When a 16-year-old New Jersey boy was accused of raping an intoxicated girl, filming the assault and sending the video to his friends, the prosecutor sought to try him as an adult.
But a state Superior Court judge in South Jersey shot down that request in part because, the judge said, the boy "comes from a good family" and is destined "for a good college."
Now a state appeals court has overturned the decision and warned the judge against showing leniency to juveniles of privilege, raising 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."
Prosecutors can now seek an indictment on charges they choose to pursue against the teen, who would be tried in adult court.
The suspect, identified in court papers as G.M.C., in 2017 filmed himself with a girl, "Mary," who was also 16 at the time, 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," according to the appeals court ruling.
Mary and G.M.C. were at a "pajama-themed" party, and both teens were drunk when G.M.C. allegedly led her to a basement sofa, according to the ruling by the appeals court. "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," the ruling said.
G.M.C. then penetrated Mary from behind in a home-gym portion of the basement. In the video he sent to seven friends, her torso is exposed, and her head is hanging down. One of the friends said that the video showed Mary's head hitting against the wall repeatedly.
Prosecutors said that during the assault, the door to the gym was blocked by a foosball table, and the lights were 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."
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.