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State ex rel J.S.

July 8, 2010

STATE OF NEW JERSEY IN THE INTEREST OF J.S.


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 it was appropriate for the juvenile court to require the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS), an agency within the Department of Children and Families (DCF), to provide sex offender treatment services to J.S., notwithstanding that J.S. was twenty-one years old when the juvenile court entered an order adjudicating him a delinquent and that neither he nor his family previously had any involvement with DYFS. (In this decision, DCF and DYFS are used interchangeably.)

Between January 2000 and December 2002, when he was in his early to mid-teens, J.S. digitally penetrated his sister, who was then under the age of thirteen. On October 15, 2007, J.S., who by then had turned twenty-one, pleaded guilty in juvenile court to first-degree aggravated sexual assault in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(a)(1). At the time of his plea, J.S. was employed and was studying to become a nurse. He had not had any prior contact with the criminal justice system, and neither he nor his family had any prior involvement with DYFS.

The juvenile court adjudicated J.S. delinquent and determined that pre-dispositional psycho-sexual, psychological, and psychiatric reports were required. The court determined that Steininger Behavioral Care Services (Steininger), a third-party contractor for the Division of Child Behavioral Health Services in the DCF, provide the necessary evaluations. The juvenile court thereupon ordered J.S. under the care and supervision of DYFS, and further ordered that DYFS "[s]upply a written plan within 14 day[s]." The only additional fact of note from the October 15, 2007, hearing concerns who was, and who was not, present. Present were J.S.; an assistant prosecutor; a public defender; J.S.'s mother, aunt, and grandmother; and officers of the court. Neither DYFS nor Steininger were represented. They were not parties and were not otherwise involved in the matter.

On November 1, 2007, DYFS filed a motion for reconsideration and vacation of order on the basis that the court lacked authority to order DYFS to provide services to an individual who already had turned twenty-one years of age and who had no previous involvement with DYFS. While DYFS's motion was pending, the court-ordered evaluations were conducted. The psychological evaluation found that J.S. did not have any personality disorder or pathology, and that he was a low risk. Nevertheless, the psychologist's evaluation stated that J.S. could benefit from individual counseling to enable him to achieve a better understanding of his actions. The psychiatric evaluation revealed that although J.S. did not pose a threat to himself or to others, he "would benefit from counseling to deal with the ongoing issues of guilt, remorse and sequellae from the issues surrounding his charges," and that J.S. could receive such counseling through his church.

DYFS's motion for reconsideration was heard on November 14, 2007, the date of the disposition hearing. In colloquy, both DYFS and the court initially appeared to view the issue as moot as to J.S. because his evaluations did not result in a recommendation of future services. Nevertheless, DYFS pressed its legal argument, concerned about the possibility of future orders being entered against the agency in delinquency dispositions involving individuals over the age of twenty-one who had no prior involvement with DYFS. The court held that, under the Juvenile Justice Code (Code), it had the authority and the intention to order DYFS to provide services for J.S., because he committed an offense while a juvenile, and because the condition for which he required counseling existed when he was a juvenile. The disposition required that J.S. serve a three-year period of probation conditioned upon successful completion of sex offender treatment through a licensed professional. The court ordered DYFS to fund the treatment, but added that DYFS could pursue reimbursement if J.S. had private insurance.

DYFS appealed. No other party or entity appeared in the proceedings before the Appellate Division. In an unpublished opinion, the appellate panel affirmed the juvenile court's order requiring DYFS to provide sex offender treatment to J.S. the panel held that J.S., an adjudicated delinquent, "falls within the protective scope of the Juvenile Justice Code" because N.J.S.A. 2A:22 and -25 give juvenile courts jurisdiction over persons beyond the age of eighteen who committed an offense while under the age of eighteen.

The Supreme Court granted DYFS's petition for certification. Although J.S. did not participate in any of the appellate proceedings, the Court elected to have attorney representation on his behalf, and it secured pro bono counsel to appear for that purpose.

HELD: The Court finds nothing out of the ordinary in the juvenile court's determination to exercise its discretion to order probation and to place that condition of probation on J.S. Placing J.S. on probation with such a condition was entirely within the court's authority under the Juvenile Justice Code. The court erred, however, in believing that the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) was the appropriate mechanism for effectuating that disposition under N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-43(b)(5).

1. Under the Juvenile Justice Code, a juvenile is "an individual who is under the age of 18 years," N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-22(a), and an adult is "an individual 18 years of age or older," N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-22(b). In addition, the juvenile courts have jurisdiction, with certain exceptions not applicable here, over any "person [who] was a juvenile at the time of the crime, offense or violation charged." N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-25. In this matter there is no dispute that the juvenile court was empowered to adjudicate J.S.'s act of delinquency. The dispute's entire focus is on whether the disposition chosen by the juvenile court was appropriately effectuated through DYFS. The Code authorizes a juvenile court to select for imposition, in lieu of incarceration, one or more of twenty available dispositions. One enumerated disposition, N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-43(b)(5), directly implicates DYFS and, aside from one other disposition that allows a juvenile court to commit a juvenile to DCF for placement in a hospital or facility when the juvenile is in need of involuntary commitment, subsection (b)(5) provides the sole authority for the juvenile court to require DCF to provide services to an adjudicated delinquent. When imposing dispositions where no agency or person is explicitly required to provide and, therefore, fund the disposition, the Code requires the county of residence of the adjudicated delinquent to incur expenses related to the disposition. DYFS is subject to a distinct set of statutory commands in respect of its authority and its resources. Several provisions addressing DYFS's involvement with children and their families specifically limit the agency's reach to children under the age of eighteen. In certain circumstances, DYFS is responsible for young adults between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one. One such provision requires DCF to provide "continuation of services" to certain individuals "aged 18 to 21." N.J.S.A. 30:4C-2.3. The second statutory reference to DYFS's power and responsibility over youths between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one is found in the Resource Family Parent Licensing Act, which authorizes DYFS to place such an individual in a resource family home, a group home, or another institution, when that individual is "enrolled in a school or training program below college level or... require[s] a course of treatment for emotionally, cognitively or physically disabled persons." N.J.S.A. 9:17B-2(f); see N.J.S.A. 30:4C-26(a). (Pp. 11-19)

2. The Court's duty when interpreting statutes is to discern and apply the Legislature's intent. The surest path to that intent lies in the words of the Legislature. Moreover, when construction involves the interplay of two or more statutes, the Court seeks to harmonize the two, under the assumption that the Legislature was aware of its actions and intended for cognate provisions to work together. Here it seems apparent that the juvenile court's authority to refer juveniles to the care and responsibility of DCF must be conditioned on DCF's ability to provide services to the individual referred. Equally fundamental to DCF's ability to provide a service desired by the juvenile court in connection with a disposition is the precondition that DCF is legally charged with authority and responsibility for the type of individual referred. N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-43(b)(5) carries no express or implied evidence of a legislative intent to expand DCF's jurisdiction and, thereby, add to its obligations. The Court is loathe to presume that by the language of N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-43(b)(5) the Legislature meant to expand, sub silentio, DCF's statutory powers and responsibilities to persons over the age of eighteen beyond the Legislature's express decree for DCF and DYFS. Here it is clear that because DYFS, as the unit within DCF that was the focus of the court's order, was not assigned responsibility for adults like J.S., aged twenty-one, who had never before had a connection with the agency, the juvenile court erred in ordering DYFS to accept responsibility for sex offender treatment for J.S. That conclusion is based on the plain language of N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-43(b)(5), and does not evidence a conflict between the Code and the statutes governing DYFS's statutory responsibilities. Indeed the Court holds that there is no conflict between the two statutory schemes. The two can and do work together, however, that working together can result in DYFS simply not being the correct vehicle for effectuating a disposition. (Pp. 19-23)

3. For completeness, the Court notes that it was unable to identify any New Jersey precedent that addressed whether a juvenile court can require DYFS to provide services to an individual who is over twenty-one and not within the limited group of over-eighteen-year-olds that DYFS is charged with responsibility to serve. Few cases even address whether a juvenile court can require DYFS to provide services to an individual who has reached eighteen years of age. One such case, to which DYFS points as support for its position, is In re K.F., 313 N.J. Super. 319 (App. Div. 1998), but the holding in that case does not carry the day in respect of the different facts in the instant matter in which J.S. attained twenty-one years before this adjudication was finalized. Moreover, the statutory landscape has changed since the K.F. decision. In 2004, the Legislature adopted a statute specifically focused on, and limiting, DCF's responsibility to children between eighteen and twenty-one. It also is not insignificant that DYFS is no longer in the Department of Human Services, which serves a variety of disadvantaged and disabled adults, but now is in DCF, which focuses exclusively on children. In addition, and in conclusion, the Court finds that DYFS raises several persuasive policy considerations in respect of the narrow question before the Court, not the least of which is its concern for over-reliance on its limited resources. To require DYFS to provide services to J.S. would mean that DYFS's fiscal resources will be diverted from children to an adult with no prior contacts with DYFS. That result is neither an efficient use of DYFS's resources nor one that is within DYFS's statutory mandate. The Court holds, therefore, that it was error for the juvenile court to have held DYFS responsible for sex offender treatment for the adult J.S. (Pp. 23-28)

The judgment of the Appellate Division is REVERSED and the matter is REMANDED for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

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 February 22, 2010

As a minor, J.S. sexually assaulted his younger sister. However, he was twenty-one years old when the juvenile court entered an order adjudicating him a delinquent based on the conduct that had occurred years earlier. The court's order required the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS), an agency within the Department of Children and Families (DCF),*fn1 to provide him with sex offender treatment, notwithstanding that neither J.S. nor his family previously had any involvement with DYFS. Although not a party to J.S.'s delinquency proceedings, DYFS sought reconsideration, and then appealed. DYFS claimed, at each opportunity for review of the order, that the court lacked authority to require DYFS to bear the responsibility of providing sex offender services to the adult J.S. because he was not within the category of persons to be serviced under DYFS's authorizing statutes. We agree and therefore reverse.

I.

Between January 2000 and December 2002, when he was in his early to mid-teens,*fn2 J.S. digitally penetrated his sister, who was then under the age of thirteen. On October 15, 2007, J.S., who by then had turned twenty-one, pleaded guilty in juvenile court to first-degree aggravated sexual assault in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(a)(1).*fn3 At the time of his plea, J.S. was employed and was studying to become a nurse. He had not had any prior contact with the criminal justice system, and neither he nor his family had any prior involvement with DYFS.

The juvenile court adjudicated him delinquent and determined that pre-dispositional psycho-sexual, psychological, and psychiatric reports were required. The court desired that Steininger Behavioral Care Services (Steininger), a third-party contractor for the Division of Child Behavioral Health Services in the DCF, provide the necessary evaluations.

THE COURT:... I'm going to order that Steininger do the evaluations. He's not eligible for DYFS as I understand it. So --so I'm going to order that Steininger do it. You don't think they will?

FEMALE VOICE: No. Based upon his age and the fact that he's 21 years old.

THE COURT: What's the alternative?

FEMALE VOICE: The alternative is to have the family through their private insurance or through their --- his attorney ...


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