A state appeals court in New Jersey issued a vehement rebuke of a judge’s earlier court decision in a rape case, in which the judge had given leniency to the defendant—reasoning that he was from “a good family” and was a good student whose future would be ruined by a rape trial.
The defendant was accused of raping a 16-year-old girl who was heavily intoxicated at a party in 2017 and then widely sharing a video he had filmed of the attack. When prosecutors asked family court Judge James Troiano to grant a waiver allowing them to try the defendant as an adult due to the “sophisticated and predatory” nature of the alleged attack, they presented evidence including texts he had sent to friends showing the video along with the comment, “When your first time having sex was rape.”
“The judge’s decision has been overruled—but how many more judges do we have to hear this damaging rubbish from before we retrain and recast senior judiciary?”
—Sophie Walker, Young Women’s TrustIn July 2018, Troiano ruled that G.M.C. should not be tried as an adult, citing his background as an Eagle scout and his high test scores in school.
The judge had “decided the case for himself” instead of considering the facts of the case, the appeals court ruled.
Troiano expressed doubt that the victim was truly incapacitated at the time of the alleged rape and questioned whether the girl and her family had considered the effect a rape trial would have on the defendant’s life.
“The judge expressed concern that the prosecutor did not indicate in the memorandum that she had explained to Mary and her mother the devastating effect a waiver would have on G.M.C.’s life,” the appellate court wrote in its ruling on Troiano’s decision.
Troiano also noted in his 2018 decision that the alleged attack did not fit his personal definition of rape, which he considered to involve “generally two or more…males, either at gunpoint or weapon, clearly manhandling a person into…an area where…there was nobody around, sometime in an abandon[ed] house, sometimes in an abandon[ed] shed, shack,” according to the appeals court.
On social media as the appeals court’s decision was reported on Wednesday, critics expressed shock that a judge presiding over a court in 2018 would hold such views of rape.
The appeals court sided with prosecutors who in 2017 had argued that because of the “sophisticated and predatory” nature of the alleged assault, G.M.C. should be tried as an adult.
“At the time he led [the victim] into the basement gym, she was visibly intoxicated and unable to walk without stumbling,” the prosecutors wrote at the time. “The door was barred by a foosball table. Filming a cell phone video while committing the assault was a deliberate act of debasement. And, in the months that followed, he lied to [the victim] while simultaneously disseminating the video and unabashedly sharing the nature of his conduct therein. This was neither a childish misinterpretation of the situation, nor was it a misunderstanding. [G.M.C.’s] behavior was calculated and cruel.”
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Rejecting Troiano’s reasoning for dismissing the evidence presented by the prosecutors, the appeals court accused him of granting leniency to the defendant only because of his privileged background.
“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 court wrote.
The court also recently reversed the 2017 decision of family court Judge Marcia Silva, who had denied a motion to try another 16-year-old male as an adult after he was accused of raping a 12-year-old girl.
The case, Silva argued, was not “an especially heinous or cruel offense beyond the elements of the crimes that the waiver statute intends to target,” and “beyond losing her virginity, the State did not claim that the victim suffered any further injuries, either physical, mental, or emotional.”
The appeals court admonished Silva, who it said had “mistakenly applied her judgment” when deciding the case, including “minimization of the harm wrought on a twelve-year-old child by [the defendant] assuming her claims are true.”
New Jersey state Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg called for both Silva and Troiano’s removal from their seats and decried the display of “privilege, bias, prejudice, and bigotry” in the state’s justice system.
“Any example of [these] displayed by the people in charge of issuing justice in our state should be intolerable,” Weinberg said.
“There is no space for judges of this character,” she added. “Judge Troiano and Judge Silva should never again be given the privilege of presiding over a New Jersey court, that is clear. But we should also use these examples of alarming behavior in a way that curtails this conduct in the future.”