The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled today that the State must adhere to a stricter standard when seeking to transfer a juvenile 16 or older to adult criminal court. In deciding State in the Interest of V.A., the Court held that given the “serious consequences for the juvenile who is waived up to adult proceedings . . . cursory or conclusory statements . . . will not suffice because such statements provide no meaningful explanation of the prosecutor’s reasoning.” The Court further found that the prosecutor offered an “inadequate” explanation as to how trying the juvenile in adult criminal court rather than juvenile court would deter the youth in question from committing future crimes. The decision can be found here.
V.A. challenged the process for transferring 16 and 17-year-olds to the adult system. Currently, the State may seek transfer in certain cases by filing a “statement of reasons” for the request. The local prosecutor sought transfer of V.A. based on a pro forma statement of reasons. The juvenile court denied the motion, asserting that it failed to provide an adequate factual basis for transfer. The Appellate Division reversed, and the Supreme Court granted certification.
“In its mandate that prosecutors consider the individual circumstances of the young person for whom they seek waiver, this decision will have an enormous impact on the waiver process,” said Clinical Professor Laura Cohen, Rutgers School of Law–Newark Urban Legal Clinic. “Young people who are waived are more likely to commit suicide and suffer physical and sexual abuse while in custody, and to re-offend after release, than similarly-situated youth who remain in the juvenile system. Given the devastating consequences of waiver, the higher standard of review that the Court announced today is both welcome and important.”
Cohen argued the case and co-wrote the amicus brief on behalf of a large consortium of state and national youth advocacy and criminal defense organizations, including the ACLU of New Jersey, the New Jersey Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and Advocates for Children of New Jersey, among others.