New Jersey Rules on Juvenile Waivers to Adult Court

juvenile delinquency

Lawyers that Defend Juvenile Clients Waived into Adult Court in Middlesex County, NJ

New Jersey’s tough-on-crime laws punish adults to the degree their social breach warrants. The more heinous the crime, the worse the punishment. Thus, first degree crimes like murder, aggravated sexual assault, armed robbery, kidnapping, and other violent crimes, pertain to those considered most dangerous to society, those who presumably threaten the very fabric of social cooperation and coexistence. The same applies to those who profit from another’s harm, like drug trafficking rings and far-reaching fraud schemes. The presumption is that adults make choices for which they know the consequences. On the other hand, juveniles are not adults with fully-formed brains who know the full extent of the harm they inflict on others by their behavior. As a result, they are less able to control their impulses and thus, are treated differently under the law. As such, the juvenile justice system aims to reform and rehabilitate delinquents more than punishing them for what they should know is wrong. However, some juveniles allegedly commit egregious crimes that the state believes warrant punishment by and through the adult criminal justice system.

To make that happen, the prosecutor must file the appropriate paperwork in juvenile court and the judge will hold a hearing on whether there are sufficient reasons or probable cause for the juvenile to be tried as an adult. Since the juvenile court system within the Family Court has jurisdiction over minors accused of crimes, the juvenile court judge must decide whether to transfer the juvenile to the adult criminal court.

Why is it Better for a Juvenile Case to Stay in Juvenile Court in New Jersey?

Since they are minors and not adults, the state and juvenile system treat defendants differently at various stages of the criminal process. For example, police do not arrest and book a juvenile but instead take them into custody. If the court finds they committed a crime, they are not convicted but deemed adjudicated juvenile. After adjudication as a juvenile delinquent, a judge tailors the juvenile’s appropriate sentencing and punishment to the individual. A commission evaluates where the youth should be placed, according to the resources they need and their suitability for institutionalization or monitoring elsewhere. Typically, juvenile punishment is far more lenient than that of an adult. For example, an adult may serve a ten-year sentence in state prison for robbery, while a 15-year-old may only serve up to four years in a juvenile detention center or get probation. And while adults must serve 85% of their term for certain crimes under the No Early Release Act, juveniles only do one-third of their time. In addition, juvenile conviction records are not public, whereas adult convictions are.

How can Juveniles be Tried as Adults in NJ?

To try a juvenile as an adult, a prosecutor must file for a waiver, meaning court permission to forego juvenile court proceedings and law for adult law and sentencing ((N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-26). They only have 60 days from when they receive the case to file the waiver with the court. Only 15-year-olds or older may be the subject of the waiver, and only certain crimes are waivable. Criminal charges such as homicide, aggravated sexual assault, carjacking, aggravated assault, robbery with a weapon, kidnapping, and possessing a firearm to hurt someone, may subject a juvenile to waiver. For example, a prosecutor may believe a 15-year-old who commits murder should be tried as an adult and serve time in an adult prison. But even non-waivable crimes can be tried in adult court but then go back to juvenile court for sentencing.

The presumption is that juveniles serve adult conviction prison sentences in juvenile detention centers. However, a prosecutor can rebut the presumption with evidence as to why the youth should serve a prison sentence in state prison. In addition, juveniles are held in juvenile facilities pending trial, and they are not usually indicted nor tried by a jury. Also, prison wardens may not punish them in solitary confinement. And yet, at the waiver hearing, a prosecutor may convince a judge that a waiver is best for public safety and a juvenile is beyond rehabilitation through the juvenile system. The leniency of the juvenile system proposes to rehabilitate young offenders but can only do so if a minor could benefit from rehabilitative efforts.

What a Juvenile Defense Attorney can do to Prevent a Minor from Waived up to Adult Court

Despite a prosecutor’s argument to the contrary, a savvy juvenile law attorney well-acquainted with juvenile waiver proceedings can convince a judge that state prison and adult criminal proceedings are not in the best interests of the juvenile, nor in the state’s best interests. Juveniles in state prisons are endangered by adult prisoners, risking assault and suicide. Moreover, rather than rehabilitating the young person, adult prison furthers a youth’s criminal education. As a result, they are more likely to commit further crimes when released, creating more public safety risks. And an adult criminal conviction becomes a part of the juvenile’s record, making it harder to gain a fresh start after serving their sentence.

Arguing for a juvenile to stay in the juvenile court, an attorney can provide evidence of mitigating circumstances that show the minor is not a hardened criminal beyond redemption. For example, perhaps the juvenile showed remorse, which shows they have a conscience. Also, their attorney might show the youth was not the ringleader or initiator of the crime but influenced by others. Most importantly, however, the judge should understand that the juvenile should remain in family court. There, the sentence is lighter, and the youth can be turned around, perform community service, pay restitution, and get necessary counseling to aid in their reformation.

Facing Juvenile Waiver to Adult Court in New Brunswick, NJ

If your child is facing criminal charges that could risk an adult conviction, do not wait until the prosecutor files a waiver. Instead, speak with a criminal defense attorney who frequently handles serious juvenile crime cases right away. Contact our office now to discuss your options for avoiding your son or daughter being tried as an adult in Middlesex County or elsewhere in New Jersey. Our lawyers have successfully navigated numerous cases like this, so we can review the discovery, understand the prosecutor’s case, and prepare a solid defense against waiver to adult criminal court.

Our legal team can guide you and inform you about the proceedings and help you and your child protect their best interests every step of the way. With so much riding on the outcome, we want to ensure that your child has the best representation and opportunity to start anew. If you have any questions at all about juvenile waivers and what can be done immediately, call (732) 659-9600 to speak with a lawyer handling juvenile defense.

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.