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The County Prosecutor Has The Discretion To Charge the Offenders Either As Juveniles Or Adults


Interviewer: You said that for sexual abuse or sexual allegations that the students themselves are not going to be charged; who can make that call?

James Abate: They’ve been charged as juveniles rather than as adults. That call was made by the county prosecutor’s office for the county where Sayreville is; that’s Middlesex County and certainly there were a lot of considerations that went into that. One of those considerations is the extent to which the school chancellor opened up the whole process and how they felt that they were getting to this at the beginning of things rather than that this had been covered up for a long period of time.

If The Circumstances of the Case Warrant it, a Minor Can be Charged as an Adult

Interviewer: If someone who is 17 years old commits some sort of sexual act against another minor or someone who’s younger; that person more than likely is going to be facing some charges and might be tried as an adult. Is that an accurate assumption?

James Abate: It really depends on the facts of what happened.  If it is something like forcible rape, then yes, you will be looking at being treated as an adult.  Anyone under 18 is typically going to be dealt with as a minor, there’d have to be pretty extraordinary circumstances for someone to be treated as an adult who’s not yet an adult. This shows how extraordinary those circumstances have to be, in this case, they felt that the circumstances were not met. I’ve had cases where you’re dealing with a juvenile prowling around school grounds with a firearm trying to get themselves into the school.

There Have to Be Extraordinary Circumstance to Validate the Charging of a Minor as an Adult

To anyone who watches the news, it sounds a lot like Columbine. It sounds a lot like what happened in Connecticut with all those children who were murdered by a gunman and that case was not dealt with as an adult case. It was dealt with as juvenile case, so I don’t know if there was a plan or not but nothing ever happened, so it was just a misunderstanding. The bottom line is that there had to be pretty extraordinary circumstances for the prosecutor to waive the charges up from juvenile to be treated as an adult.

Potential Time frame of Resolution for the Sayreville High School Hazing Case

Interviewer: What’s going to happen with this case?  How much longer do you foresee that this is going to be taking?

James Abate: Once the lawyers get involved, it unfortunately can take quite a bit of time.  The first thing they’re going to have to do is while the investigation is still ongoing, the prosecutor is going to want to prepare his case completely and not rush it. In any criminal case, there are different stages.  The first stage is going to be a pre-trial phase or pre-indictment phase where generally speaking, the most lenient offer will be made because at this point. The prosecutor hasn’t had to do any work, they haven’t had to do a full investigation and they haven’t had to prepare for the trial. It’s at that stage, where if you’re dealing with adults, you will be typically offered for a first time offender diversion program like pretrial intervention.

In Violent Situations, Diversion Programs for First Offenders are Generally Not Available

As this is a violent situation, I don’t think that’ll be happening but of course I could be proven wrong.  There’s been pre-trial intervention granted where you wouldn’t expect it would be. They want to know everything that happens so I don’t see them granting any click resolution to this, I think they’re going to find out everything that happened regardless of how long it takes. At some point, the evidence will get presented to a grand jury and the grand jury will then vote on whether there is probable cause to think that crimes have been committed. The grand jury, if they go yes, then the case gets set on a trial calendar. Now, the matter can still be resolved to the plea but at that point, the prosecutor has everything he needs to send the case to trial.

Prosecutors Generally Tend to Offer Plea Bargains to a Single Person

The judge begins managing whether parties have full discovery of what the other side has and at that point, they will work the case up for trial, start taking the juries and then as the process goes further and further, the hands of the prosecutor become less flexible. I don’t know if it’s going to happen.  You’re also dealing with a mass number of people here, prosecutors do not generally like to give out a plea to one person when they have other parts of the case unresolved. That makes it more complex.

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