Juvenile Delinquency

When kids are accused of crimes, they are subject to a different criminal justice system than adults face when they are accused of criminal conduct. The main concept behind this approach is that kids make mistakes, and the courts should offer them opportunities for rehabilitation instead of just pure punishment. The court has a greater interest in helping reform a juvenile after a mistake instead of just punishing them for their misconduct. If you are facing juvenile delinquency charges, then it is important to get in touch with an experienced criminal defense attorney right away.

What is a Juvenile?

In New Jersey, anyone under the age of eighteen is considered a juvenile. Juvenile criminal offenses are outlined in a section of the New Jersey Statutes that is different from where you find regular adult criminal offenses. Juvenile cases are governed by the New Jersey Code of Juvenile Justice. This body of law describes what court has jurisdiction over juvenile cases, what charges juveniles can face, and how the court can treat/punish juveniles who have violated the law.

What Makes Juvenile Offenses Different from Adult Offenses?

Juvenile offenses are different from adult offenses both conceptually and in practice. The first most basic difference between juvenile and adult offenses is the terminology. Adults are arrested when they are accused of committing a crime. Juveniles are not arrested but are instead “taken into custody.” As adults are convicted of a crime if they are found guilty of criminal charges, juveniles in New Jersey are considered to be “adjudicated delinquent” if their juvenile delinquency charges are proven. While these differences may seem like semantics, they point to the idea that juveniles should be directed towards rehabilitation and reform instead of the punishment that adults are expected to face when they commit crimes.

Which Court Handles Juvenile Offenses?

In the state of New Jersey, juvenile offenses are handled in family court, not a criminal court. Juvenile offenses are handled in family court because the idea and purpose of the juvenile justice system to help rehabilitate juveniles and their families. The only time that a juvenile will see a criminal court is if they are tried as an adult. The Juvenile court system is operated by the Juvenile Justice Commission, which has three main responsibilities when dealing with juvenile cases; providing care, custody, and rehabilitative services to youths who have been adjudicated delinquent.

Juvenile Cases Will Be Put on One of Two Calendars

All juvenile cases go through an initial screening, where the cases will be put on either the formal or informal calendar of the court. The formal calendar is for more serious cases, while the informal calendar is for more serious cases. If a case is put on the informal calendar, then there is no possibility of being incarcerated if they are found delinquent. If a case is put on the formal calendar, then the juvenile faces the possibility of incarceration if they are deemed delinquent. Cases on the formal calendar will be appointed counsel if necessary.

How are Juvenile Offenses Processed in Court?

The family court has a specific procedure in how juvenile delinquency cases are processed. When a juvenile is arrested for a criminal complaint, the process they will experience is as follows:

  1. The juvenile will be subject to a detention hearing within 24 hours of being taken into custody.
  2. If the juvenile stays in custody, then a probable cause hearing will take place within two court days. If probable cause is not found, then the juvenile is released from custody. The judge will also have the option to release the juvenile from custody if probable cause is found in the form of house arrest, GPS tether, or whatever else the court deems appropriate.
  3. If the juvenile remains in custody after the probable cause hearing, then the court will conduct review hearings at 14- and 21-day intervals to determine if the juvenile should be released.
  4. An adjudicator hearing takes place. This is similar to an adult trial, except the judge is the only person who will decide the outcome of the case. No juries are available in juvenile cases.
  5. If the judge does not feel the charges were proven, they will be dismissed. If the judge feels the charges were proven, then the judge will adjudicate the juvenile as delinquent. The judge will thereafter conduct a disposition hearing which is comparable to an adult criminal sentencing.

There are various diversion options that might be available in your case. If you are placed on a diversion, then you will likely be required to complete a period of monitoring and requirements from the court. If you complete all of the terms of your diversion program, then your delinquency charges will be dismissed, and your case closed. These conditions can last as long as six months. If you are seeking a diversion for your juvenile case, then your case will either be sent to a Juvenile Conference Committee (JCC) or an Intake Services Conference (ISC). JCCs are local citizens that are trained and utilized by the court to review delinquency complaints. ISCs are trained judicial court staff that will handle more serious juvenile delinquency actions. It is important to speak to an experienced juvenile defense attorney to fully understand all of your options.

Where are Juvenile Delinquency Laws Found?

New Jersey's juvenile delinquency laws can be found in the New Jersey Statutes starting at Title 2A:4A-20. These juvenile laws continue all the way to Title 2A:4A-92. These laws are separate from the New Jersey adult code of criminal justice, which is located at Title 2C of the New Jersey Statutes.

What are the Constitutional Rights of Juveniles?

Juveniles in New Jersey have a lot of the same constitutional rights as adults, but they don't have all of the rights adults do. Juveniles are guaranteed the right to have an attorney represent them, and if they cannot afford one, then the court will appoint the public defender. Juveniles have the right to be presumed innocent and the right to confront any witnesses. Juveniles also have a fifth amendment right to remain silent and can choose not to testify in a trial against them. Juveniles, however, do not have the right to a jury trial as all juvenile delinquency cases are decided solely by a judge. Juveniles also cannot have their charges determined by a grand jury as adults can. Finally, if a juvenile is in custody, they do not have the right to bail. Adults have the right to bail if they are being held in custody on a criminal charge.

What are the Potential Penalties for a Juvenile Adjudication?

Juveniles have lower potential penalties for most juvenile adjudications than adults do for criminal convictions. If a juvenile is adjudicated delinquent, then the judge can order a variety of sentences, including incarceration and probation. A juvenile can be placed on probation for up to three years if found delinquent of a juvenile charge. The juvenile can also be removed from their home and placed with a relative or even the Department of Children and Families.

When Can a Juvenile Be Tried as an Adult?

Juveniles that are fourteen years of age or older can be tried as an adult in certain circumstances. If the case involves a serious offense such as murder, sexual assault, robbery, or one of several other crimes, then the juvenile can be involuntarily waived into adult court through a motion from the prosecutor. A juvenile can also voluntarily waive their case into adult court if they wish. This might be a good option if it looks like the adult system and process would be more favorable than the juvenile system.

If a juvenile is convicted as an adult, then they can face lengthy sentences of incarceration, but there are limits. The United States Supreme Court has previously ruled that a juvenile cannot be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole as that would be considered cruel and unusual punishment, against the protections of the constitution. Juveniles also cannot be sentenced to death anywhere in the United States. New Jersey is not a death penalty state, so a death penalty is not a possibility for a conviction.

Contact the Lento Law Firm Today

If you are facing a juvenile delinquency charge, then it is important to speak to an experienced juvenile criminal defense attorney. Juvenile delinquency charges can vary greatly, as can the potential punishment. Understanding the full parameters of your juvenile delinquency charge is critical to formulating the appropriate defense strategy. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has unparalleled experience in helping juveniles and their families through what is often their most difficult time in life. Attorney Lento and his team at the Lento Law Firm have the required experience and proficiency that you need to help you find success defending your charge. To learn why the Lento Law Firm is the right choice to help you fight your juvenile delinquency charge, call us toll-free at 888-535-3686 or contact us online.

​​​Contact The Lento Law Firm Today


When it comes to criminal defense cases, you need the right person in your corner. To learn more about how Mr. Lento can help you, call the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686. or contact him online.

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