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Can Juveniles Be Tried as Adults in New Jersey?


If your child has been arrested and charged with a criminal offense, you know how stressful and worrisome this situation is as a parent. The idea of your child being adjudicated (or undergoing judgment and receiving a sentence for their crimes) in the juvenile court system is likely less intimidating. Sentences issued in juvenile court tend to be more lenient with a goal toward rehabilitation, in comparison to harsher sentences issued in adult court.

But what if your child is transferred to adult court? You may be wondering if this is allowed in the state of New Jersey.

In New Jersey, a minor as young as 15 years old can be tried as an adult. This is not unprecedented; all 50 states have transfer laws that allow or require young offenders to be prosecuted as adults for more serious offenses, such as murder and certain felonies.

Types of Crimes

Minors can be tried as adults for the following types of felonies.

  • Criminal homicide
  • Theft
  • Carjacking
  • Sexual assault
  • Drug trafficking
  • Cases involving drug-induced deaths
  • Aggravated arson
  • Abduction of persons
  • Possession of a firearm while committing any of the above crimes
  • Attempt or conspiracy to commit any of the above crimes

Comparing Legislation Between States

Legislation regarding minors who have committed serious crimes has changed over the years. For instance, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that juveniles can no longer receive life sentences without parole—meaning they cannot remain in prison their entire lives without the ability to have a parole hearing or conditional release before completing their sentence.

In recent years, state-specific legislation defining the age a person is considered juvenile has also changed. Increasing the age by which a person is considered juvenile can perhaps help create more favorable outcomes for young people who have committed crimes.

  • In 2020, Vermont became the first state in the nation to expand juvenile court jurisdiction to age 18.
  • In 2019, Michigan raised the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to 17.
  • In 2018, Missouri raised the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to age 17.

According to New Jersey’s Code of Juvenile Justice, juveniles are not arrested but rather “taken into custody”—and if the charges against them are proved, they are not convicted but rather “adjudicated delinquent.” In New Jersey, no statute specifies the youngest age at which a person can be adjudicated delinquent. A judge can adjudicate a juvenile before imposing a disposition (sentence or punishment).

Any minor as young as 15 who has committed severe crimes in New Jersey needs the representation of a seasoned criminal defense attorney—especially with the possibility of the minor being transferred to adult court.

Ways an Attorney Can Help You

Attorneys representing juveniles who have committed crimes can help their clients in various ways.

  • Investigate and evaluate your case
  • Educate you on laws applicable to your situation
  • Recommend a defense strategy
  • Negotiate with prosecutors to reduce bail, charges, and sentences
    • For instance, charges can be reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor if the criminal defense attorney provides prosecutors with the “whole picture” vs. what the police or alleged victim stated.
    • Case dismissals are possible in certain circumstances.
    • Plea bargains are more common than case dismissals. There are three types.
      • Charge bargaining: This is the most common type of plea bargain. The defendant pleas to a lesser charge from the prosecutor; more serious charges are dismissed.
      • Sentence bargaining: Like charge bargaining, the defendant pleads guilty in exchange for a less severe sentence.
      • Fact bargaining: This is the least common type of plea bargain. The defendant agrees to admit certain facts so that the prosecution withholds other facts as evidence. Some courts do not allow fact bargaining.
  • Counsel you regarding the emotional aspects of a trial
  • Keep you informed at various stages of the process

Should I Choose a Public Defender or Private Attorney?

A private attorney typically has a smaller caseload and can be more attentive to individual cases than a public defender.

It’s also important to consider that when you secure the representation of a public defender, a different attorney handles each phase of your case. This system frequently leads to miscommunication and can feel impersonal, disorganized, and confusing.

When you hire a private attorney, you can usually count on working with the same team throughout the legal process. This can spare you additional stress during an acutely emotional time. Remember, this is your life on the line—you need an attorney who’s committed to helping you understand your legal options.

Required Waiver

Prosecutors in New Jersey can impose an involuntary waiver for a defendant (person who committed the crime) to be transferred to adult court. Judges can also initiate transfers. In this scenario, the defendant is said to be “waived up” from juvenile to adult court.

Waive of Transfer Procedure

  1. Consideration of several factors, including:
    1. The defendant’s prior record
    2. The probably of conviction and need for a grand jury investigation
    3. If a victim died because of the crime
    4. Harm inflicted on victims and the community
    5. The use or possession of a weapon during the crime
    6. Deterring the defendant and other individuals from committing similar future offenses
  2. A prosecutor or judge submits a motion to the Family Division in the Superior Court in the county where the case is being adjudicated.
    1. The motion must be submitted within 60 days of the prosecutor or judge’s involvement in the case.

Additional Considerations

When a motion for a waive of transfer from juvenile to adult court is passed for a defendant who is a minor, the defendant’s capacity for decision making may also be considered. Research shows that the brain does not fully mature until about age 24. The prefrontal cortex—the area of the brain responsible for impulse control and judgment—matures particularly late.

Additionally, studies have also found that long prison sentences do not always prevent recidivism—the tendency to engage in repeated criminal behavior—in juveniles.

A determined legal advocate will use this information when defending a juvenile who has committed a serious crime and is at risk of being transferred to adult court. An additional advantage of being adjudicated at juvenile court is the emphasis placed on rehabilitation.

Post-incarceration services and youth advocates can help lawyers expedite the cases of minors, as well as keep tabs on them after they’re released from prison. It’s essential that minors have a support system to aid them in a successful transition back into society and decrease the likelihood of repeated offenses.

Call us today at (201) 574-7919 or submit your information here to schedule your consultation.

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