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State ex rel. N.H.

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

July 6, 2015

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, IN THE INTEREST OF N.H., A Juvenile

Argued April 21, 2015.

Approved for Publication July 6, 2015.

On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Essex County, Docket No. FJ-07-2832-14.

Frank J. Ducoat, Special Deputy Attorney General/Acting Assistant Prosecutor, argued the cause for appellant State of New Jersey ( Carolyn A. Murray, Acting Essex County Prosecutor, attorney; Mr. Ducoat, of counsel and on the brief).

Jacqueline E. Turner, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, argued the cause for respondent N.H. ( Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney; Ms. Turner, of counsel and on the brief).

Before FISHER, ACCURSO and MANAHAN, Judges.

OPINION

MANAHAN, J.S.C. (temporarily assigned)

On leave granted, the State appeals an order granting N.H. " full and complete" discovery of the State's " entire file." N.H. was charged in a juvenile complaint with offenses which, if committed by an adult, would constitute purposeful and knowing murder and unlawful possession of a weapon. After the complaint was filed, the State moved to waive jurisdiction pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-26(e). We affirm.

The underlying facts which gave rise to the complaint involve a fistfight among high school students. N.H., a participant in the fight, is alleged to have used a handgun taken from a friend's waistband to shoot the decedent four times, including a shot to the back of decedent's head. N.H. later admitted to possessing and firing the handgun, but claimed he shot at the ground.

In her oral decision on the motion, Judge Wasserman held that New Jersey's " open discovery" policy per Rule 3:13-3(a) and the Supreme Court's decision in State ex rel. P.M.P., 200 N.J. 166, 975 A.2d 441 (2009), required the State to provide N.H. with the discovery sought.

On appeal, the State argues that given the preliminary stage of the case as pre-waiver and pre-indictment, N.H. is not entitled to full and complete discovery. Rather, the State argues required discovery is only that which is exculpatory and upon which the State will rely to meet its probable cause burden at the waiver hearing. In this, the State would serve as the arbiter of what discovery was requisite.[1]

In opposition, N.H. argues that the right to full discovery is triggered upon the filing of the complaint which is the " functional equivalent" of an indictment. N.H. further argues that the State's position that it may unilaterally determine what constitutes relevant discovery is antithetical to controlling decisions of law and " common sense."

We commence our analysis with that which has been agreed upon by both parties. That is, neither the Juvenile Code, N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-20 to -48, nor Part V of the Court Rules, explicitly addresses discovery in juvenile cases. In State in Interest of K.A.W., 104 N.J. 112, 121, 515 A.2d 1217 (1986), our Supreme Court noted the " practice" for the provision of discovery:

Even though the Juvenile Code contains no provision for discovery, the custom almost invariable in matters such as this is for the State to open its file to the juvenile, and hence at no time has there been a recommendation from the appropriate Supreme Court committee for us to amend our Rules to structure discovery procedures in juvenile delinquency actions similar to those embodied in our Rules governing criminal practice, Rules 3:13-1 to -4, nor does it appear that any question has ...

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