Overview of New Jersey Juvenile Delinquency Law

New Jersey Criminal Lawyer & Former Prosecutor

Juvenile Delinquency Law

Parents are often overwhelmed when they receive a call from school or the police claiming that their child committed a criminal offense. The criminal defense lawyers at our New Jersey law firm can answer your questions and guide you through this difficult time. An attorney is available to assist you immediately. The following is an overview of the law governing juvenile delinquency in NJ.

Philosophy of the Juvenile Delinquency Court in New Jersey

The purposes of the juvenile court in NJ are: (1) preservation of the family insofar as possible for the care, development and protection of juveniles coming within the court’s jurisdiction; (2) to remove children committing delinquent criminal behavior and place them in a program of supervision, care and rehabilitation; (3) to secure care, guidance and control, preferably in their own home, of children coming within the jurisdiction of the court; and (4) to foster the protection of the community, accountability for criminal conduct, and development of children as productive and responsible citizens. These purposes are very much different from those of the criminal courts in New Jersey. Indeed, juvenile cases are not even heard in criminal court but rather family court. The reason why juvenile criminal cases are heard in family court lies in the fact that the proceedings are designed to rehabilitate, assist and/or reform a child whereas criminal court is to punish wrongdoers. This consideration does, however, cut both ways. What we mean is that since the objective in juvenile cases is to help a child rather than punish him, it is not entirely unusual for the court to detain a child in a juvenile detention facility until he can be fully evaluated as to whether he poses a danger to himself or others. It is not a matter of simply bailing a child out but, instead, making sure that he is equipped to return home, to school, and to the community. It is therefore extremely important that a child is represented by an experienced juvenile defense lawyer so that any concerns of the family court and juvenile judge can be addressed appropriately such that the child is not retained or detained.

Jurisdiction of the Juvenile Court in NJ

The juvenile court has exclusive jurisdiction over cases wherein a “juvenile” is accused of committing a criminal offense. “Juvenile” is defined as a child under the age of 18 at the time of the alleged offense. It must also be kept in mind that the juvenile court’s jurisdiction extends not only to juveniles charged with acts of juvenile delinquency, but also to parents and family members contributing to the problem. Please consult our Treating a Juvenile as an Adult page for details concerning how jurisdiction can be waived such that a juvenile’s case is heard in adult criminal court.

Appearances in New Jersey Juvenile Delinquency Court

Cases heard in juvenile court are presided over by a family court judge. All juveniles must be represented by a defense lawyer and there is no discretion on the part of a parent or guardian to proceed without an attorney. Defense attorneys known as public defenders are appointed for children when their parents and/or guardians are unable to hire an attorney to represent their child because of indigency. There are income restrictions which limit qualification for a public defender. If you are seeking a criminal defense lawyer for your child, please do not hesitate to contact our New Jersey criminal defense law firm.

Juvenile Proceedings

Juvenile delinquency cases are heard in the county in which the underlying offense allegedly occurred. However, if the juvenile resides outside the county of occurrence, then the proper venue is the county where the child resides. Juvenile cases are conducted in a closed court and only persons having involvement in the case are permitted to attend. A victim is considered an interested party and is permitted to make a statement in the event of a finding of guilt or plea of guilt. All records associated with juvenile proceedings are confidential including all social, medical, psychological, legal, probation, and law enforcement records.

Juvenile charges are filed by way of a juvenile delinquency complaint which is captioned “State in the Interest of…..” The complaint is typically filed by the police, however, it can also be filed by private individuals. Once a complaint is filed, it is reviewed by intake services and a recommendation is made as to dismissal, diversion or referral to the family court, juvenile division.

If the case is referred to the juvenile court, a series of hearings beginning with a “Mandatory Assignment of Counsel Hearing” are conducted. If the case ultimately has to be tried, the case is heard by a family court judge who acts as both the finder of fact and the finder of the law. There is no right to a jury in juvenile cases. At the conclusion of the trial, the judge makes a ruling on all issues.

The juvenile justice system has the ability to impose most of the same penalties as the criminal court. In serious cases, the penalties even include custody and detention in a juvenile detention center. It is therefore important that families take advantage of their opportunity at trial and hire the right criminal defense lawyers to try their case. The Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall is a NJ criminal defense law firm with experience handling juvenile cases throughout New Jersey including Monmouth County, Ocean County, Union County, Middlesex County, Essex County, Hudson County, Somerset County, Burlington County and Mercer County. Please do not hesitate to contact our law office if you are in need of a criminal attorney. Initial consultations with our attorneys are always without charge and one of our lawyers is available to speak to you immediately.