On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Cape May County, Docket Nos. FJ-05-763-08 and FJ-05-725-08.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lihotz, J.A.D.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Parrillo, Lihotz and Messano.
The threshold question posed on appeal asks whether a juvenile delinquency complaint, filed at the direction of a county prosecutor's office, is the substantial equivalent of an indictment such that it initiates a formal adversarial proceeding and triggers a juvenile's right to counsel. The trial court extended the protections of State v. Sanchez, 129 N.J. 261, 277 (1992), to juvenile proceedings, concluding the right to counsel afforded a juvenile charged with delinquency attached when the prosecutor's office filed a complaint. We reverse.
The facts giving rise to this appeal are not disputed. On February 19, 2008, twelve-year-old T.B. reported she had been raped by P.M.P. The alleged incident occurred approximately five years earlier when T.B. was seven and P.M.P. was sixteen. P.M.P. is now twenty-one.
Following the victim's video interview, Detective Ashlee Hand conducted a consensual telephone intercept. Detective Hand phoned P.M.P. pretending to be T.B. Believing Detective Hand was T.B., P.M.P. apologized for his conduct. However, the telephone call was not recorded because the recording equipment malfunctioned. That same day, the County Prosecutor's Office filed a juvenile delinquency complaint executed by Detective Hand charging P.M.P. with offenses, which if committed by an adult would constitute first-degree aggravated sexual assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(a), and third-degree endangering the welfare of a child, N.J.S.A. 2C:24-4(a).
The undocketed juvenile complaint was presented to the Family Part judge that evening. Detectives Hand and Daniel Holt appeared. Although not evident from the transcript, an attorney from the public defender's office was present in the courtroom, having appeared in earlier hearings. The prosecutor's office related the facts surrounding the victim's disclosure and sought a warrant to take P.M.P. into custody.
The judge was also presiding over another Family Part matter in which P.M.P. appeared. In the other matter, P.M.P.'s son was the subject of a Title 9 action initiated by the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS). After removing the child from his mother's custody, DYFS placed the one-year-old in P.M.P.'s care. In the DYFS matter, P.M.P. was represented by counsel from the Parental Representation Unit of the public defender's office.
Following the prosecutor's presentation of testimony supporting the delinquency charges, the judge stated:
What I would like to do, however, is this. I'm here all day tomorrow, but first thing would probably be better. My suggestion, Detective, would be that you apprehend [P.M.P.] on the basis of this complaint and bring him here to ...