Juvenile Offenses – Protecting Your Child Through The Legal Process

Children make mistakes and sometimes find themselves in the juvenile court system. It is important to understand in such circumstances that the courts treat children differently than adults.

If an adult is charged with an offense under the criminal code, the case is heard in either municipal court or New Jersey Superior Court-Criminal Division, depending on the seriousness of the crime. If a child is charged with the same offense under the criminal code, the matter is heard in the New Jersey Superior Court-Chancery Division-Family Part. If the offense is minor and/or is a first offense, the case may be diverted into another forum for disposition, instead of before a Superior Court judge. Other dispositions may be through a station house adjustment, local municipal juvenile conference committee, intake services conference, referee or hearing officer. These are less formal proceedings that do not require an appearance before a Superior Court judge.

Due Process Rights For Children

A child has due process rights. When a case is to be heard before a Superior Court judge or a referee/hearing officer, the child is entitled to discovery and a trial. Depending upon the seriousness of the charges, the child may be released in the care of his/her parents pending the disposition of the case or held at a juvenile detention center. The County Prosecutor’s Office represents the state in these proceedings. The trial is held in front of a judge or referee/hearing officer, not a jury. There is an opportunity prior to the trial to attempt to reach a plea agreement with the prosecutor. This will often include an agreement to plead to a less serious charge and an agreement as to the prosecutor’s recommended sentence.

A child who is found or pleads guilty to charges is adjudicated as delinquent. In contrast to adult criminal court, where sentencing is punitive in nature, the focus of sentencing in juvenile court is rehabilitative when possible. This is true whether it concerns underage drinking or allegations of misdemeanors or felonies. Sentencing can range from fines, restitution and loss of a driver’s license to in-patient residential treatment, outpatient counseling programs, other specific programs depending upon the child’s needs, probation and incarceration. With sexual abuse offenses, Megan’s law also applies to juvenile matters.

There are numerous items to consider in juvenile matters. No two children are alike, and no two cases are alike. It is important to determine the appropriate strategy to get the best result for each child based upon the facts of the case and the forum in which the matter will be heard.

Protecting The Needs Of Your Children

If your child has been charged with an offense and has to appear in court or an informal forum and you still have questions or are seeking representation, email us or call Carol H. Gold, Esquire, L.L.C., at 609-534-2778 and start protecting your child’s rights today. A skilled Lumberton attorney can provide the guidance you need. Schedule a consultation with a lawyer today.