In 2017, a 16-year-old boy was accused of raping an intoxicated 16-year-old girl at a house party in New Jersey. He allegedly filmed the encounter and shared it with his friends despite the victim repeatedly asking him to stop its distribution.
The prosecutors of the case called his actions “sophisticated and predatory” and moved for him to be tried as an adult instead of in the juvenile court system. But, in July 2018, a family court judge, James Troiano, denied the request on the grounds that he was from a good family, attended an excellent school, had terrific grades and was an Eagle Scout.
More about the case
Large chunks of Information about the case, including the defendant’s name, is sealed because he is a minor. However, court documents reveal additional details about the incident: The girl, referred to in documents as “Mary,” which is not her real name, was alleged to be visibly drunk at the party before the encounter. At some point, she and the defendant entered a darkened part of the house’s basement.
The appeal decision describes what happened next: “While on the sofa, a group of boys sprayed Febreze (a brand of household odour eliminators) on Mary’s bottom and slapped it with such force that the following day she had hand marks on her buttocks.”
Mary, who according to court documents had slurred speech and stumbled as she walked, entered a darkened part of the house’s basement with the defendant where the alleged assault took place.
Afterwards, the defendant left, and his friends found Mary on the floor, vomiting. She was eventually driven home by a friend’s mother.
“The following morning, Mary discussed with her mother her fear that sexual things had happened at the party. She did not understand how she could have gotten bruise marks on her body or how her clothing had torn,” the decision reads.
Mary and her family decided to press charges several months later after she learned that the defendant was sharing the video of the incident among their social circles despite telling her that there was no video.
The judge’s denial
In his reasoning, Judge James Troiano of Monmouth County Superior Court said the boy’s actions were not “predatory” or inline with rape. He classified conventional rape as “tradition[ally]” involving two or more males using a weapon to threaten a victim in an “abandon[ed] house,” “shed” or “shack” – circumstances not matching this alleged crime.
“He is clearly a candidate for not just college but probably for a good college,” Judge James Troiano of the Superior Court wrote of the 16-year-old defendant.
Dismissing his text messages as “just a 16-year-old kid saying stupid crap to his friends,” Troiano went on to question whether the victim and her family were made aware of the “devastating effects” pressing these charges would have on the accused boy’s life.
The appellate division reverts the judgement
The appeal claimed that Troiano “erred in denying the waiver motion because, in the process, he substituted his judgment for that of the prosecutor.”
The appeals court judges agreed, and their decision specifically cited Troiano’s mention of the boy’s background.
“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 applications.”
Social and political ramifications of the judgement
In an interview with CNN, criminal defence attorney, Joey Jackson said:
“From a legal perspective, the judge was wrong about the law. You don’t evaluate someone’s family, where they come from, who they are in the context of deciding whether something is appropriate for a higher court. Would it have been a felony crime if he were an adult – that’s the question. The social problem is what we all know about. If we’re going to have a system, it has to work for everyone otherwise people lose faith in it. Would this have happened if this was a person from a disadvantaged background, a person of colour? The answer is a resounding no. I want to ask the question – how many times where we’re not talking about it on the news – when as a matter of standard practice, judges throughout the country are making decisions predicated upon someone’s family and upon their background and not predicated upon the merits of their offence and what they deserve.”
Not a stand-alone case
In a separate but similar case – also from New Jersey – a judge found the alleged sexual assault of a 12-year-old girl by a 16-year-old boy was not “especially heinous or cruel.”
The families of both the victim and the accused were sharing a house for a few months, and before the alleged assault, the two were in a relationship. After smoking marijuana with friends, he allegedly assaulted the girl as she returned home from summer school.
He was wearing a condom when he pushed the girl into a bedroom and “penetrated her with force,” despite her objections, according to the appellate ruling. The accused who allegedly spit in an officer’s face when he was arrested, claimed the encounter was consensual.
Here also, the appellate division reversed the judge’s decision to not try a 16-year-old boy as an adult.
The second family court judge, Marcia Silva, 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.
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