A New Jersey judge is under fire after he rejected a request from prosecutors to charge a 16-year-old suspect in an alleged sexual assault as an adult, writing in a controversial ruling that the teen "comes from a good family" and is a candidate for a "good college."
The Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division overturned the decision of Judge James Troiano, writing in a 14-page opinion obtained by ABC News that Troiano overstepped his authority by making "an independent assessment of the juvenile's culpability."
Monmouth County prosecutors had argued for a waiver to send the case to adult court, saying the teen's alleged "behavior was calculated and cruel." Prosecutors also alleged the boy made a cellphone video of the attack that allegedly occurred at a house party in 2017, and sent it to friends along with a text message, reading, "when your first time having sex was rape."
"Rather than focusing on whether the prosecutor's consideration of the statutory factors supported the application, the judge decided the case for himself," the two appellate judges wrote in their June 14 opinion, which was first reported by the New York Times.
The appellate judges admonished Troiano for showing leniency to the juvenile by focusing on the youth's family background, that he was an Eagle Scout and that, according to Troiano's decision, "his scores for college entry were very high."
"That the juvenile comes 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 applications," the appellate judges wrote in their decision. "Whether or not the State can prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt is a question best left to another day."
A juvenile complaint was lodged in 2017 against the teenage suspect, who was only identified in court papers as "G.M.C.," alleging he sexually assaulted a 16-year-old girl who was "visibly intoxicated, physically helpless and unable to provide consent."
The alleged attack occurred at a pajama-themed house party in Monmouth County, attended by about 30 young people, according to court records.
The suspect allegedly led the victim, who was identified only by the pseudonym "Mary" in the appellate court opinion, to a darkened basement gym, where the door was barred by a foosball table, according to a prosecution statement in the appellate decision.
"G.M.C. filmed himself penetrating Mary from behind on his cellphone, displaying her bare torso, and her head hanging down. He forwarded the clip to several friends," according to the court papers.
The alleged victim became sick and vomited after the attack, and she was driven home by a friend's mother, according to the court records.
The next morning, the alleged victim noticed bruise marks on her body and that her clothing was torn, according to the appellate court opinion. She told her mother that she feared "sexual things had happened at the party," according to the appellate court decision.
Several months later, the victim learned the suspect had circulated the video of the attack to his friends, according to the records. But when she confronted the suspect about it, he denied that he recorded the attack on video.
The victim and her mother then contacted police, who launched an investigation.
"Unfortunately, after securing clearance from his sergeant, the first investigating officer urged G.M.C. and his friends to all delete the video, which apparently they did," according to the appellate decision.
Judge Troiano had retired several years ago but was brought back to hear certain family court cases.
When prosecutors asked him to approve the waiver to charge the suspect as an adult, Troiano expressed skepticism that the alleged attack was rape, saying traditional rape cases generally occur "either at gunpoint or weapon" and involve "two or more males," according to the appellate opinion.
During the hearing in which prosecutors asked that the case be transferred to adult court, Troiano commented on the suspect's background while expressing concern that prosecutors did not explain to the alleged victim and her mother "the devastating effect" it would have on the suspect's life if he were tried as an adult, according to the appellate opinion.
"This young man comes from a good family who put him into an excellent school where he was doing extremely well," Troiano told prosecutors, according to the appellate opinion. "He is clearly a candidate for not just college but probably for a good college."
Troiano did not respond to a request from ABC News for comment. Peter McAleer, spokesman for the New Jersey Courts, told ABC News that Troiano will not make a statement on the case.
Monmouth County District Attorney Christopher Gramiccioni said his office is in discussions with the alleged victim and her family on "our next steps," which can include presenting the case to a grand jury for an indictment in adult court.
"While we have the utmost respect for the Family Court and the judge in this case, we are grateful that the Appellate Division agreed with our assessment that this case met the legal standards for waiver to Superior Court," Gramiccioni said in a statement.
Anjali Mehrotra, president of the National Organization for Women's New Jersey chapter, said Troiano's decision in the case reminded her of one made by a California judge in the case of Brock Turner, the former Stanford University swimmer convicted of sexually assaulting an intoxicated and unconscious woman at a fraternity party in 2015. A judge sparked widespread outrage by sentencing Turner to six months in county jail despite Santa Clara County prosecutors asking for a six-year prison sentence.
"He's already retired. Otherwise, we would be making calls for him to be let go," Mehrotra told ABC News of Troiano. "But there's absolutely no way he should be in a courtroom again, ever."