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New Jersey Supreme Court Issues Ruling Making It Harder to Try Juveniles as Adults

Wall New Jersey Criminal Defense Attorneys serving Monmouth County, Ocean County, Middlesex County and all surrounding NJ areas.

Juvenile Offenders Tried As Adults

A New Jersey Supreme Court ruling has made it more difficult for prosecutors to charge juvenile offenders as adults. In a 3-2 decision, the ruling may help young offenders avoid prison time.

The decision puts a greater burden on prosecutors to justify why a juvenile should be tried as an adult. In cases involving juveniles age 16 and older, prosecutors must show how being tried as an adult would help deter future offenses, as well as the possible maximum penalties the juvenile would face if convicted as an adult.

Although many news sources reported the decision as a major victory for juveniles, this is not entirely true. Only one week later the New Jersey Supreme Court issued another decision making it easier for prosecutors to have cases waived from Family Court to criminal court. That decision also restricted the rights of trial judges in Family Court to prevent that removal.

Even if new waiver laws put a greater burden on prosecutors to justify a transfer, this does not mean that if your child has been charged with a serious felony crime in New Jersey, an overzealous prosecutor could still seek to have your child tried as an adult. Although prosecutors must now meet a tougher standard to try juveniles as adults, it is still important to have a good defense attorney in order to ensure the best defense possible against waivers of transfer.

The first separate juvenile court in New Jersey was established in 1929. The primary goal of the juvenile courts at that time was to rehabilitate juvenile. Proceedings were informal and constitutional protections were absent. However, as the juvenile justice system has developed, offender accountability and public protection have become equally important goals.

By 1983, with the enactment of our current Code of Juvenile Justice, the legislator provided for, “…harsher penalties for juveniles who commit serious acts or who are repeat offenders.” Statement to Assembly Bill No. 641, 1983.

The Waiver of Transfer Procedure

New Jersey recognizes that juveniles are different from adults; that, adolescents may not be capable of making good decisions, are more likely to act impulsively, and in some cases, at least, may be easier to rehabilitated without subjected them to adult penalties and prisons. The penalties and procedures in juvenile court differs somewhat from those in adult court. But even for juvenile offenders protected by the juvenile courts, there are some exceptions. Laws that allow a juvenile to be transferred to adult court are called “transfer” laws.

In certain cases, a juvenile may be transferred to adult criminal court through a “waiver” procedure. This process is most likely to be initiated by the prosecutor, but a judge can also initiate transfer proceedings. In order for the transfer to be facilitated, a judge must waive the protections that the juvenile court offers to juvenile offenders.

In New Jersey, the juvenile must be at least 16 years of age to be eligible for waiver to adult court. A memorandum issued by the Attorney General’s office in March 2000, indicated factors that may be considered when deciding whether or not to try a juvenile as an adult include:

  • Prior record of the offender
  • Likelihood of conviction and potential need for a grand jury investigation
  • The death of a victim during the course of the offense
  • The nature and circumstances of the act
  • The role of the juvenile therein
  • The fact that there was grave and serious harm inflicted on the victim or the community
  • The potential for gave and serious harm to the victim or the community
  • The use or possession of a weapon during the course of the offense

There additional considerations including the need for deterring the juvenile and others from committing future offenses; maximum sentence and length of time served if tried as an adult; and “the effect of waiver on the prosecution of any co-defendants, juvenile, or adult, so as to avoid an injustice if similarly situation culpable individuals are tried in separate trials.”

The victim’s input may also be heard, and considered, but ultimately, the prosecutor or judge decides whether or not to seek waiver of transfer to adult court.

Prosecutors vs. Juvenile Defense Advocates

Prosecutors argue that, the possibility of being charged as an adult serves as a strong deterrent for juveniles for committing future crimes. Justice Anne Patterson, who published the only dissenting opinion, support prosecutors, stating, “the Legislature in 2000 granted prosecutors broad discretion over when to transfer a juvenile case, and guidelines by the Attorney General’s Office were enough to prevent arbitrary decisions.”

However, juvenile advocates argue that unnecessarily charging young people as adults creates its own set of problems once a young offender is released.

Juveniles that are tried and convicted as adults are subjected to adult penalties including prison time and a permanent criminal record. Juvenile offenders incarcerated in adult institutions are more likely to be subjected to violent crimes committed by adult inmates, including psychological, physical, and sexual abuse. Juveniles sent to adult prisons are also more likely to commit suicide. Once they are released, a juvenile with a permanent criminal record may find it more difficult to get scholarships, find housing, or gainful employment.

Children’s Rights in Court Matter – Hire An Attorney Who Will Aggressively Defend Your Child

If you are a juvenile charged with a crime or a parent of a juvenile who has been charged with a crime, you may need the qualified services of a Juvenile Criminal Defense Attorney – and Clark, Clark & Noonan, LLC can help. Juvenile crimes are serious offenses, whether they involve a traffic ticket, speeding, a traffic accident, or assault, and can result in a damaging criminal record and serious penalties.

Juvenile law is tailored to deal with crimes committed by children (under the age of 18). If you are a minor facing criminal charges, such as a DUI or DWI, probation violation, theft, driving on a suspended license, or even drug charges, or if your child has been charged with a crime, it is imperative that you consult with a lawyer as soon as possible to obtain an experienced juvenile crimes defense attorney.

At Clark, Clark & Noonan, LLC, we offer strategic counseling and aggressive advocacy to New Jersey minors facing criminal charges across a wide service area in New Jersey. Call 732-303-7857 or contact our firm online for a free review of your case.

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