Ten juvenile offenses that New Jersey parents, teachers, and youths should be aware of
In New Jersey, any action that could be charged as a criminal offense can also be charged as a juvenile delinquency offense if the offender is under 18 years old. The purpose of the juvenile court system is to give young people a second chance by emphasizing rehabilitation over punishment. That doesn't mean, however, that penalties for juvenile offenses are never harsh; they can include hefty fines and time in a juvenile detention facility, and a conviction can affect a child's prospects for scholarships, employment, and other future opportunities.
While this article is in no way intended as a replacement for the valuable role that a juvenile defense lawyer can play in defending juvenile charges, it provides an overview of some common juvenile offenses that parents, teachers, and young people in New Jersey should be aware of. I am Anthony N. Palumbo, a juvenile defense attorney with more than 35 years of legal experience. I understand the unique procedures used in New Jersey's juvenile court system and the best strategies to keep a young person's life on track. If your child has been accused of a juvenile offense in New Jersey contact me to schedule a free initial consultation.
1. Underage drinking
Underage drinking, by itself, is a disorderly persons offense with a minimum penalty of $500 and possible sentencing to an alcohol education or treatment program. The penalties for underage drunk driving are more serious, however, and can include fines, license suspensions/postponements, community service, sentencing to an intoxicated driver resource center, and even jail time.
It's important to know that there's a safe haven law in New Jersey if an underage person calls 9-1-1 to report that another underage person needs medical assistance due to alcohol poisoning. In such cases, neither the juvenile who called for help nor the juvenile in need of medical assistance will be subject to criminal charges.
2. Drug crimes
The most common juvenile drug offenses involve possession of less than 50 grams of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia, both of which are disorderly persons offenses. Possession charges can be based on even trace amounts of marijuana, however, so a person can be convicted for having just a seed, stems, or even a pipe with trace amounts of marijuana resin.
Juveniles can also be charged for possessing other drugs, of course, as well as for more serious drug crimes such as possession with an intent to distribute. It should be noted that the possession of drugs within 1,000 feet of a school zone increases the penalties, and that juvenile courts can administer most of the same penalties for drug crimes that are applicable to adult offenders.
Graffiti is usually considered to be criminal mischief and the severity of the offense depends on the amount of property damage involved: if it's less than $500, it's a disorderly persons offense; if it's between $500 and $2,000, it's fourth degree criminal mischief; and if it's more than $2,000, it's a third degree offense. A juvenile convicted on graffiti charges can also be required to pay restitution to the owner of the damaged property or to remove the graffiti and perform community service.
Juveniles can be charged with trespassing if they enter a place where they're not privileged to be and they know that they're not supposed to be there because either: the owner has said so directly; no-trespassing signs have been posted; or there's a fence designed to keep people out. Trespassing is a petty disorderly conduct offense.
Shoplifting doesn't just include stealing merchandise; it also includes altering a price tag in order to pay less than full price, putting something in a different item's container, or taking a shopping cart. Employees can also be charged with shoplifting if they intentionally under-charge a customer. The severity of shoplifting charges depends on the value of the merchandise at issue: if it's less than $200, it's a disorderly persons offense; if it's between $200 and $500, it's a fourth degree crime; if it's between $500 and $75,000, it's a third degree crime; and it it's more than $75,000, it's a second degree crime.
Playground skirmishes can easily lead to charges for assault, which is the crime of causing someone to fear bodily harm, even if nobody is actually hurt. Simple assaults are usually disorderly persons offenses, but certain factors can increase or reduce the penalties. Aggravated assault can be a second, third, or fourth degree offense, depending on how the assault was committed and how serious the injuries were.
7. Juvenile curfews
Many cities have enacted juvenile curfews, which are intended to protect children from criminal activity more likely to take place at night. In Newark, for example, unaccompanied minors under the age of 17 are prohibited from venturing more than 100 yards from their homes between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5:30 a.m. Some municipalities may authorize the arrest of minors who break a juvenile curfew, while others may assess fines on their parents.
8. Sexual offenses
Sex offenses can be committed by juveniles as well as adults. It's important to know that juveniles who are 13 years old or older are subject to Megan's Law, which requires convicted offenders to be listed on the state's sex offender registry. Complying with Megan's Law can be one of the most difficult parts of a sex crime conviction, especially for juveniles, because registration can be very public and can continue long after the offense was committed, or even permanently.
9. Bias intimidation
Kids can be ruthless when they tease or bully each other, and in some cases, bullying can result in criminal charges for bias intimidation, which occurs when a person harasses another individual with a purpose to intimidate him because of his race, color, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, or ethnicity. Bias intimidation charges can range from first to fourth degree crimes, depending on the severity of the offense. In addition to fines and detention, juveniles convicted of bias intimidation may also be required to complete a class on diversity sensitivity, to complete counseling programs for violence or antisocial behavior, or to make payments to a community-based program or local agency that provides services to bias intimidation victims.
New Jersey law defines "criminal street gangs" broadly, and can include groups of as few as three people. When gang members commit crimes, they can be subject to charges for "gang criminality" in addition to the underlying offense, with the degree of the charges depending on the severity of the underlying offense. Gang recruitment is also unlawful. It's generally a fourth degree crime, but the charges can be upgraded if gang members threaten the person they're trying to recruit, cause significant bodily injury, or attempt to recruit juveniles under 18 years old.
Getting in trouble as a juvenile is a scary ordeal, and if the charge isn't handled properly, it can leave a harrowing mark on a young person's future. If your child has been accused of a juvenile offense, the most important thing you can do is to hire an experienced New Jersey criminal defense attorney.