Articles Posted in Juvenile Law

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The defendants in these appeals committed very serious, violent crimes when they were juveniles. One was serving a sentence of 110 years imprisonment and would not be eligible for parole until he spent 55 years in jail. At that time, he would be about 72 years old. The second was serving a 75-year term and was ineligible for parole until he served 68 years and 3 months in jail. He would then be 85 years old. The United States Supreme Court recognized the mitigating qualities of youth and directed that judges in those cases consider a number of factors at sentencing, including immaturity and failure to appreciate risks and consequences; family and home environment; family and peer pressures; an inability to deal with police officers or prosecutors or the juvenile s own attorney; and the possibility of rehabilitation. The New Jersey Court found the same concerns applied to sentences that were the practical equivalent of life without parole, like the ones in these appeals. "The proper focus belongs on the amount of real time a juvenile will spend in jail and not on the formal label attached to his sentence. To satisfy the Eighth Amendment and Article I, Paragraph 12 of the State Constitution, which both prohibit cruel and unusual punishment, we direct that defendants be resentenced and that the 'Miller' factors be addressed at that time. [. . .] In short, judges should exercise a heightened level of care before they impose multiple consecutive sentences on juveniles which would result in lengthy jail terms." Both cases were remanded for resentencing. View "New Jersey v. Zuber" on Justia Law

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What began as a fight between two students, C.W. and D.W., ended in the death of one of them. N.H., who was seventeen years old at the time, attended the fight to support his friend, D.W. N.H. allegedly grabbed a handgun from another individual and shot C.W. four times, including once in the back of the head. A video captured parts of the incident, and several witnesses made statements to the police that implicated N.H. N.H. also spoke to the police and said that he had shot only at the ground. At oral argument before the New Jersey Supreme Court, the State explained that it had not disclosed certain items in its possession which it did not intend to rely on at the waiver hearing. Those materials included additional witness statements, other police reports, and other videos of the event taken from different angles. N.H. moved for full discovery before the waiver hearing, and the trial court granted the request. The court analogized the filing of a juvenile complaint to the filing of a criminal indictment, which would trigger full discovery under Rule 3:13-3(b). The trial court stayed its order pending the outcome of the State's motion for leave to appeal. The Appellate Division affirmed the trial court's order. The issue raised by the State's appeal in this matter was whether a juvenile was entitled to full discovery when the State sought to waive jurisdiction and transfer a case from juvenile to adult court. The Supreme Court held the State is indeed required to disclose all discovery in its possession when it seeks to waive jurisdiction and transfer a case from juvenile to adult court. View "New Jersey in the Interest of N.H." on Justia Law

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In 2007, Camden police officers arrived at the scene of a shooting where they found the body of Edwin Torres on the sidewalk. Torres had suffered multiple gunshot wounds to the head and neck. An eyewitness identified defendant, who was a juvenile, as the shooter. Three days later, defendant Edwin Urbina surrendered, and, subsequently, he voluntarily elected to have his case transferred from the Family Part to the Law Division. In order to avoid an indictment for first-degree murder, defendant entered into a negotiated plea agreement, agreeing to proceed as an adult and plead guilty to one count of aggravated manslaughter in exchange for the State's recommendation of a sentence not to exceed seventeen and a half years' incarceration, subject to an eighty-five percent parole disqualifier and five years of post-release parole supervision. Nearly three years after his sentencing, defendant appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in accepting his guilty plea because the factual basis elicited for the plea indicated that he was asserting a complete defense to the charge. In a split decision, the Appellate Division affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence. The majority held that, although defendant testified to facts that raised the possibility of self-defense, when considered in light of the surrounding circumstances, his testimony did not constitute a contemporaneous claim of innocence requiring vacation of the plea. The Supreme Court reversed, however, finding that after defendant stated during the plea colloquy that he pulled his handgun after the victim and his cousin pulled their guns, and said "I ain't mean to kill him, your Honor. I just wanted to have him back up[,]" the trial court should have explored whether defendant was claiming he acted in self-defense. The Court found that the plea judge did not ensure that defendant truly understood the law of self-defense, including the requirement of a reasonable and honest belief in the necessity of using force, or that he understood that the State had the burden to disprove self-defense once asserted. "Absent such an inquiry on the record, it is unclear whether defendant's plea was truly knowing, intelligent, and voluntary." View "New Jersey v. Urbina" on Justia Law

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Defendant K.S. was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated and refusing to submit to a breath test. As he was being transported to the Watchung Borough police station, defendant struck and attempted to spit blood onto the arresting officer. In addition to the above offenses, defendant was charged and ultimately indicted for third-degree aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer, fourth-degree throwing bodily fluids at a law enforcement officer, third-degree resisting arrest, and fourth-degree criminal mischief. Following his indictment, defendant sought admission into the Pretrial Intervention Program (PTI). The PTI director recommended denial of defendant s PTI application because of the assaultive nature of the offense and because of defendant s pattern of past anti-social behavior. After denial of his PTI application, defendant filed a motion to compel admission claiming that the prosecutor failed to consider whether his bipolar disorder and mental illness contributed to his conduct. The trial court remanded the matter to the prosecutor for consideration of the medical report provided by defendant. The prosecutor responded by letter explaining that the report had been considered and confirming the denial of defendant s admission into PTI. The trial court subsequently denied defendant s motion, concluding that the denial of his PTI application was not an abuse of discretion. After his motion was denied, defendant entered into a negotiated plea agreement in which he agreed to plead guilty to the charges in exchange for the State s recommendation to dismiss the driving while intoxicated charge. The State also agreed to recommend a non-custodial probationary sentence, community service, and restitution. Defendant was sentenced in accordance with the plea agreement and later appealed, challenging the denial of his PTI application. Because the record included no admissions of conduct to support the truth of the allegations in defendant's dismissed adult charges and diverted and dismissed juvenile charges, those charges were not appropriate factors to be considered in deciding whether to admit defendant into PTI. The Supreme Court therefore reversed the Appellate Division and remanded the case to the prosecutor for reconsideration of defendant s eligibility for PTI. View "New Jersey v. K.S." on Justia Law

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The issue before the Supreme Court in this case was whether a thirteen-year-old's confession provided outside of the presence of his father should have been suppressed. After it was reported that thirteen-year-old A.W. sexually touched his five-year-old cousin K.P, A.W.'s father voluntarily brought him to the county child advocacy center for an interview. A.W. is bilingual, but because his father speaks very little English, the interview was conducted initially entirely in Spanish. A detective advised A.W. and his father of A.W.'s rights using a pre-printed juvenile rights form, written in Spanish. A.W. initially denied touching K.P. and blamed their other cousin J. At A.W.'s request, the detective permitted him to state what J. had said about touching K.P. in English, but then resumed the questioning in Spanish. Approximately twenty minutes into the interview, A.W. asked in English, "could I tell everything in private, like without my dad here, outside, it will be easier." The detective explained that to his father in Spanish. Although A.W.'s father immediately stood up to leave, the detective advised A.W.'s father that he would need to waive his right to be present during the interview before leaving and that he could return to the interview room at any time. A.W.'s father then signed the required parental waiver form without objection and left the interview room. Thereafter, A.W. continued to deny wrongdoing before eventually admitting that he had touched K.P. sexually. A.W. was charged as a juvenile with two counts of aggravated sexual assault. Considering the totality of the circumstances, A.W.'s father willingly and voluntarily left the interview room, the questioning comported with the highest standards of fundamental fairness and due process, and the confession was made knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily; the Supreme Court concluded A.W.'s confession was admissible. View "In the Interest of A.W." on Justia Law

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The issue before the Supreme Court centered on a decision by a county prosecutor to seek waiver of three juveniles, aged sixteen at the time of their offenses, to adult court for acts of delinquency that, as charged, were equivalent to aggravated assault, robbery, and second-degree conspiracy. A Family Part judge found probable cause that the juveniles committed the offenses but denied the waiver motion. The Appellate Division reversed, concluding that the Family Part overstepped its bounds. The case called into question the standard of review to be exercised by a court reviewing such motions for waiver. "An abuse of discretion review does not allow the court to substitute its judgment for that of the prosecutor. Rather, a review for abuse of discretion involves a limited but nonetheless substantive review to ensure that the prosecutor’s individualized decision about the juvenile before the court, as set forth in the statement of reasons, is not arbitrary or abusive of the considerable discretion allowed to the prosecutor by statute. Cursory or conclusory statements as justification for waiver will not suffice to allow the court to perform its review under the abuse of discretion standard because such statements provide no meaningful explanation of the prosecutor’s reasoning." Applying that standard, the Court held that in this case the prosecutor’s explanation in the Statements of Reasons lacked detail. The Court reversed and remanded this case for a more full explanation by the prosecutor according to the new standard outlined in the Court's opinion. View "State In the Interest of V.A." on Justia Law