In this case the court is asked to decide if a victim of a crime for which a juvenile has been adjudicated delinquent may personally address the court prior to its sentencing of that juvenile. The issue presented appears to be one of first impression, and this opinion expands upon the court's ruling from the bench on December 8, 1993.
On October 20, 1993, O.G. plead guilty to acts which, if committed by an adult, would constitute Second Degree Aggravated Assault in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1b(1), recklessly causing serious bodily injury to another under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life. The basis for his plea consisted of the following facts. On November 23, 1992, O.G. was one of a group of juveniles who were throwing rocks from the roof of a multistory residential building, into a pedestrian passageway below. O.G.'s rock struck a jogger on the head, causing her
serious physical injuries. O.G. admitted that he had seen the victim as she ran along the road, but asserted that he thought she was out of danger at the time he threw his rock.
At sentencing, on December 8, 1993, the State moved for permission for the victim of this assault to personally address the court before sentencing the juvenile. O.G. objected, arguing that victims should not be permitted to address a sentencing court in juvenile matters. He grounded his objection in the terms of N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-42c. That section of the Juvenile Code provides that, as part of the preDispositional evaluation of a juvenile:
The preDisposition report ordered pursuant to the Rules of Court may include a statement by the victim of the offense for which the juvenile has been adjudicated delinquent or by the nearest relative of a homicide victim. The statement may include the nature and extent of any physical harm or psychological or emotional harm or trauma suffered by the victim, the extent of any loss to include loss of earnings or ability to work suffered by the victim and the effect of the crime upon the victim's family. (emphasis added)
O.G. argues that, since this section provides, in great detail, for permitted written statements by victims as part of the standard preDisposition report, the omission of any provision for oral statements was deliberate, and oral statements should thus be excluded. In further support of his argument, O.G. correctly points out the lack of any other provision in the Juvenile Justice Code which expressly authorizes such oral statements. However, this does not automatically mean that N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-42c is controlling or dispositive in this case. The subsequent enactment of an amendment to the Crime Victims Bill of Rights, which deals specifically with oral statements by crime victims to sentencing courts, sheds light on the legislature's intentions in this area.
The New Jersey State Legislature enacted the Crime Victim's Bill of Rights, N.J.S.A. 52:4B-34 to -38, in 1985. In 1991, N.J.S.A. 52:4B-36 was amended to specifically provide that:
crime victims and witnesses are entitled to the following rights . . . n. To make, prior to sentencing, an in-person statement to the sentencing court concerning the impact of the crime.
This statement is to be made in addition to the statement permitted for inclusion in the presentence report by N.J.S. ...