JUVENILE JUSTICE SYSTEM
What is delinquency?
What isn't delinquency?
Why are juveniles treated differently from adults?
When can a juvenile be tried as an adult?
What is Family Court?
How do juvenile justice proceedings differ from
Please explain the beginning of a juvenile
When does the Prosecutor's Office become
What Happens When a Juvenile Appears in Court?
Can a Juvenile be Incarcerated?
I've been the victim of a juvenile crime;
is there anything I should know?
Q. What is delinquency?
A. The N.J. juvenile delinquency code defines juvenile delinquency as
an act committed by someone under age 18 that would be a serious crime,
a disorderly persons offense, a petty disorderly persons offense, or a
violation of a municipal ordinance if committed by an adult. This includes
a wide range of offenses, ranging from spray painting graffiti and shoplifting
to armed robbery and aggravated assault. Delinquency cases are generally
heard and decided in Family Court.
Q. What isn't delinquency?
A. Motor vehicle offenses, boating offenses, and smoking in restricted
public areas are not delinquency. These in municipal court, whether committed
by juveniles or adults. Other juvenile problems, such as running away
from home, truancy and serious conflicts with parental authority are not
delinquency, and are generally handled by Juvenile-Family Crisis Intervention
Units. These cases may be petitioned to Family Court when such a Unit
is unable to resolve the crisis without court intervention.
Q. Why are juveniles treated differently from adults?
A. The philosophy that led to the creation of a separate juvenile justice
system in the early 20th Century is that the court can act in place of
the juvenile's parents. The primary goal was to rehabilitate the juvenile.
The focus has changed over the years and today the juvenile justice system
is also concerned with holding juveniles accountable for their actions
and protecting public safety.
Q. When can a juvenile be tried as an adult?
A. When the juvenile commits a serious offense and it does not seem likely
that he or she can be rehabilitated by age 19, that juvenile's case may
be "waived" (transferred) to the Superior Court Criminal Division
for prosecution as an adult. This can be done at the request of the prosecutor
only after hearing and approval by the Family Court. Once the Family Court
waives jurisdiction, the case can be handled like any other adult case
and is no longer part of the juvenile justice system. Waivers represent
less than 1 of the cases handled by the juvenile courts. Waivers for more
serious cases are automatic for 16 and 17 year olds, once a judge determines
that the State has established probable cause.
Q. What is Family Court?
A. The Family Division of Superior Court is much more than judges in courtrooms
deciding cases. The family court handles all problems relating to family
relationships, including child abuse, domestic violence, child support,
custody, visitation and divorce cases. For juvenile cases involving criminal
actions there are alternative ways to resolve less serious cases. These
alternate ways are known as "diversion", and are subject to
screening guidelines administered by court intake staff. Two forms of
diversion are juvenile conference committees and intake service conferences,
both of which seek to reach agreements with parents or guardians as to
what actions that the juvenile must undertake, including apology, restitution,
and community service. If the case goes to hearing and is decided by a
judge, a range of disposition actions are available, including probation,
transferal of custody of the minor, DYFS oversight, fines, restitution,
community service, participation in treatment programs for substance abuse,
placement in a residential facility, postponement or suspension of a drivers
license, and incarceration.
Q. How do juvenile justice proceedings differ from
A. Juveniles accused of delinquency are covered by confidentiality provisions,
although delinquency information can be shared with victims or victims'
family members and with schools in limited instances. Most juvenile hearings
are closed to the public and victims do not have a right to observe these
Q. Please explain the beginning of a juvenile case.
A. A case begins after the municipal police arrest a juvenile and draft
a complaint alleging juvenile delinquency. When a juvenile is detained
in the Youth House, the complaints and some of the police reports are
lodged with the juvenile. Under mandate, the case is scheduled before
a judge within 24 hours. If, on the other hand, a juvenile is released
to a parent, the police forward the complaints directly to the Clerk's
Office of the Superior Court.
Q. When does the Prosecutor's Office become involved?
A. The Prosecutor's Office becomes involved when there are serious charges
and/or the juvenile becomes re-involved. In these cases, there are formal
Court proceedings that resemble adult criminal proceedings.
Q. What Happens When a Juvenile Appears in Court?
A. In a formal proceeding, the juvenile can either plead guilty or request
a trial. The vast majority of cases are resolved by guilty pleas. If a
trial is required, it will be a trial before the juvenile judge alone
without a jury. A major difference between the juvenile and adult systems
is that the prosecutor does not make binding sentencing recommendations
as part of a plea bargain. The judge has total discretion regarding the
sentence imposed. The least punitive is an "Adjourned Disposition"
where the juvenile can "earn" the dismissal of his/her charge
by fulfilling certain conditions such as restitution, community service,
counseling or school attendance for a specified period. Probation is another
potential disposition wherein the juvenile must report periodically to
a probation officer and fulfill certain special conditions. Residential
placements are another possibility. Here, the juvenile is taken away from
home and placed in a residential facility designed to focus on specific
problems such as drug or alcohol abuse.
Q. Can a Juvenile be Incarcerated?
A. The judge may also impose a term of incarceration as the disposition.
Relatively few juveniles are ever incarcerated but the number may increase,
as legislative changes require jail terms for juveniles who commit certain
offenses and continue to commit more serious offenses. Incarceration guidelines
are as follows for juveniles:
-- First Degree, 4 years maximum
-- Second Degree, 3 years maximum
-- Third Degree, 2 years maximum
-- Fourth Degree, 1 year maximum
The juvenile justice system is more lenient and informal than many people
realize. The basic philosophy of the juvenile justice system is rehabilitation
of the juvenile, not punishment.
Q. I've been the victim of a juvenile crime; is
there anything I should know?
A. Yes, juvenile cases move through the system very rapidly. If you have
been the victim of juvenile crime contact the Victim Witness unit of the
juvenile division immediately (973) 621-5384.