State of New Jersey in the Interest of A.D., A-122 September Term 2010; majority opinion by Patterson, J., dissent by Albin, J.; decided September 20, 2012. On appeal from the Superior Court, Appellate Division, 420 N.J. Super. 144 (2011) D.D.S. No. 14-1-7724 [35 pp.]
The court considers N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-26, which authorizes waiver of family court jurisdiction over the prosecution of juveniles who are fourteen years old or older for certain offenses and referral of those juveniles to adult criminal court, on motion of the prosecutor. For such juveniles, waiver requires a finding by the trial court, after a hearing, that there is “probable cause” to believe that the juvenile committed a delinquent act which if committed by an adult would constitute one of a list of serious crimes in the waiver statute. Pursuant to a 2000 amendment to the statute, juveniles who are sixteen or seventeen years of age at the time of their offenses, and charged with enumerated crimes, are not entitled to present evidence that the prospect of rehabilitation substantially outweighs the reasons supporting waiver. The probable cause finding is thus a pivotal step in the waiver application.
This case arises from a shooting in which one victim was killed and one seriously injured, allegedly by a group of men led by the father of A.D. #1, one of the juvenile defendants. The father is alleged to be a leader in the Latin Kings street gang. The incident followed a fight in which A.D. #1 and the other juvenile defendant, A.D. #2, were beaten by an uncle of A.D. #2 and others. According to the prosecution, the two juveniles, motivated by a desire for revenge, contacted A.D. #1′s father and participated in a conspiracy to murder A.D. #2′s uncle and others, precipitating an assault in which the targeted uncle was unhurt, but another uncle of A.D. #2 was killed and A.D. #2′s mother was wounded.
The seventeen-year-old juveniles were charged with murder, aggravated assault, conspiracy and attempted murder, among other offenses. Because the murder and aggravated assault offenses are listed in the waiver statute, the state asked the trial court to waive Family Part jurisdiction over the juveniles upon a showing of probable cause. The trial court denied the prosecution’s application to waive the juveniles into adult criminal court, concluding the state had not demonstrated probable cause under the waiver statute. The court found “no evidence” that the two juveniles understood that their response to the fight would lead to murder.
The Appellate Division reversed, holding that the trial court had committed several legal errors in its application of the probable cause standard. The Supreme Court granted defendants’ motions for leave to appeal.
Held: The evidence presented at the probable cause hearing, combined with reasonable inferences to be drawn from that evidence, leads to a well-grounded suspicion or belief that the juveniles committed one or more crimes enumerated in the waiver statute, satisfying the “probable cause” standard of the statute, and requiring waiver of the juveniles to adult criminal court.
In this appeal, the court addresses the standards to be applied by Family Part judges in determining whether the prosecutor demonstrated probable cause to believe that a juvenile committed a serious crime requiring waiver to adult court for prosecution, and whether the trial court erred in failing to find probable cause.
The court reaffirms its holding in State v. J.M. that probable cause for purposes of the waiver statute is “a well-grounded suspicion or belief that the juvenile committed the alleged crime.” The court further holds that the probable cause standard that governs waiver of juvenile complaints into adult criminal court is similar to the standard that guides a grand jury’s determination whether to indict. If the trial court finds that the state presented evidence which, combined with reasonable inferences to be drawn from that evidence, leads to a well-grounded suspicion or belief that the juvenile committed a crime enumerated in the statute, the probable cause standard of N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-26 is satisfied.
The court finds that the trial court’s determination that the state failed to demonstrate probable cause was premised upon errors of law. The trial court disregarded almost all of the evidence presented by the state at the probable cause hearing. The trial court ignored the state’s primary theory of the case, that of vicarious liability. Instead of evaluating the totality of the evidence, the trial court selected a narrow portion of the testimony that it deemed supportive of the juveniles’ potential trial defenses of renunciation and duress. While these potentially dispositive defenses could properly be considered in the trial court’s determination of the waiver application, any defenses must be reviewed in the context of a fair evaluation of all of the evidence. That was not done here. The trial court failed to analyze the record under the standard of probable cause.
The Court concludes the evidence presented at the probable cause hearing and the reasonable inferences derived from that evidence give rise to a well-grounded suspicion or belief that both A.D. #1 and A.D. #2 committed the offenses charged. This is particularly true in light of the law of conspiracy, the test for accomplice liability and the doctrine of transferred intent.
The court finds that the trial court improperly denied the state’s application for waiver of both juveniles into adult criminal court under N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-26. The judgment of the Appellate Division is affirmed and the matter is remanded to the trial court.
Justice Albin, dissenting, believes that in failing to defer to the family court’s determination, and instead making its own independent findings that there is sufficient evidence to support the state’s argument favoring probable cause, the majority deprives the two defendant juveniles of “all the protective and rehabilitative possibilities available to the Family Part.”
Chief Justice Rabner and Justices LaVecchia and Hoens join in Justice Patterson‘s opinion. Justice Albin filed a separate, dissenting opinion. Judge Wefing (temporarily assigned) did not participate.
For appellant A.D. (1) — Lon C. Taylor, Assistant Deputy Public Defender (Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney). For appellant A.D. (2) — Robert G. Gerage. For respondent State of New Jersey — Nancy A. Hulett (Bruce J. Kaplan, Middlesex County Prosecutor, attorney). For amicus curiae American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey Foundation — Lawrence S. Lustberg (Gibbons, Edward L. Barocas, attorneys; Mr. Lustberg, Mr. Barocas, Eileen M. Connor, Jeanne M. LoCicero, and Alexander R. Shalom, on the