Our last blog entry briefly recounted the story of an Atlantic County man who made a terrible mistake as a juvenile in 1991, but then saw prosecutors successfully petition to have his case waived into the adult court system. Today, we’d like to turn that discussion on juvenile crimes to a recent New Jersey Supreme Court ruling that should make it harder for prosecutors in the state to do the same thing in future cases.

In any event, the essence of the court’s 3-2 split decision, which specifically applies to juveniles who are 16 or older, is as follows: A) Prosecutors will now have to provide specific evidence that waiving a juvenile’s case from family court into the adult court system will serve as a deterrent to further crimes; and B) Judges will now have the discretion to turn down waiver requests if they determine there has been an “abuse” of prosecutorial discretion — a much lower standard than the “patent and gross abuse of discretion” standard used previously.

The story behind the Sept. 12 decision started with a 2009 robbery and assault in Woodbridge Township. Four teens were later held in connection that incident and were charged with offenses that could have earned each of them up to10 years incarceration with the state’s Juvenile Justice Commission. Not content with that, prosecutors asked the family court judge to waive the cases into the adult court system where the teens could face up to 30 years in prison if convicted.

After the judge denied the waiver requests (each of which was comprised of only a short statement that included no specific details about the case or the teens) — prosecutors appealed and convinced the appellate panel to overrule the family court’s decision on grounds that the judge had not given enough deference to the prosecutors.

In overruling the appellate court decision and sending the cases back to family court for further proceedings, the 3-judge majority in the split decision said that it was almost inconceivable that prosecutors “would not also weave in the consideration of the juvenile’s past history of behavior” when requesting waivers on juvenile offenses.

Source: NorthJersey.com, “N.J. Supreme Court ruling makes it harder to try kids as adults,” Anthony Campisi, Sept. 12, 2012