In New Jersey, a juvenile is considered to be anyone under the age of 18 years old. These individuals are children in the eyes of the law and, except under very specific circumstances, may not be charged as adults. The juvenile court process is also a bit different from the adult criminal process.
Juvenile cases are heard in the family division of the Superior Court. The identity of the juvenile is kept confidential and there is limited access to the courtroom during juvenile proceedings in order to ensure this confidentiality. A judge will preside of the case and if a trial takes place the judge, instead of a jury as in adult cases, will make decisions related to the law and the facts.
In some cases, juveniles may be waived up from the family court to the adult criminal court. A waiver to adult court is reserved for juveniles who commit offenses such as murder, rape, assault and other violent crimes. A juvenile whose case is waived up to adult criminal court will be treated as an adult and his case will be heard in an open courtroom and, upon conviction, will face appropriate consequences like any other adult offender.
How do juvenile cases proceed?
There are several means by which juvenile cases can be handled and that depends on the nature of the offense and the juvenile’s history. Juvenile cases can be resolved at the police department through what is called a “stationhouse adjustment”. This type of resolution is reserved for the most minor offenses and for juveniles who have no prior interaction with the court system.
Juvenile cases can also be handled by a juvenile intake officer. This type of resolution occurs after an assistant prosecutor collaborates with the police and decides to file a petition or complaint against the juvenile for an offense(s). The juvenile and his parents will then come to court and, if the state agrees, the juvenile will meet with a juvenile intake officer to review the case. The intake officer may require the juvenile to enroll in therapy or treatment or any other appropriate remedy in hopes that the juvenile has learned his lesson. After a juvenile has completed the conditions set by the intake officer, the case will be dismissed.
More serious juvenile court matters will proceed within the family court system and will be heard by a judge. A resolution can be negotiated between the juvenile’s attorney and the assistant prosecutor or the case can proceed to trial. A family court trial is a fact-finding hearing by a judge to determine what happened in a particular case. If a judge finds that there is a lack of evidence to support the allegations, the case will be dismissed. If the judge finds that there is sufficient evidence to support the charges, the court will then sentence the juvenile as allowed by law. The sentence can include counseling, therapy, detention, probation supervision, drug testing, and any myriad options available to the court. Since the purpose of the juvenile court is rehabilitation, the court’s sentence should be geared toward that goal.
If you or your juvenile family member has been contacted by the police or charged as a juvenile, having an experienced criminal defense team available to advocate on your behalf is crucial. The Rem Law Group, P.C. is here to help. Contact our firm today.