On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Sussex County.
Fritz, Brody and Gaynor. The opinion of the court was delivered by Brody, J.A.D.
[206 NJSuper Page 52] These 17-year-old juveniles were charged with conduct that if committed by adults would constitute murder and robbery of one victim and burglary of his home, and aggravated sexual assault and robbery of another victim and burglary of her
home. The juveniles lived together in the same household. The alleged murder victim was an 82-year-old neighbor who had previously filed a juvenile complaint against G.W. The alleged sexual assault victim is G.W.'s 71-year-old grandmother. The juveniles were taken into custody and detained.
Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-38(i) and R. 5:21-3(b), the Family Part determined, after a hearing, that there was probable cause to believe that the juveniles had committed the conduct alleged in the complaints. That finding is necessary to detain a juvenile who is not likely to appear at the next court proceeding, or who poses a threat to the community, has been charged with conduct that would constitute an adult crime or with repetitious disorderly persons offenses, and is likely to receive a custodial disposition. N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-34c. Nine months later, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-26 and R. 5:22-2, Judge Graves waived the Family Part's jurisdiction and referred the cases to the Law Division where the juveniles are to be tried as adults. He based his order on a finding that the juveniles failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that either can be rehabilitated by age 19. We granted the juveniles' motions for leave to appeal that order, consolidated the appeals and now affirm.
The juveniles do not contest the adequacy of the evidence demonstrating probable cause or the inadequacy of the evidence of timely rehabilitation. G.W. contends that the Family Part erred in refusing to accept his guilty plea to the charges. He also contends that N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-26 unconstitutionally places on him the burden of proving that the probability of his rehabilitation before age 19 substantially outweighs the reasons for waiver. Both juveniles contend that Judge Graves erred in refusing to conduct a second evidentiary hearing to establish probable cause as part of the waiver proceedings.
At the detention hearing, G.W. offered to plead guilty and give a factual basis for the conduct with which he was charged. The judge refused to accept the pleas because the State had already moved for waiver and referral to the Law
Division. G.W. contends that the judge was obliged to accept his pleas, thereby averting waiver and referral, because R. 3:9-2, made applicable in the Family Part by R. 5:1-1, gives a juvenile the unqualified right to plead guilty if he provides an adequate factual basis for his plea.
R. 3:9-2 provides in relevant part:
A defendant may plead only guilty or not guilty to an offense. The court, in its discretion, may refuse to accept a plea of guilty and shall not accept such plea without first addressing the defendant personally and determining by inquiry of the defendant and others, in the court's discretion, that there is a factual basis for the plea and that the plea is made voluntarily, not as the result of any threats or of any promises or inducements not disclosed on the record, and with an understanding of the nature of the charge and the consequences of the plea. . . . [Emphasis added.]
The rule expressly permits the court in its discretion to "refuse to accept a plea of guilty" even though it is offered voluntarily and knowingly. The judge correctly refused to accept the pleas here. Acceptance of the pleas in the Family Part would have circumvented the authority given the prosecutor under N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-26(a) to move in that court, "without the consent of the juvenile," for an order of waiver and referral. See United States v. Hayes, 590 F.2d 309 (9 Cir.1979); United States v. Rombom, 421 F. Supp. 1295 (S.D.N.Y.1976).
Prior to the adoption in 1983 of the New Jersey Code of Juvenile Justice, N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-20 et seq., the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court could waive its jurisdiction and refer a serious case to the Law Division ...