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July 3, 2019

Spotlighting challenges at intersection of trying kids as adults and sexual offenses

The decision to try a juvenile offender as an adult often serves as a kind of sentencing decision. That reality, plus the always wrought policy and politics surrounding sex offenses, leads me to be interested in reactions to this new New York Times piece headlined "Teenager Accused of Rape Deserves Leniency Because He’s From a ‘Good Family,’ Judge Says." Here are excerpts from the lengthy front-page story:

The 16-year-old girl was visibly intoxicated, her speech slurred, when a drunk 16-year-old boy sexually assaulted her in a dark basement during an alcohol-fueled pajama party in New Jersey, prosecutors said.

The boy filmed himself penetrating her from behind, her torso exposed, her head hanging down, prosecutors said. He later shared the cellphone video among friends, investigators said, and sent a text that said, “When your first time having sex was rape.”

But a family court judge said it wasn’t rape. Instead, he wondered aloud if it was sexual assault, defining rape as something reserved for an attack at gunpoint by strangers.  He also said the young man came from a good family, attended an excellent school, had terrific grades and was an Eagle scout.  Prosecutors, the judge said, should have explained to the girl and her family that pressing charges would destroy the boy’s life.

So he denied prosecutors’ motion to try the 16-year-old as an adult. “He is clearly a candidate for not just college but probably for a good college,” Judge James Troiano of Superior Court said last year in a two-hour decision while sitting in Monmouth County.

Now the judge has been sharply rebuked by an appeals court in a scathing 14-page ruling that warned the judge against showing bias toward privileged teenagers.  In doing so, the appeals court cleared the way for the case to be moved from family court to a grand jury, where the teenager, identified only as G.M.C. in court documents, will be treated as an adult. New Jersey law allows juveniles as young as 15 to be tried as adults when accused of serious crimes, and the grand jury will weigh whether to indict him on the sexual assault accusation.

In recent years, judges across the country have come under fire for the way they have handled sexual abuse cases. One of the most notorious was in 2016, when a judge in California sentenced a Stanford University student to six months in jail after he was found guilty of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman.  After an intense public backlash, California voters recalled the judge.

Judge Troiano, who is roughly 70, was one of two family court judges whom appeals courts in New Jersey have criticized in recent weeks over relatively similar issues.

In the other case, the appellate division reversed another judge’s decision not to try a 16-year-old boy as an adult after he was accused of sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl in 2017.  The second family court judge, Marcia Silva, sitting in Middlesex County, denied a motion to try the teenager as an adult and said that “beyond losing her virginity, the State did not claim that the victim suffered any further injuries, either physical, mental or emotional.”

The appellate judges also upbraided Judge Silva, overturning her decision and noting that the teenager could be culpable because the 12-year-old was not old enough to provide consent in the first place.

The judge in Monmouth County, Mr. Troiano, was scolded by the appellate court, according to the panel’s decision.  “That the juvenile came from a good family and had good test scores we assume would not condemn the juveniles who do not come from good families and do not have good test scores from withstanding waiver application,” the panel wrote in its decision.

Family court cases are typically closed to the public, but the judges’ comments surfaced in June when the appeals court decisions were made public, joining a series of contentious sexual assault cases that have ignited outrage over a legal system that advocates for victims say is warped by bias and privilege.

In the first case, heard by Judge Troiano, it is unclear from court documents when and specifically where in New Jersey the incident involving the two 16-year-olds took place. But prosecutors said it occurred during a party packed with 30 other teenagers.  The case was highlighted by a New Jersey radio station, 101.5....

In an interview, Christopher J. Gramiccioni, the county prosecutor said, “This is conduct that should be punished in adult court.” “We subscribe to the idea that the juvenile system is supposed to be rehabilitative,” he said.  “But when you’re dealing with charges as serious as these, it’s a whole different ball of wax.”...

Mr. Gramiccioni said New Jersey has a progressive juvenile system: Juvenile cases are not shown to juries, juvenile records are kept from public view and sentences are typically more lenient than when a person is tried as an adult.  A recent law made it illegal to try defendants younger than 15 as adults.

July 3, 2019 at 11:46 AM | Permalink


We'll, if it wasn't for the fact that being tried as an adult would certainly result in this 16 year old boy being branded a sex offender for life I would say try him as an adult. However, any sex offense in our country results, very often, in the most punitive sentence compared to many other countries, and many other crimes in our nation. I wonder...what role did internet pornography play in this boy's indoctrination into sex? Please don't try and accuse me of making excuses for this boy's offense. He clearly violated this girl and the laws of our land. Still I can't help but ask the question...should our courts, our society penalize this teen for life?

Posted by: tommyc | Jul 4, 2019 9:45:39 AM

There are so many ways at looking at these cases. Most Judges are biased, incompetent or just plain ignorant of the facts. Teenagers need to be held responsible for their actions and with proper parenting this they will learn. First, don't put yourself in a compromising position. Second, why were under age juvenile's intoxicated? What adult supplied them with drinks?

Here is a case, give your opinion: A young father was given custody of his daughter who was being abused by the mothers boyfriend. The Court gave visiting rights to mother & grandmother (in another state) with supervision. The girl spent summers and holidays visiting maternal side of family in another state. When the girl would return to Father's home, she was difficult and belligerent. During the years that passed, the mother had a son with the boyfriend that abused her daughter. The mother was diagnosed as Manic Depressive / Bi-Polar, when the girl came into puberty we knew she had a problem, she changed so abruptly and wanted to live with her mother. Before we could get a diagnosis of her problem she accused her Father of sexual assault with help from her step mother. Who by the way, had to have a paternity test in which she paid for to prove who the Father was. She used this young girl to get out of a unhappy situation to be with her new lover. Short and to the point - the Father has been deprived of his children to raise properly. The young girl's mother is involved with the dark side, the mother's "partner" is a transgender and the children don't know where they stand. The girl thinks she is a lesbian and the brother doesn't know what name to use. As far as the Father, he finally got to see his son by accident after 14 years. By the way, he was brain washed by his mother, grandmother & step dad. What a mess for the human race!

Posted by: LC in Texas | Jul 4, 2019 2:37:09 PM

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