Trenton - Assemblywoman Bettylou DeCroce (R-26) joined state Sen. Kristin Corrado (R-40) and other Legislators today, demanding a new level of training for the state’s Superior Court judges regarding the physical, emotional and long-time damage suffered by victims of sexual assault.
"It is the least that can be done to insure that the administration of justice in New Jersey is not so callously focused on the rights of the accused that the rights of victims are dismissed or ignored,” said Assemblywoman DeCroce.
The demand for action follows revelations that two Superior Court judges, reviewing unrelated sexual assault cases against teen boys in two separate counties, were highly dismissive of the seriousness of the sexual attacks involved, as both judges rebuffed efforts by local prosecutors to have the juveniles brought to trial as adults. In one case, a 16-year-old boy was charged with physically forcing a 12-year-old girl to have sex. In the other case, a 16-year-old boy was accused of videoing himself having sex with a 16-year-old girl, who prosecutors said was incapacitated after drinking too much at a house party, and then sharing the video with friends.
In both of the troubling court cases, one in Middlesex County and the other in Monmouth County, prosecutors appealed the trial court rulings and were victorious.
“We are fortunate that the judicial system worked and that an appellate court flagged each of these egregious rulings by judges, who seem oblivious to the seriousness of sexual assaults as well as the damaging, long-term effects sexual abuse can have particularly on children,” said Assemblywoman DeCroce. “The fact that we have two judges in two separate counties demonstrating such insensitivity demands that the state Administration Office of the Courts and the state Supreme Court take immediate steps to retrain judges handling not only juvenile court matters, but all cases involving allegations of sexual abuse — even in civil court."
Superior Court judges handling juvenile matters are required, by law, to carefully weigh a juvenile’s likelihood for rehabilitation and the seriousness of the accusations against the juvenile before agreeing to the extraordinary step of allowing the juvenile to be prosecuted as an adult and face an adult sentencing upon conviction. However, in the two cases at issue here, an appeals court panel found that the judges seemed to advocate for the young men accused of sexual assault by diminishing the seriousness of the attacks. In the case of the victim who was videotaped, the male judge highlighted the fact the accused juvenile had an impeccable school record and came from a privileged family. In the case of the 12-year-old victim, a female judge ruled that prosecutors showed little evidence the victim suffered any harm "beyond losing her virginity."
Requiring training seminars on sexual assault should not cause any logistical issues for the state court system or require the expenditure of any more tax dollars, said Assemblywoman DeCroce, noting that Superior Court judges are routinely required to undergo continuing legal education and seminars designed to sensitize them to community concerns and changing aspects of the law.