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State ex rel. T.Z.

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

December 13, 2013



Argued on December 3, 2013

On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Union County, Docket No. FJ-20-360-13.

Lon Taylor, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, argued the cause for appellant T.Z. (Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney; Mr. Taylor, of counsel and on the brief).

Sara B. Liebman, Special Deputy Attorney General/Acting Assistant Prosecutor, argued the cause for respondent State of New Jersey (Grace H. Park, Acting Union County Prosecutor, attorney; Ms. Liebman, of counsel and on the brief).

Before Judges Messano and Sabatino.


In this juvenile matter, we consider interlocutory issues of venue and waiver following our order granting appellant T.Z.'s motion for leave to appeal. Because the case has yet to be tried, we discuss the facts only briefly and with a recognition that the trial evidence may differ from what presently appears in the record.

Appellant, a resident of Essex County, was charged in a September 2012 juvenile complaint in Union County with participating in an armed robbery of a convenience store in Union Township on July 10, 2012. At the time of the robbery, appellant was sixteen years of age. He has since attained the age of eighteen.

According to the State's anticipated trial proofs, two males entered the convenience store at about 4:00 a.m. on the day of the offense. The first male, later determined to be an adult named Nyquan Stover, was wearing a mask. Stover immediately headed to the store's cash registers. The second male, later determined to be appellant, did not wear a mask. The second male was armed with a revolver, which he allegedly pointed at the store employees while demanding that they lower themselves to the floor. Stover eventually made his way into the manager's office. He removed from the office cash register trays containing approximately $570.

Detective Walter Stinner of the Union County Police Department was assigned to investigate the robbery. As part of his investigation, the detective obtained the store's surveillance videotape from the night of the robbery. The detective played the videotape for Stover, who was apparently then in jail on an unrelated offense.

Stover identified appellant as a culprit, and directed Detective Stinner to appellant's Facebook page. Upon viewing appellant's Facebook profile, the detective realized that "it was an exact match of the person in the surveillance video without the mask and had the handgun." Appellant's involvement in the robbery was further confirmed by a confidential informant in the community, as well as by the detective's conversations with the Essex County Sheriff Department's gang unit.

Appellant was subsequently interviewed by Detective Stinner at the police headquarters in Union County. In his first interview, appellant initially denied knowledge of the June 10 armed robbery. However, appellant "admitted to the job" during a second interview that he had initiated after waiving his Miranda[1] rights.

Thereafter, on September 14, 2012, the juvenile complaint against appellant was issued in Union County, charging him with offenses, if they had been committed by an adult, that would have amounted to first-degree robbery, N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1(a); fourth-degree aggravated assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(b)(4); second-degree unlawful possession of a weapon, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5; and second-degree possession of a weapon for unlawful purposes, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4. Meanwhile, an adult criminal complaint arising out of the same incident was issued against Stover in the Criminal Part in Union County.

Appellant's initial detention hearing was held on September 17, 2012 in the Family Part. During the hearing, appellant's counsel orally requested that venue in his matter be changed to Essex County, where appellant was domiciled, pursuant to Rule 5:19-1. The court denied the request without prejudice, subject to the issue being raised at a second detention hearing to be held later in the week.

At appellant's second detention hearing on September 19, 2012, appellant's counsel again requested that the case be transferred from Union County because appellant "resides in Essex County, and the [c]ourt there is familiar with him." The court responded that the venue change application was premature because the Union County Prosecutor had "indicate[d] an intention and desire to seek waiver" of appellant over to the Criminal Part.

Appellant then filed a written motion seeking a transfer of venue to his county of domicile. The State opposed the motion, arguing that there was good cause to retain the matter in Union County.

Meanwhile, the State filed a separate motion for the involuntary waiver of jurisdiction from the Chancery Division, Family Part, to the Law Division, Criminal Part, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-26. In accordance with the statutory guidelines, discussed infra, the State produced a written statement of reasons in which it analyzed the codified seven waiver factors.

After hearing oral argument, the assigned Family Part judge in Union County, Robert A. Kirsch, denied appellant's venue motion on October 26, 2012. Appellant requested a stay of that decision, which Judge Kirsch also denied. The judge issued a detailed letter opinion on November 1, 2012, explaining his reasons for denying those requests. Appellant applied to this court for immediate relief, but his application was rejected as non-emergent in nature.

Judge Kirsch then considered the State's waiver motion in a separate hearing in December 2012. At the hearing, the State presented the testimony of Detective ...

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