State Of New Jersey In The Interest Of A.C., A-5308-10T4; Appellate Division; opinion by Reisner, J.A.D.; decided and approved for publication February 15, 2012. Before Judges Payne, Reisner and Hayden. On appeal from the Chancery Division, Family Part, Monmouth County. D.D.S. No. 14-2-5241 [5 pp.]
By leave granted, A.C., a juvenile, appeals from the decision of the Family Part denying his application for a jury trial on charges that, if he were adjudicated as an adult, would constitute first-degree aggravated sexual assault, and second-degree sexual assault. He contends that N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-40 is unconstitutional in denying juvenile offenders the right to a jury trial.
Held: N.J.S.A. 2A:4A:40, the provision of the Code of Juvenile Justice that denies the right to a jury trial in adjudications under the Juvenile Code, is constitutional. The application of Megan’s Law to juvenile sex offenders does not give rise to a jury trial right for juveniles accused of sex offenses.
The Appellate Division is bound by the decisions of the New Jersey Supreme Court in State in the Interest of J.W., and In Re Registrant J.G., and by the United States Supreme Court’s decision in McKeiver v. Pennsylvania , all of which hold that juveniles are not constitutionally entitled to a jury trial in the juvenile court’s adjudicative stage. In J.G. , the Court specifically reaffirmed that there are fundamental differences between the state’s adult and juvenile adjudication systems. Those differences underlay the J.G. Court’s decision to limit Megan’s Law registration as it applied to juveniles younger than 14, as a matter of statutory interpretation harmonizing Megan’s Law with the New Jersey Code of Juvenile Justice (Juvenile Code).
Significantly, in his reply brief, A.C. eschews the statutory right that he does have to elect waiver of his case to adult court, where he would have the right to a jury trial. As he phrases it, choosing trial as an adult would “up the stakes” from four years in a juvenile facility to 20 years in prison. That starkly illustrates an important distinction between the adult and juvenile justice systems. Although A.C. argues that the Juvenile Code is now so similar to the adult Criminal Code as to require jury trials for juveniles, which the appellate panel rejects, he also argues that the application of Megan’s Law to juvenile offenders triggers a constitutional jury trial right for juveniles charged with sex offenses.
A.C.’s constitutional arguments are at odds with the Supreme Court’s holding in Doe v. Poritz , that Megan’s Law is not a criminal statute and sex offender registration is not “punishment.” In J.G. , the Court extended that holding to Megan’s Law as applied to juvenile offenders, although it limited the registration requirement as a matter of statutory construction. Again, the Appellate Division is bound by the Court’s holdings in Doe and J.G.
In his brief, A.C. cites several scholarly articles documenting what A.C. contends are unintended, counterproductive results of applying Megan’s Law to juvenile offenders. In particular, these articles discuss the barriers that lifetime registration may pose to a juvenile’s chances at rehabilitation and a normal life. However, whether to modify Megan’s Law, in light of current information about its impact on juvenile offenders, is a policy decision for the Legislature.
— By Debra McLoughlin
For appellant — Michael Chazen and Marsha L. Levick (The Juvenile Law Center) of the Pennsylvania bar, admitted pro hac vice, attorneys for appellant A.C. (Mr. Chazen and Ms. Levick, on the brief). For the state of New Jersey — Peter E. Warshaw, Jr., Monmouth County Prosecutor, (Mary R. Juliano, Assistant Prosecutor, of counsel and on the brief).
For amicus curiae Attorney General of New Jersey, Jeffrey S. Chiesa, Attorney General, (Brian Uzdavinis, Deputy Attorney General, of counsel and on the brief).