This matter is before the court on juvenile co-defendants' motions seeking dismissal of complaints and presently pending against them. The complaints allege that the two juvenile co-defendants C.P. and R.D. physically restrained the victim, pinning her to the ground, while they inserted their fingers into her vagina. The juveniles were charged with aggravated sexual assault, under N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(a)(1) and -2(a)(5). These motions seek to dismiss those charges; the arguments proffered by counsel in the matter revolve around the young ages of the juvenile co-defendants. At the outset, the court finds that at the time of the alleged assault, the victim, E.Z., was six years old, juvenile co-defendant C.P. was six years old and juvenile co-defendant R.D. was nine years old. The ages of these young people, while not determinative of the court's decision, are viewed by the court as a tragic circumstance; nonetheless, and without minimizing the tragic consequences this incident has had on the lives of the juveniles involved, and particularly on that of the victim, the court grants the motions to dismiss the charges against both juvenile co-defendants C.P. and R.D.
(A third juvenile, N.J., aged seven, was originally charged, under a complaint similar to those pending here, for his involvement in this incident. On motion of the State and N.J.'s attorney, the court dismissed that complaint on May 20, 1986. However, prior to granting the motion, the State obtained an
examination of N.J. by psychiatrist Dr. Frank Riccioli. The prosecutor did not seek to have either of the two remaining defendants undergo an examination by Dr. Riccioli or any other expert on its behalf. The defense had juvenile defendant, N.J., examined by Dr. Louis B. Schlesinger. Dr. Riccioli found that N.J. had the ability to relate the events of the incident to the best of his recollection, and a basic understanding of right and wrong. He also found, however, that juvenile defendant N.J.'s knowledge of adult sexual behavior was non-existent, and that he had no knowledge of the purpose or function of the anatomical differences between the sexes. Dr. Schlesinger's expert findings were substantially the same. Based on this evidence, that juvenile defendant N.J. had no understanding of the essentially sexual nature of the conduct attributed to him, the court reasoned that N.J. could not have formed the mental state necessary to commit the crime charged. As a result of said reports and the motions of the State and defense counsel, the court dismissed the complaint.)
The issue presented in this matter is one of first impression to the courts of this State. The question is whether juvenile defendants six and nine years of age can be held to trial in juvenile court on the serious charge of aggravated sexual assault. The court recognizes the seriousness of these proceedings and has concern for the alleged victim and the alleged juvenile co-defendants. The court bears in mind the specific interests of the juveniles involved, the integrity of the families of which they are a part, as well as the interests of the State and of public safety. N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-21. In considering carefully the balance of these four interests in this serious matter, it would be well to review briefly the historical development of juvenile justice in New Jersey.
Under common law principles, it was generally held that the age of a juvenile was dispositive on the issue of his/her capacity to commit a crime. As the Supreme Court stated in Allen v. United States, 150 U.S. 551, 14 S. Ct. 196, 37 L. Ed. 1179 (1983):
The rule of the common law was that one under the age of seven years could not be guilty of felony or punished for any capital offence, for within that age the infant was conclusively presumed to be incapable of committing the crime; and that while between the ages of seven and fourteen the same presumption obtained, it was only prima facie, and rebuttable. The maxim -- malice supplies the want of maturity of years -- was then applied and, upon satisfactory evidence of capacity, the child within these ages might be punished; but no presumption existed in favor of the accused when above fourteen. [14 S. Ct. at 198]
Early decisions of the courts of this state reflect this common law principle. State v. Aaron, 4 N.J.L. 231 (Sup.Ct.1818); State v. Guild, 10 N.J.L. 163 (Sup.Ct.1828). Nonetheless, the latter half of the 19th and early years of the 20th Centuries saw a change in attitude towards what is essentially to be described as a juvenile's capacity to form the mens rea element of a criminal offense. State v. Monahan, 15 N.J. 34 (1954); State In Interest of M.L., 64 N.J. 438 (1974); State In Interest of D.G.W., 70 N.J. 488 (1976). The common law rule that children under seven were incapable of committing crime was based on the presumption that such children had not the "discretion to discern between good and evil." State v. Aaron, supra. The strength of this presumption decreased with the increasing age of the juvenile, such that beyond age seven, the presumption became rebuttable. Ibid.; Allen v. United States, supra. In any event, the defense of infancy was complete in that proof of the defense required dismissal of the charge while failure of proof meant that the juvenile was to be tried in the same manner as an adult defendant.
As described by Justice Jacobs in State v. Monahan, supra, the 20th Century has seen a change in this approach. Juvenile offenders are viewed as being fundamentally different from adult offenders, and their treatment was rendered fundamentally different through the development of a separate juvenile court system. Id. 15 N.J. at 37. The concept developed as the parens patriae obligation of the State presently embodied in our statute as N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-21. The purpose of the juvenile court was rehabilitative rather than retributive, State v. Goldberg, 124 N.J.L. 272 (Sup.Ct.1940), aff'd 125 N.J.L. 501 (E. &
Further, the United States Supreme Court has rendered a series of opinions which confirm that certain due process constitutional rights ordinarily accorded to adult offenders are not waived by juveniles because of their status as youthful offenders. See Kent v. United States, 383 U.S. 541, 86 S. Ct. 1045, 16 L. Ed. 2d 84 (1966) (juveniles right to a hearing, right to counsel, and right to discovery material); In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1, 87 S. Ct. 1428, 18 L. Ed. 2d 527 (1967) (right to notice, privilege against self-incrimination, and right to cross-examine testimony ...