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Important New Jersey Court Decision Regarding Juvenile Waivers to Adult Criminal Court

Juvenile Charged as Adult NJDespite your teachings and warnings, your child may get in trouble with the law in New Jersey. From something less serious, like teenage pranks, vandalism (criminal mischief), and public nuisances, to the more serious theft, gang activity, or juvenile assault charges, minors who commit crimes are likely to face charges in the juvenile court system. When it comes to potential detention and restrictions for a juvenile charged with a criminal offense, the severity of the crime determines the length and gravity of the sentencing. In addition, some crimes are serious enough to land a juvenile in adult criminal court. A recent decision by the New Jersey Appellate Court further clarifies the juvenile court waiver to adult criminal court and discusses the criteria for trying a minor as an adult.

If your son or daughter has been charged as a juvenile with a crime in New Jersey, contact The Tormey Law Firm today. Our experienced criminal defense lawyers represent juveniles accused of crimes across New Jersey, including in Morristown, Hackensack, Newark, Paterson, New Brunswick, and Freehold. If you are in need of a knowledgeable attorney to protect your child’s rights in the face of serious criminal charges, we are thoroughly prepared to assist you. Having handled juvenile cases ranging from the most minor disorderly conduct charge and underage drinking, to the most serious sex trafficking charges against a young client, our experience in this realm is supreme. When you need someone you can place your trust in, call (201)-556-1570 or contact our firm online for more information. Consultations are confidential and provided free of charge.

Process for Trying Juveniles as Adults in New Jersey

Following in the footsteps of earlier Supreme Court decisions barring juveniles from receiving life sentences or the death penalty, the New Jersey Appellate Court recently overturned a trial court decision to try a juvenile accused of aggravated sexual assault as an adult in criminal court rather than as a juvenile in Family Court. Acknowledging that juveniles are less mature physically, mentally, and psychologically than adults, the Appellate Court restated the legal procedures under current statutes for evaluating whether a juvenile charged with a very serious offense should be waived to the criminal court and prosecuted as an adult. In its written opinion, the court further outlines the waiver laws and their intent, confirming that juveniles should not be tried and sentenced as adults without a complete analysis of the factors weighing in favor of rehabilitation or punishment.

Typically, juvenile criminal cases are heard in Juvenile Court in the Family Division, where the philosophy of the court is to protect and steer the wayward juvenile back from the juvenile justice system into the community, along with resources to help them make that transition. Juvenile sentences are lighter than adult sentences for the same crime, and the convicted juvenile does their jail term in a juvenile detention center rather than county jail or state or federal prisons. At the recommendation of the prosecution, however, a juvenile case may be sent to criminal court for handling if the crime is serious and the juvenile unlikely to rehabilitate, among other reasons. If the court agrees with the prosecution’s recommendation, the court waives their jurisdiction and the juvenile is tried and sentenced as an adult in the criminal justice system.

In the Appellate Court’s decision in State of New Jersey in the Interest of Z.S., it refers to prior decisions and law changes supporting the view that minors are not fully formed adults, who are often set in their ways and possibly irredeemable, but immature beings who may still be rehabilitated with the appropriate protections and resources. When the juvenile court waives the juvenile case to the adult criminal court, they are foregoing those protections and possibilities of rehabilitation in exchange for punishment through lengthy prison sentences. Judge Sabatino, writing for the court, emphasized that waiver is one of the most extreme acts of the juvenile court.

Factors for Consideration in NJ Juvenile Court Waiver Cases

In detailing the history of waiver, the court highlighted the considerations when waiving a case to adult court over juvenile. A few of the factors include the age of the minor, the minor’s history in the juvenile system, their criminal sophistication, the severity of the crime, their special education eligibility, their involvement in the welfare system, the victim’s input, and the mental capacity of the accused. In the case before the Appellate Court, the 17-year-old accused was several years delayed in his cognitive abilities, was a special education student, and had psychological disorders, including bipolar disorder, depression, and borderline personality disorder. And while the youth was officially declared disabled by the social security administration and likely to respond to rehabilitation, according to an expert, the prosecution focused on the severity of the crime only. Although neither likelihood of rehabilitation nor deterrence is one of the factors to consider in waiving a case, the court held both are implied in the other 11 enumerated considerations.

Thus, while the trial court decision was reversed on procedural grounds, the case reinforces the prosecutor’s obligation to consider, reason, and argue the complex of factors affecting the decision to try and sentence a minor as an adult. Not all cases are treated alike and as the Appellate Court pointed out, an extreme waiver act should be fully briefed and reasoned by the prosecution to avoid prosecutorial prejudice or wrongdoing. No matter the severity of the crime committed or alleged, the juvenile court must thoroughly consider the full spectrum of competing interests of victims and juvenile delinquents and the factors that lean toward rehabilitation and punishment in each case.

Facing a Juvenile Waiver to Adult Court in NJ, What can I do?

If your minor child aged 15 or older (the minimum age for waiver) faces serious criminal charges, you want to be prepared for the possibility of waiver. Gathering your child’s records and discussing your child’s case with an attorney experienced in juvenile law and court proceedings is critical. Depending on the circumstances, your NJ juvenile defense lawyer may help you keep your case in Family Court, vigorously defend their innocence if wrongfully accused, or get the resources your child needs to turn their life around. To speak with a lawyer about your juvenile matter in New Jersey, contact us at (201)-556-1570. Consultations are provided confidentially and entirely free of charge.

For additional information regarding this case decision, access the following article: Court Got It Right on Juvenile Waivers

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