STATE OF NEW JERSEY IN THE INTEREST OF T.C., a juvenile.
Submitted January 24, 2018
appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division,
Family Part, Ocean County, Complaint No. FJ-15-0859-16.
E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant (Frank M.
Gennaro, Designated Counsel, on the brief).
D. Coronato, Ocean County Prosecutor, attorney for respondent
(Samuel Marzarella, Chief Appellate Attorney; of counsel and
on the briefs; Nicholas D. Norcia, Assistant Prosecutor, and
Anthony V. Pierro, Chief of Special Litigation, on the
Judges Koblitz, Manahan and Suter.
preserve its constitutionality, we interpret the Juvenile
Justice Code (Code), N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-20 to -92, to prevent
incarceration of developmentally disabled juveniles in county
detention facilities because not all counties have access to
a certified short-term incarceration program. T.C., who was
seventeen at the time of the offense, acknowledged his
responsibility for actions that would constitute
second-degree robbery, N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1(a)(1), if committed
by an adult. He admitted participating with two other
juveniles in the unarmed forcible theft of marijuana from the
backpack of a fourth juvenile.
Juvenile Pre-dispositional Report stated T.C. was originally
classified as "[m]ultiply disabled and on the [a]utistic
spectrum" beginning "around the age of
[four]." A 2006 psychiatric evaluation stated T.C. would
"continue to have a significant amount of autistic
qualities and manifested symptoms in the Pervasive
Developmental Disorder spectrum." T.C. moved through
school with the designation of developmentally disabled,
although at the time of sentencing, T.C. attended school
regularly, worked a part-time job, and was not taking any
prescribed medications. T.C.'s developmental disability
was disputed by the State, but tacitly accepted by the judge
without a specific ruling.
exchange for the guilty plea, the State agreed to recommend a
two-year probationary term, conditioned on sixty days
confinement in the Ocean County Juvenile Detention Center
(OCJDC). T.C. reserved the right to argue instead for sixty
days of electronic monitoring rather than custody in the
detention facility, and to make the legal argument at the
time of disposition that he should not receive a custodial
sentence because of his developmental disability. Accepting
that T.C. was developmentally disabled, the court nonetheless
imposed a two-year probationary term conditioned on thirty
days incarceration in the OCJDC, followed by thirty days of
T.C. has completed the custodial term, the State argues this
appeal is moot. An issue is "moot when our decision
sought in a matter, when rendered, can have no practical
effect on the existing controversy." Redd v.
Bowman, 223 N.J. 87, 104 (2015) (quoting Deutsche
Bank Nat'l Tr. Co. v. Mitchell, 422 N.J.Super. 214,
221-22 (App. Div. 2011)). A reviewing court may decide a moot
issue with respect to a juvenile appellant, however, if the
issue is of public importance and is likely to recur. See
State In re. C.V., 201 N.J. 281, 286 (2010) (electing to
resolve moot issue of whether juvenile was entitled to
receive credit for time served even though juvenile's
sentence was complete); see also Joye v. Hunterdon Cent.
Reg'l High Sch. Bd. of Educ., 176 N.J. 568,
583 (2003) (electing to resolve issue of whether a
school's random drug and alcohol testing program passed
muster under the New Jersey Constitution even though
plaintiff had since graduated from the school).
remains on probation, so the possibility of future
incarceration for this juvenile offense exists. As
significantly, incarceration of developmentally disabled
juveniles is of public concern. We decide the underlying
issue because it "is one of substantial importance,
likely to reoccur but capable of evading review."
Zirger v. Gen. Accident Ins. Co., 144 N.J. 327, 330
the dispositional hearing, T.C.'s counsel argued the law
did not permit a developmentally disabled juvenile such as
T.C. to serve a custodial sentence in either a State or
county juvenile correctional facility. The State argued the
statute prohibited confinement of a developmentally disabled
juvenile in a State facility, but not a certified county
short-term detention program. Although the judge agreed with
defense counsel that "incarceration is incarceration,
" the judge interpreted the statute to permit the
short-term incarceration of developmentally disabled
juveniles in an approved county detention program.
Code governs juvenile delinquency matters. C.V., 201 N.J. at
294. It "empowers Family Part courts handling juvenile
cases to enter dispositions that comport with the Code's
rehabilitative goals." Id. at 295. "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 under
N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-43(b)." Ibid. When making a
disposition, "Family Part judges must determine the most
appropriate course of action in respect of the individual to
'accomplish both rehabilitation and preservation of the