Young New Jersey residents under age 18 who have been accused of a crime are usually tried as minors in juvenile court, where punishments are more lenient and there is a heightened focus on rehabilitation. However, in some circumstances, adolescents are tried in the state’s adult court system, which can result in lifelong repercussions.
Juveniles Vs. Adults in New Jersey
Though consequences for adults are harsher, the New Jersey Code of Juvenile Justice provides that adults and juveniles (those under age 18) possess most of the same rights in the legal system. There are three key differences in that juveniles do not have the right to indictment, bail, or trial by jury.
Juveniles are not “arrested” in New Jersey; rather, they are simply taken into custody. If a juvenile is found guilty of the charges against them, they are considered an “adjudicated delinquent” rather than a convicted criminal. Adjudication is the juvenile equivalent of conviction in adult cases.
Juvenile adjudications can be erased, so that a young person does not enter adulthood bearing a criminal record. However, if an adolescent is tried in an adult court (or “criminal court”), and a conviction may result. If a criminal court conviction occurs, the resulting record may remain with a youth for a long period of time.
Juvenile Offenses in New Jersey
New Jersey’s legal system recognizes that some illegal acts are less serious than others, and should usually be treated as juvenile offenses. Some of the most common juvenile offenses are as follows:
New Jersey law dictates that non-violent teen offenders will not be waived over to criminal court, but will remain in New Jersey juvenile court systems. However, some adolescents who stand accused of more serious and violent offenses may be diverted to criminal court. In accordance with legislation that went into effect on March 1, 2016, only juveniles who are over age 14 and charged with one or more of the following offenses may be eligible for trial in criminal court:
- Criminal homicide, except in cases of death by auto
- Strict liability for drug-induced deaths
- First degree robbery
- Sexual assault and aggravated sexual assault
- Second degree aggravated assault
- Armed robbery
- Aggravated arson crime
- Possession of a firearm with the intention of harming another person with it, or while committing certain serious crimes
- Attempt or conspiracy to commit any of the aforementioned crimes in this list
- Any illegal act committed while legally confined to an adult penal institution
The Process of Trying Juveniles as Adults in New Jersey
If there exists probable cause that the youth has committed any of the aforementioned acts, a prosecutor may seek a judicial waiver, wherein the juvenile court waives their own authority over a case and turns it over to criminal court. The prosecutor must file for such a waiver within 60 days of receiving the case.
Essentially, the prosecutor must convince the presiding judge that the young defendant should be tried in criminal court. If the prosecutor is successful, then the case will proceed in much the same fashion as any other adult case. However, if new evidence that is found during the criminal court trial shows that the adolescent was not as heavily involved in the crime as previously believed, then the judge can send the case back to juvenile court.
Reasons to Keep a Minor in Juvenile Court
Often a good defense attorney will fight hard to keep an adolescent in New Jersey’s juvenile court system. New Jersey juveniles tried as adults are not given life imprisonment or the death penalty (the latter is not given to anyone — including adults — in New Jersey). However, defense attorneys still have significant reasons to keep juveniles out of the adult court system, or return any transferred clients back to the juvenile system:
- Consequences in the juvenile system are more lenient and tend to focus on rehabilitation rather than punishment.
- Eventual record expungement is easier in the juvenile system.
- Adolescents who serve time in adult facilities are more likely to commit suicide, be assaulted, and commit more crimes after being released from custody.
- Society holds a greater stigma against adult criminals than juvenile delinquents.
Finding an Experienced Juvenile Defense Lawyer in New Jersey
If your teenager has been accused of an illegal act, it is crucial that you retain sound legal counsel. Rosenberg | Perry & Associates team of criminal defense attorneys have extensive experience in cases of minors tried as adults. Call the firm at (609) 216-7400 to speak with a legal professional about your family’s situation, and learn about the proactive steps you can take immediately to protect your child from harm.