On June 11, 2020, the New Jersey Supreme Court decided the Morris County case of State v. J.V. The principal issue under N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-26.1 was whether the new juvenile waiver statute applied retroactively to juveniles who were sentenced before the statute became effective.
Justice Timpone wrote for a unanimous Court in relevant part: Seventeen-year-old J.V. attempted to take a man’s cellphone and, during the ensuing struggle, stabbed the victim nine times. The police charged J.V. with acts of delinquency which, if committed by an adult, would have constituted attempted murder, armed robbery, and weapons offenses. The State filed a motion to transfer jurisdiction from the Superior Court’s Family Part to the Criminal Part to try J.V. as an adult under the then-existing, but now repealed, juvenile waiver statute, N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-26(a), under which the Legislature tasked the Attorney General (AG) with developing guidelines for prosecutors to follow when seeking to waive a juvenile to adult court.
Following the AG Guidelines, the prosecutor filed a statement of reasons listing certain factors supporting waiving J.V. to adult court. After conducting the waiver hearing, the Family Part judge granted the State’s motion to transfer jurisdiction. J.V.’s counsel made an application for bail, arguing that J.V. had an IQ of 58, had been in special education classes for the majority of his life, and had attempted suicide six times while detained in the juvenile detention center. The Family Part judge denied the requested bail and entered an order waiving jurisdiction on October 23, 2013.
Once in adult court, on June 17, 2015, J.V. entered guilty pleas to attempted murder and armed robbery and the State agreed to recommend concurrent eighteen-year prison terms, subject to the No Early Release Act. On the heels of J.V.’s guilty pleas, the Legislature repealed the juvenile waiver statute, replacing it with Section 26.1. L. 2015, c. 89, §§ 1-7. It codified the AG Guidelines, mandating supplementary factors for prosecutors to consider when seeking to waive a juvenile to adult court, including: the juvenile’s age and maturity, the juvenile’s need for special education classes, the juvenile’s mental health status, and the juvenile’s history of substance abuse and/or emotional instability. N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-26.1(c)(3)(d), 2 (e), and (j). Section 26.1 was not made effective immediately, but instead, became effective on March 1, 2016.
On paper, it reads like the plea offer that J.V. accepted probably should have been rejected in favor of a trial. Even if the proofs were very strong, the maximum sentence for a first-degree crime is 20 years. With one victim and one altercation, it seems very unlikely that the defendant was exposed to consecutive sentences for the separate crimes.