New Jersey Juvenile Lawyer
Criminal offenses committed by minors under the age of 18 are considered to be acts of juvenile delinquency by law in New Jersey. Notably, the court process for juveniles is much different from that for adults who are alleged to have committed crimes. Since the nuances and outcomes of juvenile court are vastly different than in adult cases, it is important to hire an attorney who understands this area of criminal law in particular. Hiring an attorney who simply does adult criminal defense work may not be enough to deliver the best results for your child, as juvenile court is unique and should be handled accordingly. Equally important is the need for parents to be educated on the process of juvenile court, as well as the rights extended to their children throughout this process. At the firm of Proetta & Oliver, our lawyers possess the knowledge and practical experience to successfully defend your minor child when charged with a crime in Union County, NJ. Whether it be in Rahway, Linden, Mountainside, Cranford, Clark, Elizabeth, Roselle Park, or elsewhere that he or she was taken into custody, we can help. Contact us at (908) 838-0150 to receive a free consultation with a juvenile defense lawyer serving clients throughout Union County. You can learn more about the juvenile justice system with the information below.
What is the Juvenile Criminal Justice Process in New Jersey?
When a Juvenile is Arrested
Any youth under the age of 18 can be arrested for any act of delinquency. An act of delinquency refers to any conduct that would be considered a crime, disorderly persons offense, petty disorderly persons offense or violation of any ordinance or other law if the offending individual were an adult. The officer investigating the case has the right to identify the suspected juvenile and take him or her into custody, basically the equivalent of an arrest for a person aged 18 or older. However, the arresting officer must have probable cause to believe that the minor committed any such offense before he or she can be taken into custody. Commonly charged acts of juvenile delinquency include:
- underage drinking
- possession of less than 50 grams of marijuana
- simple assault
- possession of a weapon
- disorderly conduct
- criminal trespass
- criminal mischief
- receiving stolen property
- possession of a controlled dangerous substance (CDS)
- aggravated assault
- joyriding (unlawful taking means of conveyance)
Processing for a Juvenile at the Police Station
Upon arresting a juvenile, an officer provides them with their miranda rights. Shortly thereafter, the officer must make every effort to contact the parent or guardian and advise them of the arrest and the location of the police station. At this time, the police may want to question the child concerning the events leading to the arrest. Regardless, the officer must wait for the child’s parents to arrive. The child may waive his right to remain silent or contact an attorney, but this can only be done with the assistance and permission of the parent. Learn more about your rights when police want to question you.
After the police consider all information, they may choose to do a “Stationhouse Adjustment” or refer the matter to the Juvenile Court for processing. A stationhouse adjustment offers the minor an opportunity to avoid court altogether by completing some act of penance, whether it be an apology letter, a book report, or community service. If police decide to move forward with charging the juvenile with an offense, then the case will proceed to the Family Court in the county where he or she lives. If the matter is serious or the parents cannot be located, the prosecutor may file for detention in a Juvenile facility or shelter.
When a Juvenile Case is Sent to Court
For the most part, a complaint for an act of delinquency must be filed in the county Superior Court, Family Division where the child is a resident. There, the Family Division may choose to take action similar to that of a stationhouse adjustment. A Juvenile Conference Committee (JCC) meets and can decide conditions to impose to divert the matter from court. For example, they may meet with you and your child and advise that as long as your son or daughter writes a letter of apology to the victim, pays for the stolen item, cleans up the area, or some other act of service, the matter will be dismissed. This diversion is not always possible and sometimes the complaint is referred to formal court for processing. Likewise, the complaint can be processed after the juvenile has failed to meet the conditions of the JCC.
If your child’s matter has been sent to the Family Division, it means that the local county prosecutor’s office has decided to prosecute them. The minor has the right to an attorney and is afforded all of the same rights as adults including motions, hearings, and ultimately trials. Actually, juveniles must have a lawyer representing them when facing criminal charges in New Jersey. Before a trial, there are certain procedural steps taken by the court. To start, if detention has been sought by the state, a hearing in front of the Family Court Judge will take place in which the Judge decides whether to hold or release the child. This procedure is used more often in crimes of violence, and extreme cases such as sexual assault, not petty offenses.
Aside from a detention hearing, the first court date is for a plea hearing. As attorneys, we enter our appearance, seek discovery from the prosecutor, go to court with you to enter a not guilty plea, and discuss potential options for best resolving your juvenile case. At the plea hearing, if an agreement is not reached, the judge will set the case down for a preliminary hearing. By that date, all information should be received, reviewed, and a decision as to a plea offer or counteroffer can be made. If a plea is reached, it is put on the record at the preliminary hearing. If there is no consensus among the parties, our juvenile defense lawyers will advise the judge at the hearing of any motions to be filed. Thereafter, the judge sets a date for motions and eventually a trial date. If the case is tried, the judge is the only adjudicator of guilt and does so by listening to witnesses, reviewing evidence, and applying the law.
Penalties and Options in Juvenile Criminal Cases
If the child has been adjudicated delinquent (found guilty), they face a variety of potential consequences, including time in a detention facility as authorized under the juvenile code. However, there are many options for resolving a juvenile case. The sentence could be a simple term of probation, an alternative sentence, community service, days or even years in a state facility, and in some cases, waiver to adult court to face sentencing as an adult offender.
Elizabeth Juvenile Defense Attorney
The first step in helping your son or daughter is learn about the criminal offense you have been charged with so you can know the facts and what to expect. As mentioned above, juvenile charges are normally brought before the county where the juvenile resides with his parents or guardians rather than where the offense occurred. However, in certain instances, such as a case involving co-defendants from different counties, a judge may grant a motion to transfer the case to the county of the offense. It is also important to understand that you are not entitled to a jury for a juvenile trial and many rules regarding trial and sentencing are different from the adult courts. With that in mind, you want a knowledgeable and experienced juvenile defense lawyer fighting for your child’s interests and protecting their future. Attorneys with experience in juvenile court understand the in’s and out’s of these proceedings and have a solid handle on what to do to achieve better results for their clients. Conversely, those without experience in Juvenile Court can be misled or frightened into a guilty plea or unfavorable sentence, simply due to their complete lack of understanding of the juvenile process. That is not the case with the juvenile lawyers at our law office in Union County.
Founding attorney, William A. Proetta, Esq., has extensive hands-on experience working juveniles and their families to help effectuate successful resolutions to juvenile delinquency charges. He and our defense team know what options are available, such referrals back to back to the JCC for dismissal, deferred dispositions (dismissals after pleas), downgrades, and caps on the permissible punishments. Whether we are limiting the exposure to fines and obtaining probation in lieu of jail, or getting charges against a minor dismissed altogether, our juvenile defense attorneys go above and beyond to protect our client at every step of the process. Ultimately, we know how to try a case in juvenile court and will not hesitate to do so, which also gives us a better negotiating posture. Contact the law office of Proetta & Oliver in Cranford, for a free consultation regarding your juvenile charges in New Jersey. A juvenile defense lawyer for clients in Elizabeth and throughout Union County is available by calling (908) 838-0150 or contacting us by email to schedule a free initial consultation.