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State of New Jersey v. Donnie L. Campbell

August 24, 2012


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Warren County, Indictment No. 09-02-0045.

Per curiam.


Submitted January 11, 2012

Before Judges Sapp-Peterson and Ostrer.

Defendant, Donnie L. Campbell, Jr., challenges the trial court order granting the State's motion to waive the jurisdiction of the Family Part and transfer defendant's charges of second-degree aggravated assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1b(1); first-degree robbery, N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1a(1); and conspiracy, N.J.S.A. 2C:5-2, to commit first-degree robbery, N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1, to the "Adult Criminal Court." Defendant ultimately pled guilty to first-degree robbery and was sentenced, in accordance with the plea agreement, as a second-degree offender, to a five-year prison term. On appeal, defendant contends the prosecutor's decision to seek his involuntary waiver to adult court was a patent and gross abuse of discretion. We disagree and affirm.

The charges stem from an attack upon the victim, who accompanied defendant to purchase and smoke marijuana. Before defendant and the victim got together, defendant's adult co-defendant, Ashanti Wilson, asked defendant to help him beat up some kids and steal money and marijuana. Wilson and defendant joined the victim and another individual, and together they went to a house in Phillipsburg where they intended to purchase marijuana from Wilson's sister. When they arrived at the location, they went to a room on the second floor to wait for Wilson's sister. Defendant asked the victim if he could break a $100 bill for his mother, and when defendant asked the victim to come downstairs because his mother arrived, the victim obliged and went downstairs where he placed $100, made up of various denominations, on a table. When the victim turned his head, defendant punched him in the face. The victim fell, and defendant continued to punch him while also kneeing him in the face. The victim was unable to resist defendant, and during the attack, defendant took the victim's wallet, removed $30 from it, and then threw it back at the victim. Defendant also took the $100 the victim had placed on the table.

The victim suffered five facial fractures, including three fractures to his orbital bone and two fractures to his cheek bone. He underwent plastic surgery to reconstruct his eye socket and to repair his cheek bone. Several screws were permanently inserted to hold his bones together. Post-surgery, the victim continued to experience numbness in his right temple, which he believed to be a permanent condition.

At the time defendant was arrested and charged with the offenses, he was seventeen years old. The prosecutor, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:4a-26, filed a motion seeking waiver. In support of the motion, the prosecutor submitted written reasons for seeking transfer of the matter to the Criminal Part. Following a hearing, Judge John Coyle, Jr. issued a written opinion in which he concluded the "State has demonstrated compliance with the essential objectives of N.J.S.A. 2A:4a-26 and the Attorney General's Guidelines." The judge also found defendant failed to show, by clear and convincing evidence, that the State's decision constituted a patent and gross abuse of discretion. The present appeal followed.

On appeal, defendant advances one point: the Warren County Prosecutor's decision to seek involuntary waiver of defendant to adult criminal court was a patent and gross abuse of discretion. Based upon our review of the record, we conclude defendant's contention is without sufficient merit to warrant extensive discussion in a written opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(2). We affirm for the reasons expressed by Judge Coyle in his April 22, 2008 written opinion. We add the following brief comments.

A trial court's decision to grant the State's waiver application is "'the single most serious act that the juvenile court can perform.'" State ex rel. V.A., 420 N.J. Super. 302, 313 (App. Div. 2011) (quoting State in the Interest of A.D., 420 N.J. Super. 144, 155 (App. Div. 2011)). This decision is reviewed under an abuse of discretion standard. Ibid.

N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-26a provides that in the case of a juvenile who is at least fourteen years or older and who is charged with first-degree robbery or second-degree aggravated assault, as was defendant here, the court, upon motion of the prosecutor and without the consent of the juvenile, shall transfer the matter to the appropriate court on a finding, following a hearing, of probable cause that the charged offenses were committed. Once the State establishes probable cause that the juvenile committed the applicable offense and the juvenile meets the statutory age and nature-of-offense requirements, waiver is automatic, unless the juvenile proves, by clear and convincing evidence, that the prosecutor's decision was a patent and gross abuse of discretion. N.J.S.A. 2A:4A--26; see also State ex rel. V.A., supra, 420 N.J. Super. at 315.

Because N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-26 does not mandate that the State seek involuntary waiver, in determining whether to file a waiver motion, a prosecutor must be guided by the Attorney General's Juvenile Waiver Guidelines (March 14, 2000) (Guidelines). Those guidelines require submission of a written statement of reasons for waiver, which reasons reflect the prosecutor's consideration of:

(1) the nature of the offense; (2) deterrence; (3) the effect on co-defendants of waiver to adult court; (4) the maximum sentences that could be imposed under the juvenile or criminal codes and the amount of time likely to be served; (5) the juvenile's prior record; (6) trial considerations - that is, the likelihood of conviction and the potential need for a grand jury investigation; and (7) victim input.

Here, the prosecutor considered all of the requisite factors in the Guidelines, including defendant's role in planning the offense, the nature of the injuries the victim sustained, defendant's extensive juvenile record, which included another violent offense, and leading the prosecutor to conclude the present offense represented an escalation of a pattern of violence by defendant. The prosecutor found only three factors that weighed against waiver. From this evidence, we are satisfied Judge Coyle properly concluded there was no patent and ...

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