Minors who have been charged with a delinquent act may not face the possibility of jail time; however, the consequences of a juvenile adjudication can alter the course of their entire life. However, New Jersey juvenile delinquency law contains many “safety valves” or diversionary opportunities that can result in a minor wrapping up their case without a juvenile record. At the Law Offices of Leon Matchin, our New Jersey juvenile delinquency attorney has extensive experience aggressively representing minors in all types of delinquency proceedings.The Adult Versus Juvenile Court System in New Jersey
Over recent decades, medical experts have proven that the human brain continues to develop until the age of 26. Thus, the United States Supreme Court has held that the criminal justice system must treat juveniles differently than it treats adults. Generally, this means that, whenever possible, the court’s focus is on rehabilitating a minor and not on punishing them. Contrast this to adult court, where punishment plays a much more significant role.
The juvenile justice system uses a different set of terms than adult court. For example, instead of being arrested, a juvenile is “detained.” And instead of going to trial, a juvenile has an “adjudication hearing.” If a judge finds that a juvenile committed the act alleged in the complaint, he or she enters a finding of delinquency rather than finding them guilty. Finally, if a juvenile is adjudicated, the court enters a “disposition” rather than a sentence. These terms reflect the fact that the juvenile justice system is not the same as the criminal justice system.
Juvenile delinquency cases are heard by a family court judge in New Jersey Family Court, rather than by a judge in criminal court. Additionally, juvenile delinquency cases are tried in front of a judge, rather than a jury, and the maximum period of detention is four years.
Given that the default focus of the juvenile justice system is on rehabilitation, it is generally far better for a child to remain in the juvenile system. However, if a child is alleged to have committed a serious or violent offense, the government may try to charge them as an adult. Some examples of offenses that may result in an involuntary waiver to adult court include:
- First-degree robbery,
- Car theft or carjacking,
- Sexual assault,
- Kidnapping, and
- Certain firearm offenses.
However, no child under 15 in New Jersey can be charged as an adult. And the judge has the final say in whether a minor remains in the juvenile justice system or is transferred to adult court.The New Jersey Juvenile Delinquency Process
Police officers can detain a minor if they have probable cause to believe the minor engaged in conduct that, if committed by an adult, would constitute a crime. Once a juvenile is detained, the next step is for the police department to determine whether to file a delinquency complaint or divert the case. Law enforcement diversion may involve the officer releasing the minor into the custody of their parents or conducting a station house adjustment, which is essentially a formal warning. Law enforcement diversion is the first “safety valve” that can keep minors out of the system.
If a case is not diverted, police will sign a complaint and then must decide whether to request a juvenile be held in a secure detention facility. A family court judge has the ultimate determination over custody decisions. If a minor is released, the court will schedule an adjudicatory hearing. However, if a minor is housed at a secure detention facility, the court must conduct a probable cause hearing to assess the validity of the charges. If the case survives the probable cause hearing, it proceeds to an adjudicatory hearing.
Adjudicatory hearings resemble criminal trials in that the court allows both sides to call witnesses. If the court finds that a juvenile committed the act in question, it must enter a disposition. However, the court can defer a disposition up to a year. If the conditions of a deferred adjudication are met, the case will be withdrawn at the end of the deferral period.
However, if the court decides a deferred adjudication is not appropriate, it has a wide range of options, including:
- Placing the juvenile on probation,
- Ordering the juvenile receive community-based services,
- Ordering the juvenile complete community service,
- Ordering the juvenile attend substance abuse treatment, and
- Placing the juvenile in non-institutional residential or transitional programs.
Juveniles facing the possibility of adjudication have a tremendous amount at stake. However, they also have many options available to them. With the assistance of a skilled New Jersey juvenile delinquency lawyer, juveniles and their families can better understand their options and how to pursue them effectively.Contact the Law Offices of Leon Matchin for Immediate Assistance
If you or your child was detained and risks adjudication, the Law Offices of Leon Matchin can help. Attorney Matching is an experienced juvenile delinquency lawyer who has handled countless cases on behalf of families across North Jersey. He takes an individualized approach to every case he handles, ensuring his client’s interests are protected at every step in the process. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation, contact the Law Offices of Leon Matchin at (732) 887-2479 today.