The Juvenile Waive Statute and Retroactivity (Part 2)

by | Jan 14, 2021 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

Juvenile Delinquency

Justice Timpone continued in relevant part: On September 18, 2015, the trial court sentenced J.V. in accordance with his plea deal. J.V. appealed, arguing that Section 26.1 should apply to him retroactively because of the ameliorative nature of the new waiver statute and that he therefore was entitled to a new waiver hearing. The Appellate Division agreed and remanded for a new waiver hearing.

The language of Section 26.1 is plain and unambiguous. It became effective years after J.V. was waived to adult court. The Court concludes the Legislature intended the statute to apply prospectively to those juvenile waiver hearings conducted after the statute became effective. The statute does not apply to J.V. Generally, new criminal statutes are presumed to have solely prospective application. The Court has recognized three exceptions to the presumption of prospective application of a new law to warrant affording that law retroactive application: (1) the Legislature provided for retroactivity expressly, either in the language of the statute itself or its legislative history, or implicitly, by requiring retroactive effect to “make the statute workable or to give it the most sensible interpretation”; (2) “the statute is ameliorative or curative”; or (3) the parties’ expectations warrant retroactive application. Gibbons v. Gibbons, 86 N.J. 515, 522-23 (1981). But courts look to those exceptions only in instances “where there is no clear expression of intent by the Legislature that the statute is to be prospectively applied only.” Id. at 522.

Based on the plain and unambiguous language of the statute, the Court finds that the Legislature intended to afford Section 26.1(c)(3) only prospective application to those juvenile waiver proceedings conducted after the statute’s effective date. When enacting Section 26.1, the Legislature — in deliberate terms — made the statute effective seven months after its enactment. The Legislature’s postponement of Section 26.1’s effective date is akin to a legislative flare, signaling to the Judiciary that prospective application is intended. Because it finds the Legislature clearly intended to afford Section 26.1 prospective application only, the Court does not consider the exceptions to the presumption of prospective application of a new statute.

The issue of retroactive application occurs is raised regularly in our appellate courts. A lot of judicial resources would be saved if the Legislature was required to expressly state their intention in enacting a statute.