The New Jersey Supreme Court concluded with the following in relevant part: The Court is unpersuaded by arguments that the statute’s delayed implementation date is likely attributable to the need to collect and report data or to afford time to address the housing of juvenile inmates. There is nothing in Section 26.1 to support that the Legislature deliberately delayed the implementation of the statute for those reasons. The Court will not wade into the murky waters of speculation and conjecture to ascertain the Legislature’s intent when the language of the statute is unequivocal.
The Court is also not convinced by the argument that Section 26.1(c)(3) should apply retroactively given the Appellate Division’s decision in State in Interest of J.F., 446 N.J. Super. 39 (App. Div. 2016). In J.F., the Family Part judge denied the State’s motion to waive J.F., a fourteen-year-old juvenile accused of murder, to adult court. Id. at 41-42, 50-51. At the time of the court’s decision, the Legislature had enacted Section 26.1, which raised the minimum age eligibility requirement for juvenile waivers from fourteen years old to fifteen years old, but the court applied the previous waiver statute in denying the State’s motion. See id. at 41-42, 50-52. The Appellate Division upheld the Family Part judge’s decision to deny the State’s waiver motion but did so after finding that Section 26.1’s age provision was entitled to retroactive application because it was ameliorative. Id. at 52-57.
Unlike the juvenile in J.F., J.V. was waived to adult court, pled guilty, and was sentenced all before Section 26.1 became effective. In other words, when Section 26.1 became effective, J.V.’s proceedings before the juvenile and adult courts were over. The juvenile in J.F., however, was never waived to adult court and had pending proceedings in the juvenile court both before and after Section 26.1 became effective. Said another way, Section 26.1 cannot apply to J.V. because he was waived to adult court years before the statute became effective.
Because J.V. cannot overcome the presumption of prospective application of Section 26.1, the Court does not address the parties’ Savings Statute arguments. The lower court’s decision is reversed and the case is remanded to the Appellate Division.
Describing the relevant language of the statute as “unequivocal” is a bit of a slight to the appellate division panel that reached the opposite result. Upon remand, the Appellate Division will address the “Savings Statute” arguments and the decision on that issue will likely be appealed again to the New Jersey Supreme Court.