Page, J.s.c. (temporarily assigned).
[181 NJSuper Page 588] Attendance by the press at a juvenile delinquency dispositional hearing and publication of the details presented therein is sought in this matter. Petitioners Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News and Camden Courier Post move to open the proceedings over the objection of the juvenile and his parents. The nature and extent of the confidentiality of a juvenile court dispositional proceeding is the issue presented.
On June 18, 1981 the juvenile, D.B., was adjudicated delinquent on his admission of risking widespread injury, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:17-2(c). The incident involved his placing a smoke bomb in a vacant locker in Cherry Hill East High School. Upon discovery the school officials evacuated the school and closed it for two days, canceling school activities.
The incident received widespread notoriety due to the mistaken information that the device was explosive and lethal. The local media published the name of the juvenile, which was verified by his father, the former executive editor of one of the newspapers.
At a probable cause hearing the press was admitted upon the express limitation that they not publish the names of other juveniles or high school students mentioned in the hearing. Cross-appeals were filed on behalf of the juvenile to close the hearing completely and on behalf of the newspapers to open it without limitation. Judge Bischoff of the Appellate Division briefly stayed that trial court's decision until his three-judge panel unanimously denied both requests for interlocutory appeal.
At the adjudicatory hearing the press was permitted with the consent of the juvenile and his parents. The juvenile then admitted that he had planted a homemade smoke bomb in a vacant locker as a prank at the end of the school year.
The device was examined by the State Police laboratory in Hammonton, N.J. and again by the U.S. Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Laboratory in Maryland. Both experts concluded that it was not a "bomb" as originally reported but rather a "high school prank," designed to produce smoke. Upon the evidence presented by the prosecutor and the admissions of the juvenile and counsel, this court adjudicated D.B. delinquent for the lesser of the two offenses charged, risking widespread injury, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:17-2(c). The court dismissed the charge of attempted arson at the request and upon the representation of the prosecutor that there was no evidence to support that
charge. A social investigation was ordered and the matter was listed for dispositional hearing.
Petitioners moved to open the dispositional proceedings to the press. The juvenile and his parents objected to this request and offered an affidavit stating family and psychological information will be presented at the dispositional hearing. They maintain that public disclosure of this information would have a detrimental effect on the juvenile. Counsel for the juvenile represented that he would present detailed information from a therapist as to the juvenile's problems and recommendations for a rehabilitative plan. Other than the newspaper articles, no other factual presentations were made by either side.
The case presents two separate issues. First, should this dispositional hearing be opened to the press? Second, can the court's disposition be disclosed?
I. Attendance At Juvenile Dispositional Hearings
Attendance at juvenile court dispositional hearings is governed by R. 5:9-1(a). This provides:
Confidentiality of Hearing. In the best interest of the juvenile, every hearing shall be conducted in private with only such persons in attendance as have a direct involvement in the proceeding, except as hereinafter provided. The judge, in his discretion, may also permit the attendance at any hearing of any person who has an interest in the work of the court, provided, however, that such person shall agree not to record, disclose or publish the names, photographs or other identifying data with respect to any of the participants in the hearing except as expressly authorized by the judge. Upon objection by the juvenile, his attorney or his parents, guardian or custodian, any person seeking permission to attend because of interest in the work of the court may be excluded from any hearing involving said juvenile. The judge may authorize or may himself disclose information in accordance with the appropriate provisions of the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court Law (Title 2A, Chapter 4).
This court rule is the only authority for attendance at the normally confidential juvenile hearings. The statute involved, N.J.S.A. 2A:4-65(c), refers only to disclosure of information of "the identity of a juvenile . . . the offense, the adjudication and the disposition." The ...