Juveniles, particularly those nearing the age of majority at eighteen, unfortunately sometimes commit acts of domestic violence. Those acts may harm parents, siblings, or other family members in the household. Those acts may also harm unrelated persons, including cohabiting girlfriends or boyfriends with whom the juvenile is living and may even have had a child. The rise in teen sexual activity and pregnancy highlights the juvenile domestic violence risk. That trend raises the question: What criminal charges or other consequences may a juvenile face when the juvenile commits domestic violence against a family member or date?
New Jersey's Domestic Violence Prevention Act
New Jersey's Domestic Violence Prevention Act does not make a separate crime out of domestic violence. Instead, the Act enhances the charge and sentence against individuals who commit domestic violence for certain other listed crimes. Under N.J.S.A. 2C:25-19, those other crimes for which domestic violence enhancement is available include homicide, assault, sexual assault, criminal sexual contact, stalking, criminal restraint, false imprisonment, and several other less common crimes. But in defining the crimes for which domestic violence enhancement is available, N.J.S.A. 2C:25-19specifically refers to the occurrence of those crimes “inflicted upon a person protected under this act by an adult or an emancipated minor….” (Emphasis added.) Prosecutors construe these provisions to mean that unemancipated juveniles are not subject to domestic violence enhancements under New Jersey's Domestic Violence Prevention Act. The New Jersey Criminal Justice Division Training Manual states expressly that “an unemancipated minor may not be prosecuted as a domestic violence defendant….”
While New Jersey's Domestic Violence Prevention Act makes clear that unemancipated minors do not face domestic violence enhancement of criminal charges, N.J.S.A. 2C:25-19 leaves the clear inference that emancipated minors may face domestic violence enhancement of criminal charges. Indeed, N.J.S.A. 2C:25-19 reinforces that emancipated minors can face domestic violence enhancements by going on to define an emancipated minor as “a person who is under 18 years of age but who has been married, has entered military service, has a child or is pregnant or has been previously declared by a court or an administrative agency to be emancipated.” Under any of those conditions, the minor is emancipated and subject to domestic violence enhancement under New Jersey's Domestic Violence Prevention Act.
Juvenile Delinquency Charges
What happens to unemancipated minors who commit domestic violence? Juveniles committing criminal acts face juvenile delinquency charges. Domestic violence crimes are no exception. Once again, the New Jersey Criminal Justice Division Training Manual states expressly, “While an unemancipated minor may not be prosecuted as a domestic violence defendant, the minor may be prosecuted under the juvenile delinquency laws if he or she committed a criminal offense against a victim of domestic violence.” (Emphasis added.) Domestic violence is always a serious wrong, potentially bringing serious consequences, no matter the age of the person whom authorities allege committed it.
Retain New Jersey criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm for aggressive and effective defense of emancipated juvenile domestic violence charges or unemancipated juvenile delinquency proceedings. Call 888-535-3686 for a consultation now or use the online service.
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