How Is the Juvenile Criminal System Different from the Normal System in New Jersey?

Although it is unfortunate, children can commit crimes just like adults. However, juvenile offenders are not treated like their adult counterparts in the criminal justice system. In fact, juveniles are put through an entirely different criminal system. The juvenile justice system takes special care of children in the hopes of rehabilitating them.

The juvenile justice system tends to concentrate more on rehabilitating offenders before they become adult offenders. While punishment is certainly an important part of juvenile justice, it is not the main focus. As such, many steps and stages in the juvenile justice system differ from the corresponding stages in the adult justice system.

If your child or another child in your life has been taken into custody for allegedly committing a criminal offense, contact our Atlantic City criminal defense attorneys for help. Call the Law Offices of John J. Zarych at (609) 616-4956 for a free initial case evaluation.

How Juvenile Arrests Are Different from Normal Arrests in New Jersey

In the past, the police could arrest juveniles similar to adults. The police needed probable cause to justify an arrest. Juvenile arrests followed the warrant requirement like any other normal arrest. Contrary to standard arrests of adults, juveniles could be arrested or taken into police custody for reasons other than suspected criminal activity.

According to N.J.S.A. § 2A:4A-31, a police officer may take a juvenile into short-term custody if they have reasonable grounds to believe the juvenile’s health and safety are in serious danger and immediate protection is necessary. Short-term custody is also possible if an officer believes a juvenile has left home without their parents’ or guardians’ consent (i.e., runaways).

As of 2020, an order from the Attorney General severely limited the ability of officers to arrest juveniles. As such, juvenile arrests have become a rarity. However, a lack of an arrest does not mean a juvenile will not be charged. If you or someone you know is a juvenile taken into police custody, call our Atlantic City juvenile defense lawyers for assistance.

What Happens in Juvenile Criminal Court Hearings in New Jersey?

Family Court conducts juvenile adjudicatory hearings. These hearings are similar to criminal trials for adults in the adult justice system. According to N.J.S.A. § 2A:4A-40, juveniles at an adjudicatory hearing have all the same rights as adult defendants, with a few exceptions. Juveniles do not have to be indicted, do not have the right to a jury, and do not have the right to bail. Even so, a juvenile cannot be detained without good cause, and a hearing must be held on the matter.

Under N.J.S.A. § 2A:4A-38(e), (j), and (k), a detention hearing must be held no later than the morning after a juvenile is initially detained. If the juvenile remains in detention, another hearing must be held within 14 days to determine if detention should be continued. After that, a hearing must be held at least every 21 days regarding detention. The adjudicatory hearing must be held no later than 30 days after the juvenile is initially detained.

The adjudicatory hearing proceeds in much the same way as a criminal trial for adult defendants. Both sides present witnesses, evidence, and arguments about the alleged criminal offense, and the judge will determine if the juvenile is “delinquent.” Instead of the term “guilty,” a juvenile is “adjudicated delinquent.” A juvenile must also have an attorney to represent them at their hearing. Our Cape May juvenile defense attorneys are here to help.

An adjudicatory hearing is only one of several possibilities in a juvenile criminal case. Juvenile cases are handled more delicately than adult cases, and courts often try to divert juveniles out of the system where possible. For example, a juvenile may go through a Juvenile/Family Crisis Intervention program instead of an adjudicatory hearing. You should speak with an attorney about possible options other than an adjudicatory hearing.

How Are Juveniles Sentenced After a Criminal Hearing in New Jersey?

If a juvenile goes through an adjudicatory hearing and is adjudicated delinquent, they must be sentenced. In the juvenile justice system, sentencing occurs at a disposition hearing. This is a bit like a sentencing hearing in an adult criminal case. The biggest difference is that a juvenile disposition hearing focuses more on rehabilitating the juvenile than punishment.

According to N.J.S.A. § 2A:4A-41, a disposition must be entered within 30 days of adjudication if a juvenile is in a detention center or shelter facility. If the juvenile is not held in custody, the court has 60 days to hold a disposition hearing. Our Haddonfield, NJ criminal defense attorneys can help you through a disposition hearing.

Possible disposition options for juveniles include but are not limited to the following:

  • Probation
  • Community service
  • Fines and restitution
  • Substance abuse treatment
  • Behavioral health services

Many services provided by the court may be out-patient programs or residential. It is possible that the juvenile must leave home and stay at a care center for treatment and services. Incarceration in a juvenile detention center is also possible, although it cannot exceed 60 days. The court might also decide to suspend or defer disposition for up to a year. The juvenile’s behavior during that year may determine what happens next.

What Happens to My Juvenile Record in New Jersey?

Much like in the adult criminal system, a juvenile adjudicated delinquent will have a criminal record. However, the record is different from an adult record because juvenile offenses can be more easily expunged when the juvenile becomes an adult. Talk to our Sea Isle City criminal defense lawyers about expunging your juvenile record.

According to N.J.S.A. § 2C:52-4.1, a juvenile may have their record expunged. To have your entire juvenile record expunged, you must meet specific criteria. First, 3 years must have passed since the end of your final discharge from custody or supervision. If you were not held in any custody, 3 years must have passed since your final disposition.

Second, you must not have been convicted of a criminal offense – juvenile or adult – during the 3 years since the end of your last disposition or discharge from custody. You must also have no proceedings or complaints pending against you during that time.

Third, you can only have your record expunged as long as the offense you were adjudicated for did not constitute a crime where expungement is barred.

Fourth, you must have never had an adult conviction expunged before. Your current expungement must be your first.

Finally, you must not have had any adult criminal charges dismissed after completing some sort of supervisory treatment or diversion program.

Call Our New Jersey Juvenile Defense Lawyers

If your child has been taken into police custody, contact our South Jersey criminal defense attorneys right away. Call Law Offices of John J. Zarych at (609) 616-4956 for a free case review before exploring legal options.

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