On appeal from the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 208 N.J. Super. 385 (1986).
For reversal and remandment -- Chief Justice Wilentz and Justices Clifford, Handler, Pollock, Garibaldi, O'Hern and Stein. Opposed -- None. The opinion of the Court was delivered by O'Hern, J.
This appeal concerns the standards for waiver of juvenile offenders to adult court under the new Code of Juvenile Justice, N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-26, L. 1982, c. 77, § 7, effective December 31, 1983.
The case stems from an incident that occurred on April 26, 1984, at the Vineland High School auditorium among R.G.D. and W.T.P., two juvenile boys ages sixteen and fifteen respectively, and the victim, A.A., a sixteen-year-old girl. All were students at the high school. Based on a police investigation, the State is prepared to show that it has probable cause to believe that the following acts occurred.
The victim, A.A., had agreed to skip a class and to meet the juvenile R.G.D. at the auditorium for the purpose of talking. When the victim arrived, however, R.G.D. was accompanied by W.T.P. The two boys then made sexual advances upon A.A. She fended off the advances, but stayed in the auditorium with the boys, apparently believing that she could control any situation that might arise. When they heard voices, the three moved to a more secluded area of the auditorium in order to avoid detection, fearing school disciplinary action if discovered skipping class. A.A. was then thrown to the floor and subjected to criminal sexual contacts by both boys. The offenses were exacerbated by the two boys exchanging positions and repeating the acts. Throughout the encounter the victim struggled to escape, but could not, yet was too frightened to scream during the attacks.
All three left the auditorium. A short while later, two students found the victim wandering through the hallway, disoriented, crying, and her blouse torn. The two students notified school authorities who called the police.
On April 27, 1984, juvenile delinquency complaints were filed against R.G.D. and W.T.P. charging them with conduct that if
committed by an adult would constitute acts of aggravated sexual assault in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2a(5)(a), a first-degree crime because the actor was aided or abetted in committing a sexual assault while using physical force. On May 22, 1984, the State filed a motion, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-26, seeking waiver of both cases from the Superior Court, Chancery Division, Family Part, to the Superior Court, Law Division (adult court). After the Family Part waived jurisdiction, the Appellate Division granted the juveniles' motions for leave to appeal. The Appellate Division reversed the transfer orders and remanded the cases for disposition in the juvenile court. It concluded that the trial court's rejection of expert testimony that R.G.D. could in all probability be rehabilitated before age nineteen was improper and that its failure to appoint an independent medical expert for W.T.P. was a denial of due process. 208 N.J. Super. 385 (1986). We granted the State's motion for leave to appeal. 104 N.J. 399 (1986).
The Family Part is the court that handles juvenile matters after N.J. Const. (1947), article VI, § 6 and N.J.S.A. 2A:4-3a to -3e, L. 1983, c. 405, merged the functions of the former Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court into a court of general jurisdiction. Reference in the opinion to current and former courts exercising jurisdiction in juvenile matters as juvenile court or family court shall be intended to refer to the court that is now the Superior Court, Chancery Division, Family Part.
All agree that "the waiver of jurisdiction [by the Family Part] is a 'critically important' action determining vitally important statutory rights of the juvenile." State in the Interest of R.L., 202 N.J. Super. 410, 412 (App.Div.), certif. denied, 102 N.J. 357 (1985) (quoting Kent v. United States, 383 U.S. 541, 556, 86 S. Ct. 1045, 1054-55, 16 L. Ed. 2d 84, 94 (1966)). In the opinion of one commentator, "waiver to the adult court is the single most serious act that the juvenile court can perform." P. Hahn, The
Juvenile Offender and the Law 180 (3rd ed. 1984). This is because once waiver of jurisdiction occurs, the child loses all the protective and rehabilitative possibilities available to the Family Part. Id. at 178.
So important is the decision that the United States Supreme Court has invested it with constitutional significance that requires "procedural regularity sufficient in the particular circumstances to satisfy the basic requirements of due process and fairness, as well as compliance with the statutory requirement[s]." 383 U.S. at 553, 86 S. Ct. at 1053, 16 L. Ed. 2d at 93.
Implicit in the concept of procedural regularity is the requirement for standards. What particularly troubled the Supreme Court in the Kent case was the standardless discretion by which waiver decisions were made under District of Columbia law. Id. at 553-54, 560-62, 86 S. Ct. at 1053-54, 1056-58, 16 L. Ed. 2d at 93, 97-98. Hence, the Court insisted, as a minimum, on the procedural regularities it outlined. In an appendix to the opinion, the Kent Court set forth a series of criteria, proposed by a judge of the Juvenile Court of the District of Columbia, as exemplars of sound criteria for decision. Id. at 565-68, 86 S. Ct. at 1059-60, 16 L. Ed. 2d at 99-101.
"Drawing lines [for transfer] is difficult and necessarily arbitrary. The line between 'adult' and 'child' is important in every context, but nowhere more than in the application of the criminal law." Institute of Judicial Administration, American Bar Association, Juvenile Justice Standards: Standards Relating to Transfer Between Courts 1 (1980). The sobering effects of experience on "the high hopes and aspirations of * * * supporters of the juvenile court concept" are directly reflected in the changing standards for waiver of juveniles to adult court. McKeiver v. Pennsylvania, 403 U.S. 528, 534, 91 S. Ct. 1976, 1980-81, 29 L. Ed. 2d 647, 654 (1971).
In a long footnote, the Court in McKeiver outlined the discrepancy between theory and practice that emerged as juvenile justice developed. Id. at ...