In two recent New Jersey cases, courts addressed important public interests related to the juvenile justice system.
In April, the New Jersey Supreme Court, In re State ex rel. C.K., (2018), ruled that the New Jersey Constitution was violated by a statute that permanently barred juveniles found delinquent of certain sex offenses from seeking relief from the registration and community notification provisions of Megan’s law. Although adjudicated juveniles are required to register as sex offenders, they are permitted to have a hearing after 15 years to determine if they have been “offense-free and not likely to pose a societal risk.” The Court recognized that “[o]ur laws and jurisprudence recognize that juveniles are different from adults—that juveniles are not fully formed, that they are still developing and maturing, that their mistakes and wrongdoing are often the result of facts related to their youth and… rehabilitation and reformation of the juvenile remain a hallmark of the juvenile system.” The Court found that the 15-year look-back period provides sufficient safeguards against the commission of an additional offense.
In an unpublished Appellate Division case, State of New Jersey in the Interest of C.G. (App. Div. May 31, 2018), a juvenile appealed a sentence which required that he register as a sex offender. He argued that the statutory ban on jury trials in juvenile matters violated his constitutional rights. The Appellate court denied the appeal, noting the distinction between the state’s adult and juvenile systems. Since the juvenile system is focused on rehabilitation and reformation of the juvenile, a jury trial would deprive the juvenile system of its “flexibility” to achieve its policy goals.
With these recent developments, it is clear that the rights of juveniles in New Jersey will continue to present constitutional and public interest challenges.
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