Contact Us Today!

Contact Us Today!

  • Message

(908) 272-0200

What Determines Being Tried as a Juvenile or an Adult in New Jersey?

It is not uncommon for teenagers to act impulsively, often without considering potential consequences. Their impulsivity has a logical explanation—it is simply a matter of the way their brains work. In fact, research shows that a person’s ability to think rationally does not finish developing until their mid-20s.  

Considering this information, New Jersey’s legal system tends to handle minors accused of crimes differently from adults. As with any rule, though, exceptions do exist and there are circumstances under which minors may be tried as an adult. 

If you’re responsible for a minor facing criminal charges that could lead to an adult trial, it’s vital to act quickly. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can help protect their future and minimize any potential punishment.

The purpose of the juvenile justice system vs. the purpose of the adult criminal justice system

The New Jersey criminal justice system handles adult criminal charges and juvenile charges differently—so much so that juvenile and adult cases are not even addressed by the same court. 

The juvenile justice system

New Jersey’s family court system holds jurisdiction over juvenile cases. The court’s primary goal is to rehabilitate young people accused of crimes and support them in becoming responsible, law-abiding adults. 

This court may facilitate this through measures such as:

While the juvenile justice system is designed to hold young offenders accountable for their actions and protect the public, punishment is not the sole focus.

Juvenile cases are confidential. Rather than being “convicted” of any crime, juveniles are “adjudicated delinquent.” Generally, records of adjudication are sealed either when the disposition expires or when the juvenile turns 18, whichever comes later. 

This protects minors from the lasting adverse effects that a criminal conviction might otherwise have on their lives, including college acceptance, employment, and even housing. 

The adult criminal justice system

Adult criminal cases are overseen by New Jersey’s superior court system. Juveniles’ susceptibility to peer pressure and impulsivity may be accommodated by the family court system, but the superior court does not afford the same opportunities.

While some rehabilitative measures are taken, the focus is primarily on punishment. Thus, juveniles who are tried in adult courts are less likely to be able to access supportive services that may serve to discourage future criminal behavior. They may also experience the negative effects of a permanent criminal record on everything from college applications to obtaining bank loans.

Additionally, studies support that juveniles who are transferred to adult facilities are significantly more likely to experience adverse outcomes, such as assaults, sexual abuse, and suicidal thoughts. 

Can juveniles be tried as adults in New Jersey?

In short, yes. While the legal system tends to be more lenient on young people, some juvenile cases are still tried in the superior court. 

While juveniles aged 14 or older may request to have their case transferred, juvenile cases may be waived to adult court at the request of the prosecutor. Typically, this happens when a juvenile is accused of committing a crime that is particularly severe, violent, or flagrant. 

Juvenile waiver to adult court in New Jersey 

When a prosecutor or juvenile files a Waiver to Adult Court, the family court holds a hearing to determine whether there is sufficient cause for the juvenile to be tried as an adult. The decision to transfer the case rests with the judge, and an experienced criminal defense attorney can assert the most persuasive argument that results in the best interest of the juvenile.

If the family court does relinquish jurisdiction over a juvenile case to adult criminal court, the juvenile will be tried in adult court and subject to the same penalties as an adult criminal. If found guilty, the juvenile could be sentenced to serve time in either an adult or juvenile facility, depending on the judge’s discretion. 

Considerations for charging a juvenile as an adult in New Jersey 

When deciding whether to waive jurisdiction over juvenile cases, the family court judge should consider a variety of factors, including: 

Per the law, the family court must waive jurisdiction if the prosecutor has demonstrated probable cause, the juvenile is at least 14 years old, AND any of the following are true:

Ways an attorney can help you 

Whether the case will be heard in the superior court or the family court, juveniles have the right to be represented by an attorney when they are accused of breaking the law. An attorney can help with navigating the complex court system, including any procedures, rights, and laws that are relevant to a juvenile criminal case.

In addition to building a proactive defense against the charges, a criminal defense lawyer works with their client to decrease the chances a case is heard in adult court by demonstrating:

Please schedule a consultation with our criminal defense attorneys at Dughi, Hewit & Domalewski if you or a family member are facing charges under the juvenile justice system. 

Serious consequences can be associated with juvenile offenses, including imprisonment or a permanent criminal record. If you are being tried in an adult court system, it is imperative that you have the support of a trusted attorney who can protect your rights and advocate for your highest interest. 

Schedule your consultation today.

Start Working With Us