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Understanding New Jersey’s Juvenile Justice System: A Guide for Parents

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Understanding New Jersey’s Juvenile Justice System: A Guide for Parents

October 11, 2023

Understanding New Jersey's Juvenile Justice System: A Guide for Parents

For many parents, navigating the intricate pathways of New Jersey’s juvenile justice system can be a challenging endeavor. The language is dense, the proceedings are formal, and the stakes are high. At Rudnick, Addonizio, Pappa & Casazza PC, we understand the gravity of these situations and are here to simplify and guide you through this complex process.

The Basics of Juvenile Justice in New Jersey

The juvenile justice system in New Jersey, much like other states, is designed to address criminal and delinquent behavior among minors, usually those under the age of 18. However, unlike the adult criminal justice system, its primary goal is not punishment but rather rehabilitation and guidance to reintegrate young offenders back into society productively. Here are some foundational aspects parents and guardians should be aware of:

Definition of a Juvenile

In New Jersey, a juvenile is typically an individual who is under the age of 18. If an individual commits an offense before turning 18 but is apprehended or processed after this age, they may still be considered and treated as a juvenile.

Venue for Proceedings

Juvenile delinquency hearings take place in the Family Part of the Chancery Division of the Superior Court. This is different from adult criminal trials. The hearings are more private, and the focus is more on assessing the needs of the juvenile rather than merely administering punishment.

Potential Outcomes

The outcomes in the juvenile justice system are varied and take into consideration the nature of the delinquent act, the background, and the individual needs of the juvenile:

  • Diversion: For first-time offenders or minor offenses, juveniles might be directed towards counseling, community services, or other diversionary programs.
  • Probation: Some juveniles might be placed on probation, where they remain in the community but under specific guidelines and supervision.
  • Detention: For more severe offenses, a juvenile may be placed in a juvenile detention center for a period.
  • Commitment to a Juvenile Facility: In rare cases involving severe offenses, the court might decide to commit the juvenile to a facility for long-term rehabilitation.

Delinquency and Offenses

In New Jersey, as in many other jurisdictions, the juvenile justice system differs considerably from the adult criminal justice system. At the heart of these differences is the understanding that juveniles, due to their developmental stage, have a higher potential for rehabilitation. One of the critical areas of distinction between adult and juvenile systems is in how “crimes” and “offenders” are termed and treated. Let’s delve into the concept of “delinquency” and the different offenses in the New Jersey juvenile justice context.

Delinquency Defined

When an individual under the age of 18 commits an act that would be considered a crime if committed by an adult, it’s termed a “delinquent act” in New Jersey. Instead of being called “criminals” or “offenders,” these youths are referred to as “delinquents.” This terminology emphasizes the rehabilitative rather than punitive intent of the juvenile system.

Types of Delinquent Acts

Delinquent acts can be broadly categorized based on their severity and nature:

  • Status Offenses: These are actions that are only offenses because of the age of the individual. Examples include truancy, curfew violations, and underage drinking. Such offenses would not be considered crimes if committed by adults.
  • Property Crimes: This includes acts like theft, burglary, vandalism, and arson. These offenses may range in severity, and the consequences will vary based on factors such as the value of stolen property or the extent of damage caused.
  • Drug Offenses: Possession, use, or distribution of illegal drugs or misuse of prescription medications by a minor fall under this category.
  • Violent Crimes: These are the most severe type of offenses and include assault, robbery, rape, or even homicide.
  • Traffic Offenses: Although many traffic violations are dealt with through the traffic court system, more serious violations like driving under the influence (DUI) by a minor may be handled through the juvenile justice system.

Petition and Processing

Once a juvenile is suspected of committing a delinquent act, a complaint is typically filed by law enforcement or occasionally by victims or other citizens. This complaint initiates the juvenile justice process. Depending on the severity of the alleged act, various actions can be taken:

  • Diversion: For first-time offenders or minors who commit lesser offenses, the complaint might not lead to formal court proceedings. Instead, these youths might be directed toward counseling, community service, or other programs aimed at addressing and correcting the behavior.
  • Formal Processing: In cases of more serious offenses or for repeat offenders, the juvenile may face a formal hearing. This isn’t a “trial” in the traditional sense, but rather an adjudicatory hearing where the judge determines if the juvenile committed the delinquent act.

Consequences of Delinquent Acts

While the focus of the juvenile justice system in New Jersey is rehabilitation, consequences or dispositions are handed down to hold the juvenile accountable. These can range from verbal warnings, counseling, and probation to detention in a juvenile facility for serious offenses.

The Process: From Intake to Disposition

  • Intake: When a complaint against a juvenile is filed, it first goes to an intake service conference. Here, the nature of the offense and the background of the minor is assessed. For less severe offenses, matters might be settled without a trial.
  • Detention: If the offense is severe, the juvenile may be detained temporarily in a juvenile detention center. A hearing will be held within 24 hours to decide if they should remain in detention or be released to their parents.
  • Formal Hearing: If not resolved at intake, the case moves to a formal hearing. This is similar to an adult trial but is held in the Family Part of the Chancery Division of the Superior Court.
  • Disposition: If the juvenile is adjudicated delinquent, a disposition takes place. This is similar to sentencing in adult court. The focus is on the child’s rehabilitation. Dispositions might involve probation, community service, counseling, or, for serious offenses, commitment to a juvenile facility.

Rights of the Juvenile

The rights of juveniles in New Jersey are fundamentally similar to those of adults. They have the right to remain silent, the right to an attorney, and the right to a fair hearing. However, juveniles do not have a right to a jury trial in delinquency proceedings. Instead, a judge determines the outcome.

Expungement of Juvenile Records

One of the critical advantages of the juvenile system is the potential for expungement. This means that after a certain period, and under specific conditions, the juvenile’s record can be cleared, allowing them a fresh start without the burden of their past mistakes.

The Importance of Legal Representation

While the juvenile justice system is designed to rehabilitate rather than punish, the consequences of delinquent actions can still profoundly impact a young person’s future. It’s crucial to have an experienced attorney who understands the intricacies of New Jersey’s juvenile laws.

Rudnick, Addonizio, Pappa & Casazza PC has a dedicated team with years of experience in representing juveniles. Our commitment is to ensure that your child’s rights are protected and that they receive a fair outcome, keeping their future in mind.

Contact an Experienced Criminal Lawyer at Rudnick, Addonizio, Pappa & Casazza PC for a Free Consultation About Your Case Today

The juvenile justice system in New Jersey is a unique entity, distinct from the adult criminal system. Its focus on rehabilitation provides many young individuals with a second chance. However, the journey through this system can be overwhelming for both the juvenile and their parents.

Being informed and having competent legal representation can make a world of difference in the outcome of a case. At Rudnick, Addonizio, Pappa & Casazza PC, we are here to guide, support, and advocate for you and your child every step of the way.

“The attorney working on my personal injury case was knowledgable, courteous, and payed careful attention to every detail. He was sure to address any questions and concerns thoughtfully and respectfully. I have had an excellent experience interacting with the firm and I highly recommend the law firm of Rudnick, Addonizio, Pappa & Casazza to others.”

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