10 Questions To Ask in New Jersey Juvenile Cases

New Jersey Juvenile Defense Attorney - Anthony N. Palumbo

Union County-Monmouth County-Somerset County-Middlesex County

The following page provides an overview of some of the most frequently asked questions in juvenile cases. If your child has been arrested for a juvenile offense, however, you should always consult with a New Jersey criminal defense lawyer who is familiar with juvenile court procedures.

I am Anthony N. Palumbo, a partner at the law firm of Palumbo & Renaud and a juvenile criminal defense attorney with more than 35 years of legal experience. I understand the unique procedures used in New Jersey's juvenile court system and I know the best strategies to keep a young person's life on track. To find out how I can help in your case and schedule a free and confidential consultation, contact me today at 1-866-664-8118 or through the email form on my website.

1. What is juvenile delinquency?

A child under the age of 18 can be arrested and charged with juvenile delinquency for any action that would be considered a crime or offense if committed by an adult, including ordinance violations, disorderly conduct, assault, offenses involving marijuana and other drugs, shoplifting, vandalism, sexual assault offenses, and other criminal offenses. Juveniles can also be charged with offenses such as curfew violations and underage alcohol consumption, which are not applicable to adult defendants.

2. How does the juvenile court process differ from adult criminal court proceedings?

The juvenile justice system emphasizes rehabilitation over punishment and provides more flexible court proceedings and sentencing options than are available for adult defendants. Police officers and judges have much more discretion in the juvenile court process to consider the circumstances of the juvenile's case, as well as other aggravating and mitigating factors, and to balance the need to protect the community against the juvenile's interests in rehabilitation. As a result, sentences for juvenile offenses are typically more lenient than those imposed on adults convicted of the same offense, and they tend to emphasize education and treatment over incarceration.

3. What legal rights do juveniles have?

Juveniles have many of the same legal rights as adult criminal defendants, including the right to remain silent, the right to cross-examine witnesses and the right to raise all defenses that would be available to an adult charged with the same offense. As in adult criminal cases, the state must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Juvenile defendants also have the right to be represented by legal counsel throughout the judicial process, and they must have an attorney during all formal proceedings. They do not, however, have a right to trial by jury.

Juvenile interrogation rights differ somewhat from adult interrogation rights. In juvenile cases, children can be questioned even if they don't understand their Miranda rights and don't waive them properly. What matters is whether the procedure was conducted with the utmost fairness, taking into consideration all surrounding circumstances such as improper influence, mental or physical force and the standards of due process. Police must still read Miranda rights when a juvenile is in custody and do everything possible to see that the child understands them, but the deciding factor is fairness. Generally, a parent must be present for questioning, but presence is not required if the juvenile refuses to disclose the names and addresses of his of her parents, if the parents can't be located, or if the parents refuse to attend.

4. What happens when a child is arrested for committing a juvenile offense?

Police officers have a lot of discretion in deciding how to handle juvenile arrests. Minor offenses are often resolved informally through curbside warnings or stationhouse adjustments. For more serious juvenile criminal offenses, police officers will sign a formal complaint charging the juvenile with the commission of a delinquent act, which starts the juvenile court process.

5. When can a juvenile be taken into custody?

A minor charged with a delinquency offense can be taken into juvenile custody and held in a detention center pending the disposition of his or her case, but only if the juvenile is considered a danger to the community of if there's a risk that the juvenile will fail to appear in court. Juveniles who are 11 years old or younger, moreover, can't be placed in detention unless they've been charged with an offense that would be considered a first or second degree crime if committed by an adult, or if they've been charged with arson.

When a juvenile is taken into custody, the parents/guardians must be notified immediately and a detention hearing must be held no later than the following morning in order to decide whether continued detention is proper. In making this determination, the judge must take into account the nature and circumstances of the offense, the age of the juvenile, the juvenile's ties to the community, the juvenile's record of prior offenses, and the juvenile's record of appearance or nonappearance at previous court proceedings. The court must also consider alternatives to custody, such as release to parents, release on the juvenile's promise to appear at the next hearing, release into the care of a custodian or appropriate public or private agency, release with the imposition of restraints on the juvenile's activities, associations, movements and residence, or release to a home detention program.

If the juvenile remains in custody, a second detention hearing must be held within two days of the initial hearing in order to determine if there's probable cause. A detention review hearing must then be held within 14 days of the prior hearing, and if detention is continued, additional review hearings must then be held every three weeks.

6. What are the different stages in the juvenile court process?

Once a delinquency complaint is signed, the case is referred to Family Court, where intake staff make a recommendation as to whether the complaint should be dismissed, diverted, or scheduled for court action. Factors that are taken into consideration in making this determination include the seriousness of the offense, the age and maturity of the juvenile, whether the juvenile poses a danger to the community, the juvenile's family circumstances, the juvenile's prior record, and the juvenile's willingness to participate in remedial education or counseling. The decision may also be influenced by recommendations from the prosecutor, the arresting police officer, or the victim.

Diversion procedures provide an alternative to the formal juvenile court process and are often used for minor offenses. If a formal proceeding is used instead of diversion, a petition is filed setting out the charges and a court date is set for the child's trial, which is called an adjudication. The juvenile can then either enter into a plea agreement, which is an admission of guilt in exchange for certain penalties, or plead not guilty and proceed to trial. The judge then hears the case, determines the outcome, and schedules a disposition hearing to determine the most appropriate sentence.

7. What kinds of diversion procedures and court alternatives are available to juvenile defendants?

Instead of going to court, minor juvenile charges are often diverted to a Juvenile Conference Committee (JCC) or an Intake Service Conference (ISC). Diversion is a voluntary process and the parties may request a formal court hearing if they do not wish to participate.

JCCs are comprised of community residents appointed by the court to review certain delinquency complaints. The committee is tasked with providing balanced attention to the protection of the community, the imposition of accountability for offenses committed, fostering interaction and dialogue between the parties, and the development of competencies to enable the juvenile offender to become a responsible and productive member of the community. JCCs do not determine guilt or innocence, but they may propose a resolution imposing appropriate requirements and conditions. Intake Service Conferences are similar to JCCs but are conducted by court intake staff and are used to review slightly more serious delinquency charges.

Orders issued by JCCs and ISCs are limited to 6 months, and at the end of the diversion period a second conference may be held to determine whether the terms of the agreement have been fulfilled. If all of the conditions have been met, the complaint will be dismissed, whereas if the conditions have not been met, the complaint will be returned to court intake services or referred to a judge.

8. Are juveniles subject to the same sentences as adults?

Juvenile sentences, which are called dispositions, are usually less severe than the sentences imposed on adult defendants. Juvenile court judges have significant discretion in determining the most appropriate sentence based on the circumstances the case, the nature of the offense, the juvenile's age and record or prior delinquencies, the child's physical, psychological, social and developmental needs, the availability of rehabilitation options, the need to protect the community, and other relevant factors. Although juveniles may be sentenced to incarceration at a juvenile detention center, a variety of alternative sentencing options may be deemed preferable, such as probation, community service, fines or restitution, house arrest, sentencing to counseling or education programs, psychiatric commitment, or placement in alcohol or drug rehabilitation programs. Juvenile courts also have the authority, in appropriate cases, to remove children from their homes, terminate parental rights or order the parents to pay restitution or participate in counseling programs.

9. Can a juvenile be tried as an adult?

Juvenile defendants can be tried as adults if they've been charged with violent crimes or other serious offenses, or if they have a record of prior delinquencies. Before transferring a juvenile to adult criminal court, the judge must first hold a waiver hearing and determine that the reasons for trying the juvenile as an adult outweigh the rehabilitation and treatment benefits available through the use of juvenile court procedures. The juvenile's age and maturity may also be important factors.

Juveniles who are tried as adults lose the protections provided by the juvenile court system and are subject to the generally harsher penalties imposed in adult criminal cases. They can also be detained in adult jails instead of juvenile detention facilities.

10. Are juvenile records sealed?

Unlike records in adult court, records in juvenile court are sealed documents. Upon reaching a certain age and conditions such as good behavior or clean drug testing, an experienced attorney can successfully initiate the process to expunge the juvenile record.

Having a Juvenile Defense Lawyer By Your Side

If your child has been arrested for a juvenile crime, the most important thing you can do is to consult with an experienced juvenile criminal defense lawyer. Your attorney will be able to guide you through each step in the juvenile court process and advocate for the most lenient disposition available.

If you need a juvenile court defense attorney in Union County, Middlesex County, or Monmouth County, contact me, Anthony N. Palumbo, through the email form on my website or at 1-866-664-8118 for a free and confidential consultation. As a partner at the law office of Palumbo & Renaud, I've been representing juvenile defendants for almost four decades, and as a longstanding member of the legal community, a former prosecutor, and a current criminal defense attorney, I can help get the best results possible in your case.

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