In New Jersey, any individual under the age of eighteen is considered a juvenile, and subject to
exceptions for waiver, will be dealt with in a separate court with separate rules. For example, a juvenile is never “convicted” of anything. They are adjudicated delinquent. That adjudication can have serious consequences however and these matters need to be treated seriously.
There are certain principles that equally applicable to juvenile proceedings as to adult proceedings. The child is presumed to be innocent. The State bears the burden of proving their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The child has the right to remain silent and cannot be compelled to give a statement or testify at any proceeding.
There are significant differences as well. A juvenile does not have a right to a jury trial. All
proceedings, including trial, will be solely before a judge. There is no bail in the juvenile system. There are alternatives to pretrial incarceration. The disposition (result) is directed towards rehabilitation and not punishment as the adult court is. That does not mean a child cannot be incarcerated. It simply means that the court seeks to find programs and processes that will correct the behavior and avoid future violations.
There are many ways a juvenile matter can be resolved.
The least significant is a conference committee. A conference committee may be a juvenile probation officer or a panel of citizens in your town. The juvenile appears and explains what occurred. The committee will recommend some type action on the juveniles part, such as write a paper, go to a trauma center and see what injuries can result from bad behavior and the like. If
the child completes the task, the charge is dismissed.
The next level resolution is a “Deferred Adjudication”. The child appears in court and typically
admits certain conduct. The court accepts the admission and essentially places the matter on hold for a period of time which in my experience is 6 months or a year. If there is no further interaction with law enforcement during that time, the charges are dismissed. The final way a matter can be resolved is by the State dismissing the complaint, the juvenile admitting to some conduct or proceeding to trial. If the case results in an admission or an adjudication after trial, the court then sentences the juvenile.
A juvenile adjudication can have serious ramifications and it is often a mistake to assume it is
“no big deal”. It can effect the juveniles college opportunities, travel and otherwise restrict his freedom through incarceration or curfews. It always makes sense to consult with a lawyer before appearing in court with your child. If you find yourself in these circumstances, meet with a lawyer experienced in juvenile matters. It could make a significant difference.