N.J. high court sets higher bar for youth

The ruling will make it more difficult for prosecutors to try young people in adult court.

Posted: September 13, 2012

TRENTON - A sharply divided New Jersey Supreme Court on Wednesday made it harder for prosecutors to try juvenile defendants in adult court.

The high court's 3-2 ruling stemmed from a case in which three juveniles were accused of beating and robbing a Woodbridge man in 2009.

The majority concluded the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office didn't adequately show that trying the three in adult court - which would subject them to longer sentences if convicted - was necessary for deterrence.

"The deterrence factor was addressed with a curt statement, announced in conclusory fashion, that 'the need to deter the juvenile and others from engaging in this sort of activity is abundantly clear,' " according to the majority opinion written by Justice Jaynee LaVecchia. "That explanation failed to explain how deterrence of the particular individual, and of others generally, is served by waiving each of these juveniles to adult criminal proceedings."

Chief Justice Stuart Rabner and Justice Barry T. Albin joined in the majority opinion.

A Family Court judge had ruled that the decision to waive the juveniles constituted a "patent and gross abuse of discretion," but an appeals court had reversed that ruling and sided with the Prosecutor's Office.

In Wednesday's ruling, the Supreme Court majority lowered the standard for review, writing that in waiver hearings in Family Court, juveniles need prove only that prosecutors committed an abuse of discretion, and not a "patent and gross" abuse, to avoid being waived through to adult court.

The ruling affects defendants 16 and older.

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