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State in Interest of R.M.

August 7, 1995

STATE OF NEW JERSEY IN THE INTEREST OF R.M., A JUVENILE.


On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division.

Chief Justice Wilentz and Justices Pollock, O'hern, Garibaldi, Stein, and Coleman join in Justice HANDLER's opinion.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Handler

(This syllabus is not part of the opinion of the Court. It has been prepared by the Office of the Clerk for the convenience of the reader. It has been neither reviewed nor approved by the Supreme Court. Please note that, in the interests of brevity, portions of any opinion may not have been summarized).

STATE OF NEW JERSEY IN THE INTEREST OF R.M., a juvenile (A-5O-94)

Argued January 3, 1995 -- Decided August 7, 1995

HANDLER, J., writing for unanimous Court.

The Court considers the substantive and procedural standards to be applied in determining whether a delinquent juvenile is developmentally disabled for the purposes of the Code of Juvenile Justice (Juvenile Code). Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-44c(2) (the anti-incarceration provision), a juvenile who is developmentally disabled cannot be incarcerated for delinquency.

On February 24, 1993, R.M., a juvenile, robbed a man at knife-point while riding on a train. At R.M.'s Dispositional hearing, evidence was presented in respect of mitigating and aggravating factors but R.M.'s attorney did not argue that R.M. was developmentally disabled. After considering the evidence, the court sentenced R.M. to four years' incarceration in Jamesburg. The court also ordered immediate psychiatric assistance, including medication if necessary, and continued involvement of the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS). The court retained jurisdiction, requiring that no placement occur without prior court approval.

R.M. appealed the excessiveness of his sentence, arguing that the evidence adduced at the Dispositional hearing demonstrated that he was developmentally disabled, and therefore, was not subject to incarceration. The Appellate Division found that it had not been established that R.M. was developmentally disabled, noting that the issue was not raised at trial. Therefore, because the record was not sufficiently developed to warrant a finding of developmental disability, the Appellate Division affirmed the judgment of the trial court.

The Supreme Court granted R.M.'s petition for certification.

HELD: The evidence presented at R.M.'s Dispositional hearing was not sufficient to indicate that R.M. is developmentally disabled.

1. The anti-incarceration provision exempting developmentally-disabled juveniles from incarceration was included in the Code of Juvenile Justice, passed in 1982. That provision describes juveniles who are developmentally disabled as those defined in paragraph (1) of subsection a. of section 3 of the 1977 law, N.J.S.A. 30:60-3(a)(1). However, substantial amendments to the statutory definition of developmental disability were enacted after the passage of the anti-incarceration provision. In 1985, the Legislature enacted the Division of Developmental Disabilities Act, and the definition of developmental disability was amended. Section 3a(1) of that statute contains only one of the series of conditions that, together, constitute developmental disability. (pp. 4 - 6)

2. The Court construes the anti-incarceration provision to refer to the developmental disability statute as amended in 1985 to the extent that the later definition "corresponds in substance to" the earlier definition. Further, it is determined from a comparative analysis in the 1977 and 1985 statute that paragraphs (1), (4) and (5) of the current enactment corresponds substantially to the former definition. (pp. 6 - 10)

3. Insofar as the definition of developmental disability now focuses on functional limitations, the Legislature must have intended that that focus, presently contained in paragraph (4), be applied in the context of the prohibition against the incarceration of developmentally-disabled juveniles. Further, based on a careful reading of the respective statutes and the relevant legislative history, the Court imputes to the Legislature the intent to incorporate paragraphs (1), (4) and (5) with reference to the anti-incarceration provision; all were intended to be used in the assessment of whether a juvenile is developmentally disabled within the meaning of the anti-incarceration provision. Furthermore, the judicial understanding, interpretation, and application of that statutory definition must acknowledge and reflect a strong and continuing legislative and administrative concern to prevent the incarceration of juveniles suffering from developmental disabilities. (pp. 10 - 14)

4. A court must impose on juveniles adjudicated delinquent only such Dispositions as are consistent with the purposes of the Juvenile Code and has broad authority to order a wide variety of Dispositions. The Legislature intended to coordinate, as much as possible, the operations of the courts with those of the various administrative agencies of government having responsibility over such juveniles. Thus, existing statutes and court rules authorize the family court to refer a delinquent juvenile who may be developmentally disabled to the Division of Developmental Disabilities for evaluation, prior to ordering a Disposition. The legislative scheme clearly entrusts the DDD with primary responsibility for identifying and treating developmentally-disabled juveniles. (pp. 14 - 18)

5. If evidence offered at the Dispositional hearing suggests a substantial likelihood that a delinquent juvenile is developmentally disabled, the court may order the DDD to handle the juvenile. Where the evidence does not establish or strongly suggest a developmental disability, the family court may order any authorized Disposition, including incarceration. Although the juvenile has the burden of offering sufficient evidence to warrant referral to the DDD, if the court is confronted with, or aware of, evidence that indicates a substantial likelihood of developmental disability, it should, on its own initiative, order referral to the DDD or request additional evidence from the parties. In response to a referral, the DDD shall submit to the family court a report containing its determination concerning the condition of the juvenile. Both the State and the juvenile are entitled to challenge the DDD's determination and seek a plenary hearing and the court can hold a hearing to obtain additional evidence. Such hearing should require expert testimony on the issue of the disability. Further, because of its expertise, the court should place substantial weight on the findings and determination of the DDD. Nevertheless, the family court may reject the DDD's determination by finding by a preponderance of the evidence that the DDD's diagnosis was incorrect. If the court finds that the juvenile is developmentally disabled, the court shall undertake to determine an appropriate Disposition other than incarceration. (pp. 18 - 21)

6. The family court has the authority to re-evaluate the juvenile and reconsider the Disposition. The family court retains jurisdiction over delinquent juveniles and has the power to recall cases previously decided and to modify Dispositions previously ordered. (pp. 21 - 22)

7. Because R.M. did not introduce evidence of functional limitations sufficient to warrant referral to the DDD for evaluation and a determination of eligibility, the Court is unable on this record to determine that there is sufficient evidence to indicate that R.M. is developmentally disabled. However, because the criteria for determining whether a developmental disability exists are not susceptible of precise proof or simplistic evaluation, the Court is reluctant to conclude on this record that R.M. cannot satisfy the statutory standard. Therefore, R.M. may petition the family court to exercise its retained jurisdiction to modify R.M.'s Disposition or to recall R.M. for purposes of supplementing the record and further evaluation. In support of such a petition, R.M. may present evidence substantiating his claim of developmental disability. (pp. 22 - 26)

Judgment of the Appellate division is MODIFIED and, as modified, AFFIRMED.

CHIEF JUSTICE WILENTZ and JUSTICES POLLOCK, O'HERN, GARIBALDI, STEIN, and COLEMAN join in JUSTICE HANDLER'S. opinion.

The opinion of the Court was delivered by HANDLER, J.

In this case, a delinquent juvenile was sentenced to a term of incarceration which, on appeal, he contends was illegal. That contention requires the Court to consider the substantive and procedural standards to be applied in determining whether a delinquent juvenile is developmentally disabled for the purposes of the Code of Juvenile Justice. The issue is important because a juvenile who is developmentally disabled cannot be incarcerated for delinquency.

I

The Code of Juvenile Justice prohibits the incarceration of a juvenile who is developmentally disabled. N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-44c(2). That statutory prohibition is invoked in this case by a juvenile, R.M., who was sentenced to a term of incarceration for offenses committed on February 24, 1993.

On that day, R.M. approached a passenger on a train and asked him if he had any change. When the passenger stated that he did not, R.M. displayed a large hunting knife that he wore on his waistband. The passenger showed R.M. that he only had three one-dollar coins, two quarters, a nickel, and a few pennies. R.M. next asked to see what was in the passenger's bag, and the passenger showed R.M. that the bag contained only magazines. The passenger then gave R.M. the change. According to the victim, as the train pulled into the station, "[R.M.] informed me that this was my stop. When I arrived at my home, the police called me telling me they had apprehended the man. They took me to Hoboken station where I identified the man."

R.M. was charged in the Family Part of the Chancery Division of the Superior Court (hereinafter sometimes referred to as the "family court") with acts that, if committed by an adult, would constitute first degree robbery, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1, third degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4d, which was later amended to fourth degree unlawful possession of a weapon, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5, and receiving stolen property, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:20-7.

The State agreed to withdraw its motion seeking the waiver of juvenile court jurisdiction and the transfer of the prosecution to the adult court in return for R.M.'s admission to acts that constituted robbery and possession of a weapon. R.M. admitted that he possessed a knife and committed a robbery with that knife. The family court accepted the plea and the withdrawal of the waiver motion, and dismissed the remaining charges.

At the Dispositional hearing, evidence was presented on mitigating and aggravating factors. Defense counsel did not argue, however, that R.M. was developmentally disabled. After considering the evidence, the court sentenced R.M. to four years' incarceration in Jamesburg. Additionally, following defense counsel's recommendation, the court ordered immediate psychiatric assistance, including medication if necessary, as well as the continued involvement of the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS). The court stated that the involvement of DYFS was necessary to implement the "re-entry program" proposed by defense counsel. Finally, the court retained jurisdiction, requiring that no placement occur without prior court approval.

R.M. filed an appeal limited to the excessiveness of the sentence pursuant to Rule 2:9-11. The arguments on the appeal focused on the question of whether the evidence adduced at the Dispositional hearing demonstrated that R.M. was developmentally disabled, and therefore not subject to incarceration. The Appellate Division determined that "it has not been established that defendant is developmentally disabled," and, noting further that "this issue was not raised in the trial court," concluded that "the record is not ...


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