A state Superior Court judge in South Jersey is under fire after denying the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office a waiver to elevate a rape case involving a 16-year-old student – accused of raping an intoxicated girl, filming the assault and sending the video to his friends – to adult court.
Judge James Troiano shot down the prosecutor’s request in part because he said the accused rapist “comes from a good family” and is destined “for a good college.”
An appeals court ruling excoriated Superior Court Judge James Troiano last month for denying the request and warned the judge against showing leniency to juveniles of privilege. The appellate ruling raised the question of what such judicial reasoning would mean for “juveniles who do not come from good families and do not have good test scores.”
Had the 16-year-old boy, identified as G.M.C. in the case, been tried as an adult, he would have faced counts of first-degree aggravated sexual assault, second-degree sexual assault, third-degree endangering the welfare of a child and two counts of third-degree invasion of privacy. He would have had to register as a sex offender, reports NBC News.
According to the appeals court ruling, G.M.C. allegedly filmed himself with a girl, “Mary,” who was also 16 at the time (in 2017), in a closed off, dark basement and then sent the clip to friends with a text: “[w]hen your first time having sex was rape.”
The two had both been intoxicated at the “pajama-themed” party, where approximately 30 adolescents were said to have been in attendance, according to court documents. “Her speech was slurred, and she stumbled as she walked,” the ruling said.
“While on the sofa, a group of boys sprayed Febreze on Mary’s bottom and slapped it with such force that the following day she had hand marks on her buttocks,” documents state. “Mary and G.M.C. had intercourse in the darkened room. G.M.C. filmed himself penetrating Mary from behind on his cell phone, displaying her bare torso, and her head hanging down. He forwarded the clip to several friends; only one said it showed Mary’s head hitting repeatedly against the wall.”
Prosecutors said that during the sexual assault, the door to the basement gym was blocked by a foosball table, and the lights were turned off.
“[G.M.C.’s] conduct as it relates to the charged offenses was both sophisticated and predatory. He was aware of the off-limits areas in advance of the party,” prosecutors said, adding that “filming a cellphone video while committing the assault was a deliberate act of debasement.”
NBC News reports:
Following the alleged assault, others at the party checked on Mary and found her on the floor vomiting.
She was driven home by a friend’s mother, and told her mother the next morning that she feared “sexual things had happened at the party,” the appeals court ruling said. “She did not understand how she could have gotten bruise marks on her body or how her clothing had torn.”
She then learned that G.M.C. was sending the video of the assault to his friends, and asked him to stop. When he didn’t, her family pressed charges.
Prosecutors in New Jersey can seek to send a juvenile case to adult court for serious crimes, including sexual assault, if the accused is 15 or older.
In his July 30, 2018, decision, Troiano argued that the “young man comes from a good family who put him into an excellent school where he was doing extremely well. He is clearly a candidate for not just college but probably for a good college. His scores for college entry were very high.”
Troiano also “expressed concern that the prosecutor did not indicate … that she had explained to Mary and her mother the devastating effect” adult charges would have on G.M.C.’s life.
The judge also questioned Mary’s claimed state of intoxication at the time of the assault.
“Some people would argue that, you know … how could she possibly have gotten as drunk as she says she was?” the judge asked. “That’s really not important. I think it’s an issue here, whether or not this young lady was intoxicated to the point that she didn’t understand what was going on.”
And he also questioned whether G.M.C.’s actions could be classified as rape, saying he distinguishes between sexual assault and rape.
“In my mind,” Troiano said, rape is “where there were generally two or more generally males involved, either at gunpoint or weapon, clearly manhandling a person into … an area where … there was nobody around, sometime in an abandon[ed] house, sometimes in an abandon[ed] shed, shack, and just simply taking advantage of the person as well as beating the person, threatening the person.”
Troiano said that G.M.C.’s text calling the encounter a “rape” was “to me, just a 16-year-old boy saying stupid crap to his friends.”
“[D]o I believe that it shows in any way a calculation or cruelty on his part or sophistication or a predatory nature? No, I do not,” Troiano said.
“Rather than focusing on whether the prosecutor’s consideration of the statutory factors supported the application, the judge decided the case for himself,” the appeal court decision said.
“That the juvenile came from a good family and had good test scores we assume would not” spare “the juveniles who do not come from good families and do not have good test scores” from adult court, the ruling said.