The Juvenile Justice System and the Need for a Competent Lawyer

Few things are as frightening to a parent as learning that a beloved child is in trouble with the law. A criminal record may follow a child into adulthood, making the selection of a qualified juvenile defense attorney particularly important.

Most children (defined as being under 18 years old) who are charged with a crime in New Jersey are subject to New Jersey’s juvenile justice system. The crimes can range from vandalism to murder. Youths charged under this system have many of the same rights granted to adults. For instance, they have the right to remain silent, the right of cross-examination and, perhaps most importantly, the right to legal counsel. Juvenile court records in New Jersey are sealed, so no member of the public may have direct access to them.

Perhaps the main difference between the adult and juvenile justice systems is their overall intent. While the adult system is designed to punish, the juvenile system combines the need for punishment with a preference for rehabilitation. All things being equal, public policy prefers that juveniles shape up their act and become responsible members of society, as opposed to career criminals. The juvenile justice system takes into account the fact that young people are still developing a moral code, and the sentences are intended to help offenders develop more constructive ways of interacting with society.

Also unlike adult courts, juvenile courts do not have a jury. The types of sentences handed down are also different. A juvenile may be required to pay a fine or complete a treatment program. They may be sentenced to a period of time in juvenile hall or required to serve a period of probation. They may receive a deferred adjudication, meaning that if they stay out of trouble for a long enough period of time the charge(s) will be dismissed.  They may be diverted to the court’s informal calendar, such as through the Juvenile Conference Committee, or the Intake Supervision Program.  Additionally, for certain crimes the juvenile can be tried as an adult, in which case he would face the same severe penalties as would adult criminals.

Even when a juvenile infraction seems minor, it’s important to enlist the services of a qualified juvenile defense attorney. Your child’s future may depend on having competent legal representation. It’s never advisable to allow a minor child to face a court date on their own as the outcome of their case can significantly affect their path in life. A juvenile defense attorney understands the system and can ensure that your child’s legal rights are protected.

Call to schedule a free initial consultation. Your child’s safety and welfare may at least partly depend on the quality of the legal counsel you obtain.