In re Gault , 387 U.S. 1, 87 S. Ct. 1428, 18 L. Ed. 2d 527 (1967); State in Interest of S.H. , 61 N.J. 108 (1972). We have no doubt that the Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial is a due process right to which juveniles are entitled. We also have no doubt that the right to a speedy trial subsumes the right to have the adjudicative process initiated without undue delay. See State v. Szima , 70 N.J. 196, 199-200 (1976), cert. den. 429 U.S. 896, 97 S. Ct. 259, 50 L. Ed. 2d 180 (1976). And see R. 3:25-3, which includes as grounds for dismissal because of delay not only an unreasonable delay in the trial of the charges but also an unreasonable delay in the return of the indictment or filing of the accusation. In the juvenile process the adjudicative process is triggered, of course, not by an indictment or accusation but rather by a complaint. R. 5:8-1. We are therefore satisfied that an unreasonable delay in the filing of a juvenile complaint may constitute a violation of the juvenile's due process rights whose vindication requires dismissal of the action.
As a matter of federal constitutional imperative, the test of a vitiating delay has been definitively articulated by Barker v. Wingo , 407 U.S. 514, 92 S. Ct. 2182, 33 L. Ed. 2d 101 (1972). In determining whether a delay is unreasonable in constitutional terms, the court is obliged to consider, balance and weigh four prescribed factors: the length of the delay, the reason for the delay, the prejudice to defendant resulting from the delay and defendant's assertion of the right. And see State v. Szima, supra; State v. Roundtree , 118 N.J. Super. 22 (App. Div. 1971); State v. Cappadona , 12 ...