Can a Juvenile be Tried as an Adult in New Jersey?

Arrested teenager with handcuffsWhen a juvenile is arrested for a criminal offense in New Jersey, the case is referred to the county Superior Court’s Family Division where Juvenile Conference Committees and Intake Service Conferences are conducted as diversionary measures.  JCC’s typically review minor offenses, and either dismiss the charges or issue informal penalties such as mandatory counseling, community service or compensating the victim for damages.  More serious offenses are reviewed by court intake staff during an ISC in order to determine if the offender should be tried in court.  The court intake staff considers numerous factors during an ISC, such as the juvenile’s age, his or her prior history and the severity of the offense.

Juvenile Charges that May be Transferred to Adult Court

When can a juvenile be tried as an adult in New Jersey? Although juvenile cases are normally tried under the family court system, cases may be transferred to adult court depending on the offense.  This is an uncommon procedure, but if the defendant is over 14 years of age and has been charged with a first or second degree crime, cases may be transferred upon the request of the prosecutor or the defendant.  Juvenile cases may also be transferred to adult court if the defendant already has a lengthy juvenile record, has been unsuccessful with past rehabilitation attempts, or would require extensive treatment and services in order to be rehabilitated.  The transfer request must be made by filing a motion, which will be approved or denied by a family court judge after a formal hearing.

Recent Changes to the New Jersey Juvenile Justice System

Within the past couple of years, the New Jersey Courts system has placed tougher requirements on prosecutors who request to try juveniles as adults.  On September 12, 2012, the Supreme Court of New Jersey ruled in a 3-2 decision that prosecutors must show how a juvenile being tried as an adult would deter him or her from committing future crimes.  In addition, the prosecutor must convince the court that the defendant’s case would set an example that would deter others from committing similar crimes.

This ruling has been hailed as a major victory by juvenile justice advocates, who argue that the penalties imposed by the adult court system cause juveniles long-term, irreparable harm.  For instance, juveniles who are convicted as adults will have permanent criminal records, disqualifying them from most jobs, bank loans, apartment rentals and even certain college programs.  Safety is also a major issue, since juveniles in adult facilities are highly vulnerable to assault, sexual abuse and thoughts of suicide.  The court’s ruling also favored loosening the requirements for defendants who wish to challenge a prosecutor’s transfer request.  In the majority court opinion written by Justice Jaynee LaVecchia, juveniles would still need to prove an abuse of discretion by the prosecutor, but would no longer be required to prove a “patent and gross abuse” of discretion.

Another change to the juvenile justice system occurred earlier that year at the federal level, when the U.S. Supreme Court banned mandatory life sentences for juvenile convictions.  The Court’s decision was significant, considering that at the time, 28 states allowed mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles.

Charged with a Crime as a Juvenile in NJ?

If you are a juvenile facing criminal charges, or have a family member who is being tried under the juvenile justice system, please speak to the criminal defense attorneys of Villani & DeLuca.  Juvenile offenses have serious consequences, including incarceration in a juvenile facility or state prison.  Experienced legal representation is the most effective way to protect your future, especially if you are being tried under the adult court system.  Please call (732) 965-3350 to schedule a free consultation with one of our juvenile criminal attorneys.