Juvenile vs. Adult Criminal Court in New Jersey

A man being arrested and handcuffed

Is a Juvenile Criminal Case the Same as an Adult Criminal Case?

There are significant differences between a juvenile and adult criminal case in New Jersey. If you or your child has a pending juvenile criminal matter, it is important to understand some of the most striking differences between the two systems. If you are in need of individualized advice from a knowledgeable juvenile defense attorney based on the specific facts of your case, contact us today at (732) 659-9600 for a free consultation.

Unique Goal of Juvenile Proceedings in Middlesex County, NJ

New Jersey law establishes an overarching principal to guide juvenile proceedings that is distinct from the goals behind adult criminal proceedings. The juvenile process is designed to place the “best interests of the child” first and foremost. The state places particular emphasis on rehabilitation and alternative sentencing options in juvenile court. These goals make juvenile court significantly more forgiving than the adult criminal court system. Reflecting this unique goal, the Family Part of the Middlesex County Superior Court handles juvenile proceedings.

When a Juvenile is Charged with a Crime in New Brunswick

Essentially any adult crime can be charged and prosecuted as juvenile offense if you, as the defendant, are under 18 years old. Some of the most common juvenile offenses in New Jersey are disorderly conductsimple assaultshoplifting (petty theft), and drug possession, particularly possession of marijuana. Minors also frequently face charges for trespassingunderage alcohol possessioncriminal mischief, and drug paraphernalia.

If you commit a particularly serious crime as a juvenile and you are over 14 at the time of the offense, a prosecutor can request to “waive” your case into adult criminal court. This applies in cases involving murder, certain crimes involving firearms, sexual assault, armed robbery, and the like. Juvenile cases that have been waived into adult court will be heard in the county superior court, criminal division. When a minor is tried in adult court, their case is heard by a jury, rather than a juvenile court judge.

Ways to Avoid Serious Penalties for Juvenile Charges in Edison

Given the New Jersey juvenile court system’s emphasis on rehabilitation, many first-time juvenile offenders are eligible for “deferred disposition.” Your eligibility for deferred disposition depends on the seriousness of your offense and your criminal history. If you are eligible for this procedure, you may be able to avoid being “adjudicated delinquent,” the juvenile court equivalent of being found guilty of a criminal offense in the adult criminal court system. Provided that you avoid subsequent arrests and comply with any conditions of the deferred disputation ordered by your judge (submitting to random drug testing or completing community service, for example) for a set period of time, the court may ultimately order that the state delete all identifying information related to your arrest, including fingerprints and DNA, seal your arrest report, and otherwise dismiss the case that was pending against you. A qualified New Jersey juvenile defense attorney can tell you more about your chances of receiving a deferred disposition.

There are also a number of other diversionary programs available to juveniles, particularly first-time offenders, including the Juvenile Auto-Theft Prevention Program, the Prevention, Intervention, and Education Program, and the Family Crisis Intervention Unit. An experienced Middlesex County juvenile lawyer at our firm can tell you more about your eligibility for alternative sentencing or diversionary programs designed for juvenile offenders.

Need Help with a Juvenile Case in Woodbridge NJ

Don’t delay in getting answers to your specific questions about a juvenile criminal case in Woodbridge, Edison, Piscataway, New Brunswick, Metuchen, South Brunswick, Sayreville, or elsewhere in Middlesex County. We are committed to providing the best possible defense for minors charged with crimes in our local community. To receive a free consultation, call our Edison office at (732) 659-9600 or reach out online.

With more than a decade of experience defending clients against criminal charges, founding partner William A. Proetta has successfully handled and tried thousands of cases, from DWI to murder. As a New Jersey native, he has focused his career on helping people in the area where he grew up, serving Middlesex, Ocean, Hudson, and Union counties.