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State ex rel C.V.

March 22, 2010

STATE OF NEW JERSEY IN THE INTEREST OF C.V.


On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division.

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 is entitled to credit on her suspended sentence for the time she spent in two residential treatment programs. In addition, the Court addresses the amount of discretion reposed in Family Part courts when imposing sentence on a juvenile returning to court on a suspended sentence after having violated or otherwise imperfectly performed required probationary conditions.

C.V. was a juvenile who first became involved with the juvenile justice system in 2005 when she was fourteen years old and living with her grandmother. Over the course of two years, C.V. spent time in multiple state facilities, including temporary shelters, residential programs, and detention centers. C.V. violated her formal probation on five occasions after twice violating her informal probation. Each time, the family court sought to rehabilitate C.V., an increasingly difficult task. The probationary periods came with various conditions, including curfews, fines, and penalties; at one point C.V. was being monitored via an electronic ankle bracelet.

Following her third violation of formal probation, to which C.V. pled guilty on August 15, 2006, the court, for the first time, imposed a nine-month suspended sentence in the State Training School for Girls. The court also extended probation another year, conditioned on C.V.'s successful enrollment in, cooperation with, and completion of treatment at the Youth Consultation Services (YCS) program in Atlantic City, scheduled to begin on August 21, 2006. Less than a month after the court imposed the nine-month suspended sentence and after only a brief time at the YCS program, C.V. again violated probation. Because the court learned that C.V. had self-inflicted cuts on her arm, the court sent her to a local hospital for a mental health screening and remanded her thereafter to the Bridgeton Detention Facility. C.V. ultimately pled guilty to her fourth violation of formal probation, which had been based on her discharge from YCS for fighting. Subsequently, the court increased C.V.'s suspended sentence to twelve months, conditioned on her compliance with probation and cooperation with a residential treatment program.

A few weeks later, C.V. was placed in an alternative residential program, the VisionQuest Madalyn Program for Young Women (VisionQuest). When reporting to the court on C.V.'s progress, VisionQuest revealed that C.V. engaged in misdeeds similar to those she committed while at YCS. VisionQuest agreed to keep C.V. in the program as long as she behaved. The court warned C.V. that it would impose the suspended sentence if she committed any further infractions. Less than a month later, VisionQuest discharged C.V. from the program based on her continued misbehaviors. The discharge resulted in C.V.'s fifth violation of formal probation. In a last attempt to delay imposition of the suspended sentence, the court referred C.V. to the Juvenile Justice Commission (JJC) for an interview in the hope that she might be suited for placement in one of JJC's affiliated programs. However, the court flatly refused to consider another residential placement for C.V.

At an April 3, 2007 dispositional hearing, the JJC reported that, due to C.V.'s mental health problems, none of its placements were appropriate for her. Addressing the court, C.V. expressed her understanding that she had not made progress at any of the residential facilities and informed the court that she was ready to serve her suspended sentence. On entering its final adjudication of delinquency, the court sentenced her to an indeterminate term of incarceration not to exceed one year. Pursuant to Rule 5:21-3(e), the court awarded C.V. credit for the 132 days that she spent in detention, but denied her request for credit for the 144 days that she spent, in total, at YCS and VisionQuest. C.V. filed a motion for reconsideration on the 144 days. On May 7, 2007, the court denied the motion, while correcting a minor miscalculation in the number of days that C.V. spent in detention.

In a written decision on the motion for reconsideration, the court addressed the arguments of counsel regarding whether C.V.'s time in the residential programs should qualify for credit against her suspended sentence. The court's decision highlighted the sentencing-credit dilemma it perceived. The court required C.V. to remain in detention, or in residential treatment programs that had a security component, post-disposition (that is, after the court imposed a suspended sentence at the State Training School). Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) Directive #8-04 provided that out-of-home and residential placements that contained a security component should be regarded as constituting "secure" placements. The court noted that the general "operative understanding over the years" of the meaning of "non-secure facility" in N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-38(1) had been "shelter care." However, questions arose about the permissibility of using other forms of temporary placement for juveniles whose dispositions remained in the realm of non-secure placements.

The problem that the family court believed it faced in this matter arose from its review of relevant case law. Prior to the issuance of the AOC Directive, the Appellate Division held in State ex rel. S.T., 273 N.J. Super. 436 (App. Div. 1994) that a residential placement was not a "secure" facility for purposes of awarding credit under Rule 5:21-3(e) for a later violation of probation. Thus, the family court found itself unsure whether to follow the AOC Directive or the Appellate Division's opinion in S.T. Ultimately, the court concluded that it was bound by the direction in S.T. on the award of mandatory credits and denied C.V.'s request for credit for the time she spent at YCS and VisionQuest.

Although the matter had become moot because C.V.'s sentence had been completed, the Appellate Division determined that the issue was both likely to recur and one of importance in the administration of juvenile justice. The Appellate Division affirmed the denial of credit for time spent at YCS and VisionQuest. In the panel's view, neither the AOC Directive nor N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-38(1) address the granting of credits. Therefore, the panel concluded that neither was in conflict with the decision in S.T. and that, pursuant to S.T., C.V.'s request for credits under Rule 5:21-3(e) properly was denied.

The Supreme Court granted C.V.'s petition for certification.

HELD: The Supreme Court has no disagreement with the Appellate Division's unassailable determination that C.V.'s placements in YCS and VisionQuest do not satisfy the intended concept of detention in Rule 5:21-3(e) to qualify for mandatory day-to-day credit. In addition, the Court holds that the Family Part court retains the flexibility, in appropriate cases, to grant a probationer who violated or otherwise imperfectly performed the conditions of probation any sentence that the court could have initially imposed.

1. C.V., like the juvenile in S.T., served time in restrictive residential programs as a condition of probation. C.V.'s placements at YCS and VisionQuest were meant to facilitate her rehabilitation. Although each program placed on her restrictions similar to those that had been imposed on S.T., YCS and VisionQuest imposed those rules and physical restrictions in order to create the best environment for treatment. C.V. was never physically confined at the facilities; indeed, she succeeded in running away from both. Thus, the Court has no disagreement with the Appellate Division's unassailable determination that C.V.'s placements in YCS and VisionQuest do not satisfy the intended concept of detention in Rule 5:21-3(e) to qualify for mandatory day-to-day credit. (Pp. 13-16)

2. The Juvenile Justice Code (Code), N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-20 to -90, governs juvenile delinquency matters. The Code created a specialized Family Part court with unique expertise over juvenile matters. The Code empowers Family Part courts handling juvenile cases to enter dispositions that comport with the Code's rehabilitative goals. One of the "major hallmarks of the Code" was to provide the newly created family court with flexibility in juvenile dispositions. Once the court adjudicates a juvenile to be delinquent, the Code permits the court to order incarceration or, in lieu of incarceration, any of twenty enumerated dispositions. Indeed, judges entering dispositions are challenged by the complex, diverse, and changing needs of youth, and must confront the unique emotional, behavioral, physical, and educational problems of each juvenile before the court. Probation provides the court with leverage over a juvenile without moving the child into a more custodial environment. By granting the court a vast amount of flexibility in setting conditions of probation, N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-43(b)(3) allows the court to construct requirements designed to secure appropriate behavior from the juvenile while obtaining the individualized rehabilitative and therapeutic help needed by the particular child. However, when a juvenile violates probation, the Family Part retains jurisdiction to "substitute any other disposition which it might have made originally." N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-45(b). Therefore, on resentencing a juvenile on a suspended sentence, after probation has been violated or imperfectly performed, the court may impose any sentence that the court could have initially imposed. (Pp. 16-21)

3. Because the family court has such flexibility on resentencing a probationer following a violation of probation, there was no reason for the family court below to have felt constrained by the mandatory-credit direction in Rule 5:21-3(e) when establishing C.V.'s sentence to be served at the State Training School. In other words, by no means was the court stuck with its initial suspended sentence length when it came time for the court to enter its disposition after C.V.'s fifth violation of probation. Merely because a juvenile is not entitled to mandatory credit on his or her custodial sentence does not deprive the court of its ordinary flexibility in crafting a just sentence. (Pp. 22-23)

The judgment of the Appellate Division is AFFIRMED, as modified.

CHIEF JUSTICE RABNER and JUSTICES LONG, ALBIN, WALLACE, RIVERA-SOTO, and HOENS join in JUSTICE LaVECCHIA's opinion.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice LaVECCHIA

Argued January 5, 2010

New Jersey's Code of Juvenile Justice provides a comprehensive scheme that empowers Family Part judges to tailor dispositions toward aiding and rehabilitating juveniles charged with delinquent acts, while simultaneously ensuring protection of the public from dangerous and/or repetitive juvenile offenders. In this appeal, we consider a narrow sentencing issue that arose in the context of a juvenile delinquency adjudication: an issue that highlights the overarching flexibility of juvenile ...


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