Need Breaking Updates?
Subscribe Now and Receive Breaking Stories directly to your email inbox daily
Thank you for subscribing.
Something went wrong.
James Troiano is a New Jersey judge who granted leniency to a 16-year-old from Monmouth County who is accused of raping a 16-year-old girl at a party and recording the sexual assault on video. The judge said the suspect “comes from a good family,” attended an “excellent school,” and scored well on his college entrance exams, as part of his argument for why the case should be handled in juvenile court.
Troiano ruled in 2018 against prosecutors who sought to try the suspect, identified in court documents only as G.M.C., as an adult. But a three-judge panel in the New Jersey Superior Courts Appellate Division reversed his decision on June 14, 2019, allowing the case to be moved from family court to a grand jury, where the suspect will be treated as an adult. He faces charges of first-degree aggravated sexual assault, second-degree sexual assault, third-degree invasion of privacy (filming), third-degree endangering the welfare of a child, and third-degree invasion of privacy (disclosing images). The incident occurred in 2017 in Monmouth County, New Jersey.
The 69-year-old Troiano has been retired since 2011, but was recalled to work on some cases in 2012. Troiano first became a judge in 1992. His recall has been re-confirmed every two years since then, including in December 2018. His current recall will end in 2021, but he could be asked to come back for another two years at that point. Troiano could not be reached for comment by Heavy.
The case was first highlighted on July 1 by the New Jersey 101.5 radio station, which has been covering the issue of waivers sought by prosecutors in juvenile cases. The case drew national attention after coverage by NJ.com and The New York Times. The juvenile justice system in New Jersey is set up to focus on rehabilitation, with cases held behind closed doors and in front of only judges, not juries. Records and verdicts are sealed. Prosecutors can seek a waiver for juveniles over the age of 15 in cases of violent crime, including sexual assault.
Here’s what you need to know about Judge James Troiano:
1. Troiano Said He Distinguishes Between ‘a Sexual Assault & a Rape’ & Argues That the Accusations Against the 16-Year-Old Are Not a ‘Traditional Case of Rape’
An excerpt from Judge James Troiano’s ruling.
Several details of the original case remain unclear, including where and when exactly the incident occurred. According to the appeals court ruling — which you can read in full here — the suspect, G.M.C., was charged in 2017, when he was 16. The incident also occurred in 2017 and the victim was also 16 at the time.
According to court documents, the victim was at a “pajama-themed party” with about 30 other adolescents in the basement of a home and alcohol was consumed. According to prosecutors, G.M.C. filmed himself on his cell phone while raping the victim and then sent the video clip to several friends the next day with the message, “when your first time having sex was rape.”
In September 2017, the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office recommended the case be submitted for an involuntary waiver to adult court after the victim, identified only as “Mary” in court documents, and her family pursued criminal charges. Prosecutors said:
[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. At the time he led [Mary] into the basement gym, she was visibly intoxicated and unable to walk without stumbling. For the duration of the assault, the lights in the gym remained off and 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 [Mary] 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. This level of criminal sophistication warrants the elevation of this case via involuntary waiver to the adult criminal court.
Judge James Troiano conducted a “several-day waiver hearing” and presented over the course of about two hours and “65 transcript pages,” a denial of the waiver. In his denial, he said he did not think the prosecutors showed that the case deserved to be tried in adult court and ruled they made an error in judgment by pursuing the waiver.
Troiano said, “I still in my mind . . . distinguish between a sexual assault and a rape. . . . [I]n my mind there is a distinction.” He continued:
[T]here have been some, not many, but some cases of sexual assault involving juveniles which in my mind absolutely were the traditional case of rape, all right, where there were generally two or more generally males involved, either at gunpoint or weapon, clearly manhandling a person into . . . an area where . . . ther was nobody around, sometime in an abandon[ed] house, sometimes in an abandon[ed] shed, shack, and just simply taking advantage of the person as well as beating the person, threatening the person. . . . [T]he factual scenarios themselves were so egregious, and it was those types of cases that the State felt the need to waive, and generally they were successful in their waiver[.]
Prosecutors appealed, “On appeal, the State raises only one issue. It contends that the judge erred in denying the waiver motion because, in the process, he substituted his judgment for that of the prosecutor.”
2. The Judge Said the 16-Year-Old Rape Suspect Is ‘Clearly a Candidate for Not Just College but Probably a Good College’ & Noted That He Was an Eagle Scout
An excerpt from Judge James Troiano’s ruling.
Judge James Troiano said in his ruling against the waiver, “This young man comes from a good family who put him into an excellent school where he was doing extremely well. … He is clearly a candidate for not just college but probably a good college. His scores for college entry were very high.” Troiano also “detailed G.M.C.’s extracurricular activities, including being an Eagle Scout.”
The judge also downplayed the text messages sent by G.M.C. to his friends after the incident, saying it was, “to me just a 16-year-old saying stupid crap to his friends.”
Troiano was sharply rebuked by the appeals court judges — Judge Carmen Alvarez and Judge Hany Mawla — in their decision. The appellate judges said:
The likelihood of conviction was not for the judge to decide on a waiver motion. His skeptical scrutiny of G.M.C.’s friend, who said the video depicted Mary’s head banging against a wall, the victim’s credibility, and the motives and conduct of the victim’s family went beyond review of the prosecutor’s decision for abuse of discretion. The judge also accorded great weight to the fact that G.M.C. might have reasonably believed that Mary wanted to engage in sexual intercourse—without taking into consideration her level of intoxication— essentially accepting G.M.C.’s defense theory as would the finder of fact at trial. Rather than focusing on whether the prosecutor’s consideration of the
statutory factors supported the application, the judge decided the case for himself.
The judges added, “In denying waiver, the trial court minutely considered the circumstances of the offense, made an independent assessment of the juvenile’s culpability, and considered G.M.C.’s prior good character and “the input of the victim or the victim’s family. His consideration of these elements, however, sounded as if he had conducted a bench trial on the charges rather than neutrally reviewed the State’s application,” the judges wrote.
They continued, “G.M.C. was sixteen at the time the event occurred. 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 applications. … The State’s memorandum addressed every statutory element. The prosecutor’s decision was patently not one that the judge would have reached, but that is not the test. The test is whether the State, which obviously believed Mary’s description of the events to the minimum level necessary for the filing of charges, was mistaken in its judgment. The memorandum in support of waiver did not consider any irrelevant factors, only those included in the statute. The decision to seek waiver did not amount to a clear error in judgment.”
Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni told The New York Times, “This is conduct that should be punished in adult court. We subscribe to the idea that the juvenile system is supposed to be rehabilitative. But when you’re dealing with charges as serious as these, it’s a whole different ball of wax.”
Gramiccioni told New Jersey 101.5, ““The charges that actually get waived to adult court, by statute, are only ones that are the most serious crimes you can imagine, like aggravated sexual assault, first-degree robbery, murder, attempted murder. You’re seeing prosecutors use this only in the instances where it is completely and wholly necessary, where there’s serious victims of crime and serious need to prosecute these folks in adult court.”
He told the radio station that if the grand jury indicts the 16-year-old suspect in this case, he will be prosecuted as an adult by his office.
3. Troiano Also Said Prosecutors Didn’t Consider ‘Both Sides’ & the ‘Alleged Victim’ Should Have Been Warned About the ‘Devastating Effect’ Adult Charges Could Have on the Suspect’s Life
New Jersey CourtsAn excerpt from Judge James Troiano’s ruling.
Troiano also argued in his ruling that prosecutors didn’t “focus clearly on both sides here,” interpreting a state court decision to mean that in deciding whether to pursue a waiver, prosecutors must consider the impact of moving the case to adult court on both the victim and the suspect.
Troiano wrote that he was concerned that the prosecutor didn’t explain “to Mary and her mother the devastating effect a waiver could have on G.M.C.’s life.”
He said it’s important, “to look at the children who you are dealing with and determine where does the proof lie, where does the culpability lie.” He questioned why the victim decided to wait a few days to pursue criminal charges. According to court documents, the girl and her family initially just wanted the video to be deleted by those who received it and to move on from the incident, but changed their minds. By the time they pursued charges, police had told the suspect and his friends to delete the video from their phones.
Troiano said, “We have no testimony of the young lady, but we will at some point, I presume, have testimony of the young lady explaining why she decided or went to her mother who decided a couple of days later that we need to go to the police and discuss criminal charges. There wasn’t a mention at that point of what type of criminal charges, to just discuss criminal charges. … [I]t’s not impossible for the [c]ourt to think that once the video is deleted it’s a lot easier to bring the criminal charges. But I’m only . . . speculating, okay. All I know is they waited until . . . they were reasonably convinced that the video was deleted that they decided to go to explore their options.”
In his ruling, Troiano also questioned the victim’s reliability.
“And it seems clear that this young lady, the alleged victim here, and I call her the alleged victim here … Some people would argue that, you know, really what did . . . she drink and how could she possibly have gotten as drunk as she says she was. That’s really not important. I think it’s an issue here, whether or not this young lady was intoxicated to the point that she didn’t understand what was going on. Her position really has been that she doesn’t remember much of what happened.”
Troiano added, “I really saw nothing that stood out to me that would substantiate that she was led into the back. The terms that were used were they walked hand in hand. Now, I’m not saying that this young lady was not under the influence. I don’t know whether she was extremely intoxicated or not, but no question she was under the influence.”
4. Troiano, Who Attended Rutgers University & Samford Law School, Worked in Private Practice, as a Prosecutor & Was a Republican Politician Before Becoming a Judge
Judge James G. Troiano first became a judge in 1992 in Essex County, according to the New Jersey Law Journal. He served on the bench as both a family division and law division judge and was tenured in 1999.
He retired around 2011, but was recalled to serve as a judge in 2012. In 2016, his recall order assigned him to the family division in Monmouth County, where the G.M.C. case was heard. He was recalled most recently in November 2018 for a two-year term in Monmouth County family court that expires in January 2021.
Troiano is a New Jersey native. He attended Rutgers University, graduating in 1972, and then attended the Cumberland School of Law of Stamford University in Alabama, graduating in 1975, according to the New Jersey Law Journal. He was first admitted to the bar in Alabama, but began private practice in 1979 in West Orange, New Jersey.
Troiano pursued a career as a Republican in politics in the 1980s. He served as councilman, deputy mayor and mayor in Cedar Grove, New Jersey, from 1987 to 1992. He was also a municipal prosecutor in Hillside, New Jersey, from 1982 to 1986. He worked as Freeholder Vice President Legislative Aide, Essex County Arthur Clay in 1982. Troiano ran as a Republican for county executive in 1982, but lost that race, according to the Observer.
Troiano is married and is a father of two children, a son and daughter, and is also a grandfather. His son, Matthew James Troiano, is a former prosecutor in Morris County, New Jersey, who now works in private practice.
5. He Oversaw a High Profile Case of a Teen Who Killed His Cousin While Performing a Wrestling Move & Another of 2 High School Football Players Charged With Rape
Troiano has sat on the bench for previous high-profile cases involving juvenile suspects, according to news reports.
In 2004, Troiano oversaw the case against two Montclair High School football players, ages 17 and 15, who were accused of raping a classmate. During a detention hearing, Troiano issued a gag order, barring those in the courtroom from speaking about the case, according to the New York Times.
The ruling meant that it was unclear if the suspects had been released or ordered held. The case was later dropped by prosecutors.
In 2003, he refused to release a 17-year-old New Jersey boy accused of killing his cousin while “roughhousing” and performing wrestling moves in the basement of their home, according to The New York Times. The teen, originally from Brazil, was later sentenced to three years in prison on a manslaughter charge.
Troiano, citing the teen’s unstable family life, said, “He does remain a threat to society. And a threat not to appear in court when he should.”