TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — A divided state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that county prosecutors must adhere to a higher standard when they seek to try juvenile defendants in adult court.
The 3-2 ruling by the high court stems from a case in which three juveniles were accused of beating and robbing a Woodbridge man in 2009.
The majority concluded that the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office didn't adequately show that trying the three in adult court was necessary for deterrence.
"The deterrence factor was addressed with a curt statement, announced in conclusory fashion, that '(t)he need to deter the juvenile and others from engaging in this sort of activity is abundantly clear,'" the justices wrote. "That explanation failed to explain how deterrence of the particular individual, and of others generally, is served by waiving each of these juveniles to adult criminal proceedings."
A Family Court judge had ruled that the decision to waive the juveniles constituted a "patent and gross abuse of discretion," but an appeals court reversed and sided with the prosecutor's office.
In Wednesday's ruling, the Supreme Court majority lowered the standard for review by writing that juveniles need only prove that prosecutors committed an abuse of discretion, and not a "patent and gross" abuse, to avoid being waived.
In a dissenting opinion, Justice Helen Hoens and Justice Anne Patterson concluded that guidelines developed by the state attorney general's office "leave little room for arbitrary decisions by individual prosecutors" and that the "patent and gross abuse of discretion" standard should remain.
The ruling will affect juvenile defendants over 16. In 2000, amendments to state law eliminated the opportunity for those defendants who were charged with the most serious offenses to show to the Family Court that they could be rehabilitated by the age of 19 through programs available in the juvenile justice system, according to Wednesday's opinion.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.