In the Interest of V.A.

NJDC joined the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, Rutgers Urban Legal Clinic—Rutgers School of Law, Juvenile Law Center, the ACLU of New Jersey, and several other interested organizations in filing a brief to the New Jersey Supreme Court, focusing on N.J.S.A. 2A:4A 26, that permits the transfer of 16-17 year old youth to the adult system upon motion of the prosecutor, and asking the Court to reverse the judgment of the New Jersey Appellate Division, which adopted a “patent and gross abuse of discretion,” a standard for judicial review of prosecutorial waiver motions. The lower court had found that the juvenile court retains review authority over prosecutorial decisions to seek waiver of children from juvenile to criminal court.

In their brief, amici asserted that the New Jersey statute was unconstitutional as applied because it deprived appellants of individualized consideration mandated by Kent v. United States, violated their due process rights under the United States and New Jersey Constitutions, and also violated the separation of powers clause of the New Jersey Constitution. Further, amici pointed out that laws that expose young people to adult prosecution and imprisonment are inconsistent with recent United States Supreme Court jurisprudence demanding differential treatment of youth due to their developmental status. The brief also raised a critical issue posed by waiver laws whereby minority youth are waived to the adult system disproportionately and suffer disparate rates of incarceration and collateral consequences of conviction. Amici urged the Court to reverse the judgment and remand the matter to the juvenile court.

On September 12, 2012, in an exciting victory, the Supreme Court of New Jersey held that judicial review of a prosecutor’s decision to transfer a juvenile to adult criminal court is governed by the abuse of discretion standard rather than the patent and gross abuse of discretion standard, giving judges greater ability to review prosecutorial waiver decisions. The Court held that the abuse of discretion standard provides appropriate deference to the prosecutor’s decision to seek waiver while simultaneously acting to curb the potential for arbitrariness and abuse of that discretion. This decision will allow the court to provide “a limited but nonetheless substantive review to ensure that the prosecutor’s individualized decision about the juvenile . . . is not arbitrary or abusive of the considerable discretion allowed to the prosecutor by statute.”

Court: Supreme Court of New Jersey
: January 9, 2012 (download .pdf)
Amicus Brief Discusses: Adolescent Development; Prosecutorial Discretion; Transfer

Oral Argument: April 24, 2012 (view video)
Decision: September 12, 2012 (download .pdf)