The acts of violent sexual hazing that seven New Jersey high school football players are accused of committing have been called “horrendous” by school officials and “extraordinarily disturbing” by Gov. Chris Christie, reports the New York Times. As the players from Sayreville War Memorial High School await their first court hearing this week, Middlesex County authorities face a daunting question: whether to charge some or all of the boys as adults. In a town where football is a local obsession, that question has become even more daunting as attention to the case is amplified by a national debate swirling around the misdeeds of professional and college players.
Under New Jersey law, offenders under the age of 18 are automatically brought into the juvenile justice system, where they see a family court judge, even when the underlying crimes are serious and violent. That can quickly change. After first charging the teenagers under juvenile delinquency laws, prosecutors can apply for a waiver to bring the case into the adult system. Such waiver requests must be made within 30 days of filing formal delinquency charges, setting up a potentially fast-moving series of closed-door discussions between prosecutors and lawyers for the teenagers. “What happens very frequently is that the threat of waiver induces pleas in the family court,” said Alexander Shalom of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, said. “Middlesex County has been traditionally pretty aggressive with its use of waiver.”