The 16-year-old girl was visibly intoxicated, her speech slurred, when a drunk 16-year-old boy sexually assaulted her in a dark basement during an alcohol-fuelled pyjama party in New Jersey, prosecutors said.
The boy filmed himself assaulting her from behind, her torso exposed, her head hanging down, prosecutors said.
He later shared the cellphone video among friends, investigators said, and sent a text that said, “When your first time having sex was rape”.
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, New Jersey.
Now the judge has been sharply rebuked by an appeals court in a scathing 14-page ruling that warned the judge against showing bias towards privileged teenagers.
In doing so, the appeals court cleared the way for the case to be moved from family court to a grand jury, where the teenager, identified only as GMC in court documents, will be treated as an adult.
New Jersey law allows juveniles as young as 15 to be tried as adults when accused of serious crimes, and the grand jury will weigh whether to indict him on the sexual assault accusation.
In recent years, judges across the country have come under fire for the way they have handled sexual abuse cases.
One of the most notorious was in 2016, when a judge in California sentenced a Stanford University student to six months in jail after he was found guilty of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman.
After an intense public backlash, California voters recalled the judge.
Judge Troiano, who is roughly 70, was one of two family court judges whom appeals courts in New Jersey have criticised in recent weeks over relatively similar issues.
In the other case, the appellate division reversed another judge’s decision not to try a 16-year-old boy as an adult after he was accused of sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl in 2017.
The second family court judge, Marcia Silva, sitting in Middlesex County, denied a motion to try the teenager as an adult and said that “beyond losing her virginity, the State did not claim that the victim suffered any further injuries, either physical, mental or emotional”.
The appellate judges also upbraided Silva, overturning her decision and noting that the teenager could be culpable because the 12-year-old was not old enough to provide consent in the first place.
The judge in Monmouth County, Mr Troiano, was scolded by the appellate court, according to the panel’s decision.
“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 in its decision.
A spokeswoman for the administrative office of the courts said the judges had no comment on the case. She said Mr Troiano, a veteran judge who retired several years ago, was asked to occasionally fill vacancies on the bench.
Family court cases are typically closed to the public, but the judges’ comments surfaced in June when the appeals court decisions were made public, joining a series of contentious sexual assault cases that have ignited outrage over a legal system that advocates for victims say is warped by bias and privilege.
The New York Times
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