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What is the Difference Between Juvenile Court and Criminal Court in NJ?

Need a Juvenile Lawyer in Kearny NJ help

The New Jersey legal system handles juvenile cases differently from how it handles adult criminal cases. Even the terminology applicable in each court system is different. Adults are convicted of crimes, while juveniles are “adjudicated delinquent.” Adults are arrested, whereas juveniles are “taken into custody.” If your child has a pending matter in New Jersey’s juvenile court system, here we explain how it compares to the adult criminal justice system, and the key distinctions you should know about the legal processes and potential outcomes involved. If you need help with existing juvenile charges such as possession of marijuana, drug paraphernalia, shoplifting, criminal mischief, trespassing, assault, or any other juvenile offense in Hudson County, NJ, contact our local Jersey City offices to speak with an experienced NJ juvenile defense lawyer free of charge. Please call (201) 793-8018 or send us a message for a free consultation. 

Is a Juvenile Criminal Case Different from an Adult Case in NJ? 

One of the most fundamental procedural differences between the adult and juvenile justice systems in New Jersey involves who decides the facts applicable to a criminal case. Adults are generally tried by jury in New Jersey, whereas juveniles are tried by a judge in a process also known as a “bench trial.” Judges are typically viewed as more dispassionate than juries, and the state trusts judges to be able to separate an offender’s young age from the potentially heinous or reprehensible acts that they have committed. Juvenile charges are generally handled by a juvenile judge in the Family Division of the Superior Court in the county where the juvenile resides. For instance, if your son or daughter lives in Hudson County and is accused of a criminal offense while still a minor, his or her case will be adjudicated in the Hudson County Superior Court, Family Division. 

Additionally, New Jersey law typically presumes that adult criminal court proceedings and related papers will be filed publicly in open court, whereas state law allows juvenile records to be sealed in a broader range of circumstances. This distinction in process exists because the legislature has determined the juveniles should not be haunted by youthful acts of indiscretion once they have fulfilled their court requirements and attempted to rejoin society.

Furthermore, if a juvenile is convicted of a crime in New Jersey, they face sentencing and other penalty ranges that are significantly lower than the penalty ranges applicable to adults for the same crimes. For example, an adult may face life in prison if convicted of murder. On the other hand, a juvenile faces a maximum of 20 years in prison. An adult typically faces 10-20 years of incarceration for a first degree indictable offense conviction, while a juvenile generally faces a maximum of only four years. Second, third, and fourth degree indictable offenses, along with disorderly persons and petty disorderly persons offenses, also typically carry reduced sentences for juveniles when compared to adults.

It is important to note, however, that juveniles charged with serious crimes when they are near the age of 18 may be tried as adults. In these cases, the minor’s case is transferred into adult criminal court where he or she will face the same consequences an adult would, explained in greater detail below.

Charged with a Juvenile Offense, What are my Options in New Jersey?

The stark procedural and punishment differences discussed above can be explained in large part by the differing goals motivating the adult versus the juvenile criminal justice systems that apply in the state. New Jersey’s adult criminal justice system focuses on the goals of penalizing offenders and deterring other criminal behavior, with rehabilitation considered alongside these other goals. This tends to translate into longer prison terms than do the goals applicable in rehabilitative systems of justice. The New Jersey juvenile system, on the other hand, places the best interests of the child involved above all other goals. Consequently, the state tends to offer juveniles shorter periods of incarceration and increased chances alternative sentencing options.

Juvenile offenders typically have a broader range of “diversionary” or “deferred disposition” programs available to them than do adult criminal offenders. These programs typically permit the juvenile to fulfill a number of court-ordered requirements in exchange for the charges pending against them being dropped upon successful completion of the terms. Common conditions of a deferred disposition include periodic random drug testing, community service, adherence to all laws going forward for a predetermined period of time, etc. These programs are typically available to first-time offenders rather than to repeat offenders. Community service and other preferred outcomes to juvenile detention are also more frequently given options for those facing juveniles charges.

Is a Juvenile Criminal Charge always Handled in New Jersey Family Court?

Clearly, it is more advantageous to be charged as juvenile than as an adult in New Jersey. Anyone under the age of 18 can be charged as juvenile in the state, but individuals between the ages of 15 and 18 can have their cases “waived” into the adult court system, typically in cases involving murder, robbery, sexual assault, firearms, or other unusually serious charges. New Jersey prosecutors can file a motion to waive into criminal court, and they typically base their filing on the type of crime committed. There are strict time limits in place on when they can file that motion.

With that said, even if a juvenile is convicted in adult court for a “waived” crime, they will serve their term of incarceration in a juvenile facility unless the state overcomes a presumption to the contrary. Furthermore, correctional facilities are no longer permitted to hold juvenile offenders in solitary confinement unless they adhere to strict time limits and other safety measures.

Juvenile Lawyer Near Hoboken NJ 

If you or a loved one has been accused of a juvenile crime, call (201) 793-8018 to consult one of our knowledgeable juvenile defense attorneys to learn more about your potential options. We are available anytime to provide you with a free consultation.