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State ex rel. T.D.

Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Ocean

April 1, 2019


          APPROVED FOR PUBLICATION August 12, 2019

          Madeline Buczynski, Assistant Prosecutor, and Iva Krasteva, Assistant Prosecutor, for State of New Jersey, (Bradley D. Billhimer, Ocean County Prosecutor, attorney).

          Leigh Kelsey O'Donnell, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, for T.D. (Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney).

          GRAMICCIONI, J.S.C.

         This matter comes before the court as a case review post-disposition, following the recommendation of the Ocean County Probation Division that the matter be returned to court for Juvenile T.D.'s failure to complete thirty (30) hours of community service previously ordered by the court. For the reasons set forth below, this court hereby vacates all previously ordered community service hours.

         Original Disposition

         On April 26, 2018, T.D., then a seventeen-year-old juvenile, entered an admission before this court to one count of shoplifting, pursuant to N.J.S.A 2C:20-11(b)(1), a disorderly persons offense if committed by an adult, and one count of obstructing the administration of law, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:29-1(a), a fourth degree offense if committed by an adult. In exchange for T.D.'s admission, the State agreed to dismiss the remaining charges of aggravated assault, disorderly conduct and rioting under FJ-15-0569-18. The parties further agreed that T.D.'s disposition be deferred for twelve months, consistent with N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-43(b)(1) (hereinafter referred to as the "deferred disposition").

         The parties also jointly agreed that the deferred disposition be conditioned upon T.D.'s successful completion of thirty hours of community service during the pendency of the deferred disposition. Importantly, at the outset of the hearing, when outlining the proposed plea agreement, the assistant prosecutor specifically indicated that "mandatory community service [was] required" under the shoplifting statute, and counsel for T.D. agreed.

         Following the plea colloquy with T.D., this court entered an order which placed T.D. on the twelve-month deferred disposition to run concurrent on both charges, and indicated that compliance with conditions of the order would result in the matter being dismissed on April 25, 2019, assuming the conditions were met. The court specifically ordered T.D. to complete thirty hours of community service as a condition of her deferred disposition. Return for Disposition

         The Ocean County Probation Division filed a "Return for Disposition" form on November 15, 2018. The Return for Disposition revealed that probation had attempted to connect T.D. with multiple sites where T.D. would be able to complete the required community service hours. In particular, on May 1, 2018, probation first placed T.D. at a church in Manahawkin, New Jersey, to perform the required community service hours. T.D., however, failed to complete any community service hours at that site, whereupon she was removed from that site on May 21, 2018, and then placed at another site in Toms River, New Jersey. T.D. failed to complete any community service hours at that second site, and to date has not completed any community service hours.

         Upon receiving the Return for Disposition, this court scheduled a Continuance Review for December 12, 2018, at which time T.D. failed to appear. The court relisted the matter and attempted to provide the juvenile notice of the new court date of January 9, 2019. On that date, however, the juvenile failed to appear and the assistant prosecutor was ordered to investigate a proper address for T.D. The matter was relisted for February 6, 2019. On February 6, 2019, T.D. again failed to appear. The assistant prosecutor represented that the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office had reached out to T.D.'s school, post office and Division of Child Protection and Permanency, and was advised that T.D. and her mother had moved and had not provided any forwarding address. The court declined the State's request for a bench warrant at that time, and ordered both the State and probation to continue to investigate a proper address for T.D. The matter again was relisted.

         T.D. finally appeared in court with her mother on March 7, 2019, when the following exchange took place:

PROSECUTOR: [T.D.] has not completed any of the required mandatory community service . . . . Therefore, what Ms. O'Donnell and I have discussed is an adjournment to give the juvenile a compliance period where essentially she would need to do her community service as it wouldn't just be an adjudication, it would have to be some probationary period to resolve this matter because of the mandatory outstanding hours.
THE COURT: [To T.D.] So I'm so happy to see you here, because the last thing the court wanted to do was issue a bench warrant for you to come back here. We had a tough time finding you, but we finally found you. I am so happy that you are here today. I don't know if there is going to be a need for another court appearance, if there is, it is really important, it is your obligation to inform Ms. O'Donnell where you are. And if you don't appear again, based on your history of nonappearance, I will have to issue a bench warrant. . . . I don't want to do that, but when there is a history of nonappearance, it is up to the juvenile, especially when you have been placed on a deferred disposition, to keep everyone up to date as to where you are. I say that not only for your benefit, but for the benefit of your mother . . . . It is really important that you keep in touch with Ms. O'Donnell.
MS. O'DONNELL (T.D.'s ATTORNEY): There is still time for her to complete those hours, given the fact that this deferred disposition does not currently terminate until the end of April . . . so there is time and she has expressed a willingness to work with probation to get those community service hours completed. . . . I do want to place on the record, Your Honor, and I don't know the exact nature and circumstances of when this all occurred, but there is some explanation, I believe, to [T.D.'s] lack of appearance as the family is experiencing homelessness at this time. I think that's important to note because I myself will represent that I will keep in contact with [T.D.] and [her mother]. I do have good working phone numbers for them, I do not have a permanent address though, at this time. . . . Despite the fact the family is experiencing difficulties, [T.D.] has expressed a willingness to complete those community service hours. . . . I don't have any other obviously viable alternative at this point to offer to the court because they are mandatory hours of community service . . . so, at least we are working toward some sort of solution to make sure that it can be addressed in the meanwhile.
THE COURT: [To T.D.] We want to work with you, but the problem with the shoplifting statute is it's mandatory. It's in the statute that I have to impose them. If this were something, based on what you're going through, if I could basically ignore that, I would do it, because I don't think it's consistent with the rehabilitative goals [of the Juvenile Code]. . . . I don't think anybody ...

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