NJ Juvenile Offenses--Introduction:
“Juvenile” in New Jersey means anyone under the age of eighteen. Juvenile proceedings are governed by the New Jersey Code of Juvenile Justice. These proceedings are defined by New Jersey Statutes beginning at N.J.S. 2A:4A-20. They extend through N.J.S. 2A:4A-92. These laws took effect on December 31, 1983. Under the New Jersey Code of Juvenile Justice, judicial proceedings relating to charges against juveniles are handled in a special court, using different rules. That court is the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part.
New Jersey's Code of Juvenile Justice lists various objectives. Those objectives include removing from children committing delinquent acts certain statutory consequences of criminal behavior and, instead, substituting supervision, rehabilitation, and accountability; and providing for the care, protection, and wholesome mental and physical development of juveniles.
NJ Juvenile Offenses--Basic Concepts:
New Jersey's Code of Juvenile Justice makes clear conceptual distinctions between juvenile delinquency charges and adult offenses. Under the Code, juveniles are not arrested. Rather, they are “taken into custody.” If charges against them are proved, they are not convicted. Rather, they are “adjudicated delinquent.” And the Code specifically provides that no dispositions under it shall impose any civil disabilities ordinarily imposed by virtue of a criminal conviction. Nor shall a juvenile be deemed a criminal by reason of such disposition. Disclosure of court records relating to juvenile proceedings is very limited. These records are not available to the general public. Unauthorized disclosure is a disorderly persons offense.
Not every type of charge against a juvenile can be handled in the Family Part. Types of charges that will be handled in adult court include most motor vehicle offenses, offenses relating to smoking (tobacco) in a public place, and offenses relating to violation of municipal curfews.
NJ Juvenile Offenses--Two Calendars:
Cases filed in New Jersey juvenile matters are initially screened. As a result of that screening, they are placed on one of two “calendars.” These are the “formal calendar” and the “informal calendar.” The informal calendar is reserved for matters deemed less serious. Fighting, criminal mischief, shoplifting charges, and possession of small amounts of marijuana are examples of matters that might go to the informal calendar. Even for these types of offenses, however, repeat violations will more likely be placed on the formal calendar.
Matters on the informal calendar do not have the potential for a sentence that includes incarceration. Matters on the formal calendar do. The court does not require juveniles with matters on the informal calendar to be represented by a lawyer. For matters on the formal calendar, legal representation is required. If the juvenile's parents or guardian cannot afford counsel, the juvenile will be represented by the Office of the Public Defender. Otherwise, the parents or guardian will be obliged to retain private counsel. When application is made for Public Defender representation, it is the court that determines whether or not the applicant can afford private counsel. While counsel is not required for matters on the informal calendar, the right to counsel still exists, but not at public expense.
NJ Juvenile Offenses--Rights of Juveniles:
Many, but not all, constitutional protections afforded adults are also extended to juveniles. These include the presumption of innocence; the right to confront witnesses; the right to compulsory process; the burden that the State has to prove each element of the offense charged beyond a reasonable doubt; the right to testify; and the right to not testify, with the judge drawing no adverse inference from exercise of that right. Adults charged with a crime have a right to have their charges screened by a grand jury. Juveniles lack that right. Charges against juveniles are heard and decided by a judge alone, with no jury. Juveniles placed in detention awaiting trial do not have a right to release on bail.
NJ Juvenile Offenses--Dispositions:
Juveniles are exposed to the same penalties as adult offenders, but with exceptions. The first exception is that the maximum term of incarceration is often less than the term of incarceration that could be imposed upon an adult. Here is a comparison of these exposures:
|Classification of Offense||Adult Exposure||Juvenile Exposure|
|Purposful or Knowing Murder||Life||Twenty years|
|Felony Murder||Life||Ten years|
|Other First Degree Crimes||Usually twenty years, more
for certain specified crimes
|Second Degree Crimes||Ten years||Three years|
|Third Degree Crimes||Five years||Two years|
|Fourth Degree Crimes||Eighteen months||One year|
|Disorderly Persons Offense||Six months||Six months|
|Thirty days||None specified for first adjudication; (presumably up to) thirty days for subsequent adjudications|
|Municipal Ordinance||Ninety days||(None specified)|
Juveniles adjudicated delinquent on account of Megan's Law violations are subject to mandatory registration and community notification for life. They can seek relief from those requirements after being subject to it for fifteen years. If the juvenile was under fourteen years of age when they committed their delinquent act, they can seek relief upon reaching age eighteen. Juveniles under the age of twelve can be sentenced to incarceration only if adjudicated delinquent for arson or for offenses which, had they been adults, would have constituted first- or second degree crimes. As with adults, the court can sentence a juvenile to probation. The maximum period of juvenile probation is three years. But for persons adjudicated to be a juvenile delinquent, the Family Part has numerous additional sentencing options that adult courts lack. These additional options include:
- Withholding adjudication with a view towards dismissing the charge if, during a specified period of time, the juvenile makes a satisfactory adjustment. (This differs from adult PTI in that this disposition is available only after a finding of guilty)
- Releasing the child to the supervision of his/her parents or guardian
- Removing the child from the home and placing him/her with a relative or other qualified individual
- Placing the child in the custody of the Department of Children and Families
- Ordering the child to participate in work programs designed to provide job skills and specific employment training
- Ordering the child to participate in programs emphasizing self-reliance, such as intensive outdoor programs teaching survival skills including but not limited to camping and hiking
NJ Juvenile Offenses--Trial As An Adult:
Juveniles age fourteen and older can be involuntarily “waived” to adult court under certain circumstances. The waiver process begins with a motion to the Family Part by the county prosecutor. Circumstances that can trigger such waiver include charges that the juvenile committed homicide, first degree robbery, carjacking, car theft, sexual assault and aggravated sexual assault, aggravated arson, kidnapping, possession of a firearm with purpose to use it against someone else, and various additional offenses while possessing a firearm. This is not a complete list.
Juveniles tried as adults are generally subject to the same punishments as if they actually were adults. The United States Supreme Court has imposed some limits, however. That Court has held that sentencing a juvenile tried as an adult to life imprisonment without possibility of parole constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. The Court has also held that juveniles tried as adults cannot be sentenced to death. This second holding is of little import in New Jersey since New Jersey has eliminated the death penalty even for adults.
Juveniles age fourteen and older also have the right to voluntarily elect to have their matters transferred to adult court. One reason a juvenile might make that election might be that the juvenile believes he or she will obtain a more favorable result from a jury than from the juvenile judge. Another reason might be that the juvenile judge told the juvenile on a previous matter that the next time the juvenile is adjudicated guilty before that judge, the judge will impose incarceration.
NJ Juvenile Delinquency--Juvenile Lawyers in New Jersey™:
Allan Marain and Norman Epting, Jr. are skilled New Jersey juvenile delinquency lawyers. Both have successfully handled numerous juvenile delinquency matters. They handle these matters with understanding and sensitivity. They are available to discuss juvenile delinquency charges, and to provide outstanding representation.