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State v. J.M.

February 17, 2005

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
J.M., DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT.



On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 364 N.J. Super. 486 (2003).

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

(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).

The issue in this appeal is whether a juvenile may present evidence during the probable cause portion of a juvenile waiver hearing. N.J.S.A. 2A: 4A-26.

On November 28, 2001, seventeen-year-old J.M. and adult co-defendants, John Stagg and Mike Torrisi, met at Torrisi's house and discussed robbing a Mobil gas station in Hackettstown, New Jersey. That same evening, Torrisi drove J.M. and Stagg to the gas station. About fifteen minutes later, J.M. and Stagg entered the attendant's booth. J.M. turned off the lights and Stagg, with a bat that he found in the booth, proceeded to "take the guy down." The attendant was seriously injured. J.M. removed the money from the cash register and they both fled to the car. The subsequent investigation led to J.M.. In the presence of his mother, J.M. waived his rights, agreed to give a tape-recorded statement, and admitted his involvement in the robbery. J.M. claimed, however, that he had no prior knowledge of a baseball bat in the booth, and had no knowledge that Stagg would strike the attendant with the bat.

J.M. was charged with offenses that if committed by an adult would constitute first-degree robbery, second-degree conspiracy to commit robber, and second-degree aggravated assault. The State filed a timely motion, seeking waiver of jurisdiction by the Family Part to the Law Division (adult court). The State, however, failed to include a statement of reasons why it sought waiver. On January 29, 2002, a Family Part judge held a waiver hearing to determine whether to grant the State' motion. The State offered the juvenile's statement into evidence and played the security videotape from the Mobil station depicting the crime. Counsel for J.M. sought to have the juvenile testify to assist the court in determining whether there was probable cause for first-degree robbery and second-degree aggravated assault. The Family Part judge denied the request, found probable cause to believe the juvenile committed a first-degree robbery and second-degree aggravated assault, and granted the State's motion to prosecute the juvenile as an adult.

Subsequently, J.M. entered into a plea agreement. On June 26, 2002, the trial court sentenced the juvenile to six years in prison with an eighty-five percent parole disqualifier pursuant to the No Early Release Act, N.J.S.A. 2C: 43-7.2, along with fines and restitution. J.M. appealed, challenging the Family Part judge's ruling that prohibited him from testifying at the waiver hearing. In a published opinion, the Appellate Division reversed and remanded to the Family Part for a new waiver hearing. The panel concluded that the juvenile had a right to testify at the probable cause portion of the waiver hearing and that the prosecutor should have provided a statement of reasons for the waiver application.

The Supreme Court granted the State's petition for certification. The Court also granted amicus curiae status to the Office of the Public Defender.

HELD: Rule 5:22-2 is modified to expressly permit a juvenile to present evidence at the probable cause hearing.

We also hold that pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A: 4A-26a and the Attorney General's Juvenile Waiver Guidelines, the prosecutor's failure to provide a statement of reasons for seeking waiver requires a remand.

1. The State claims the juvenile failed to preserve the issue before us through a conditional plea under Rule 3: 9-3(f). We agree that the failure to enter a conditional plea under that rule generally bars appellate review of non-Fourth Amendment constitutional issues. Because the State failed to raise this argument below, however, it would be unfair not to address this important issue of whether the juvenile may present evidence at the probable cause portion of the waiver hearing. (Pp. 8-9)

2. The United States Supreme Court has declared that a juvenile waiver hearing is a "critically important action determining vitally important statutory rights of the juvenile" charged with a criminal offense, and that a juvenile is entitled to a hearing, effective assistance of counsel, and a statement of reasons for the waiver decision. Kent v. United States, 383 U.S. 541 556, The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Wallace

Argued October 12, 2004

The primary issue in this appeal is whether a juvenile may present evidence during the probable cause portion of a juvenile waiver hearing. N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-26. The trial court denied the juvenile's request to testify at the probable cause hearing. The Appellate Division reversed. Although we agree with the panel's conclusion that the juvenile may present evidence at the probable cause hearing, we ground our decision not on the constitutional basis found by the panel, but in our authority to control the procedures of our courts. We hereby modify Rule 5:22-2 to expressly permit a juvenile to present evidence at the probable cause hearing. We also hold that pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-26a and the Attorney General's Juvenile Waiver Guidelines, the prosecutor's failure to provide a statement of reasons for seeking waiver requires a remand.

I.

This case arises from an incident on November 28, 2001, at a Mobil gas station in Hackettstown, New Jersey. On that day, seventeen-year-old J.M. (juvenile), and adult co-defendants, John Stagg and Mike Torrisi, met at Torrisi's house and discussed robbing the Mobil gas station. Later that evening, Torrisi drove the juvenile and Stagg to the gas station. Torrisi remained in the car as the juvenile and Stagg walked to the side of the station, where they waited about fifteen minutes. At some point, the juvenile entered the attendant's booth and turned off the lights. Stagg found a baseball bat in the booth and used the bat to "take the guy down." The attendant fell to the ground seriously injured. The juvenile removed the money from the cash register and fled to the car. Torrisi drove the others to his house where the three of them divided the money. Most of the activity of the intruders was captured by a security camera at the station that showed Stagg accosted the attendant at 9:57 p.m.

Around 2:30 a.m., Detective Wade Caccese received instructions to investigate the robbery and assault at the Mobile gas station. When Detective Caccese arrived at the station, he observed a lot of blood on the ground and an aluminum baseball bat near one of the gasoline pumps. The detective also learned that the attendant had been taken to the hospital with serious head injuries.

The ensuing investigation led to the juvenile. On December 17, 2001, the juvenile and his mother reported to the police station. In the presence of his mother, the juvenile waived his rights, agreed to give a tape-recorded statement, and admitted his involvement in the robbery. The juvenile stated that the plan called for him to turn the lights out and for Stagg to take care of the attendant. He claimed he had no prior knowledge of a baseball bat in the booth, and had no knowledge that Stagg would strike the attendant with the bat.

The juvenile was charged with offenses that if committed by an adult would constitute first-degree robbery, N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1; second-degree conspiracy to commit robbery, N.J.S.A. 2C:5-2 and N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1; and second-degree aggravated assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1b(1).

The State filed a timely motion seeking waiver of jurisdiction by the Family Part to the Law Division (adult court). The State, however, failed to include a statement of reasons why it sought waiver.

On January 29, 2002, a Family Part judge held a waiver hearing to determine whether to grant the State's motion. Detective Caccese was the sole witness for the State in its effort to establish probable cause that the juvenile committed the charged offenses. He related the juvenile's involvement in the robbery based on the juvenile's statement. On cross examination, Detective Caccese testified that neither the juvenile nor Stagg brought a weapon to the gas station and that the plan called for Stagg to punch the attendant, not to strike him with a weapon. The State also offered the juvenile's statement into evidence and played the security videotape from the Mobil station depicting the crime.

Counsel for the juvenile sought to have the juvenile testify to assist the court in determining whether there was probable cause for first-degree robbery and second-degree aggravated assault. Counsel explained that the juvenile would testify concerning his state of mind during the robbery to show that he never intended to use a deadly weapon or to inflict serious bodily injury on the victim, elements necessary for the more serious charges. The Family Part judge denied the request, found probable cause to believe the juvenile committed a first-degree robbery and second-degree aggravated assault, and granted the State's motion to prosecute the juvenile as an adult.

Subsequently, the juvenile entered into a plea agreement and pled guilty to a lesser included second-degree robbery and second-degree conspiracy to commit robbery. For its part of the plea agreement, the State agreed to dismiss the remaining aggravated assault charge and to recommend a custodial sentence of not more than six years. On June 26, 2002, the trial court sentenced the juvenile to six years in prison with an eighty five percent parole disqualifier pursuant to the No Early Release Act, N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2, along with fines and restitution.

The juvenile appealed, challenging the Family Part judge's ruling that prohibited him from testifying at the waiver hearing. In a published opinion, the Appellate Division reversed and remanded to the Family Part for a new waiver hearing. The panel concluded that the juvenile had a right to testify at the probable cause portion of the waiver hearing and that the prosecutor should have provided a statement of reasons for the ...


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