The facts of the sexual assault case in New Jersey were grisly, but clear: The 16-year-old boy being charged had penetrative sex with a visibly intoxicated 16-year-old girl at a boozy pajama party. The alleged assault took place in a dark basement, prosecutors told the court, where the boy led the drunken girl into a home gym in the basement of the house and blocked the door with a foosball table so as not to be interrupted. How did they know all this? The boy took a video on his phone and texted it to his friends with the caption “When your first time having sex was rape.” The girl, vomiting, was taken home later that night by a friend’s parent. When she woke up the next morning with bruises and torn clothing, she told her mother she was worried that “sexual things had happened at the party.” When confronted about the video, the boy said the friends that said they received it were lying, but simultaneously continued to share it, prompting the girl’s family to file criminal charges. Seems pretty clear cut. But if the facts of the case weren’t horrific enough, the judge’s response to the evidence was just as chilling.
When presented with this evidence in 2017, New Jersey family court Judge James Troiano came to the conclusion that what occurred on the video didn’t amount to rape and explained away the texts explicitly describing the act as “rape” as “just a 16-year-old kid saying stupid crap to his friends.” Troiano then declined prosecutors’ attempts to try the 16-year-old as an adult based on what they said was the “sophisticated and predatory” nature of the alleged crime. The 70-year-old judge disagreed, worried that the boy’s future would be ruined. The 16-year-old, after all, was from a “good family,” the judge said. From the New York Times:
[Troiano] 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.
Family court proceedings dealing with minors are typically kept private, but the details of the case became public this month when a New Jersey appellate court issued a stern rebuke of the now-retired judge’s reasoning, overturning his ruling in the case that will now go before a grand jury to decide whether to indict the boy for sexual assault. “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.