Understanding the Juvenile Justice System

The transition from child to adult is never easy. Teenagers are honing good judgement through experience. They tend to test limits, try different things, and struggle to manage emotions and behavior while going through significant changes.

It is not surprising that many teenagers get into legal trouble. Unfortunately, bad judgement resulting in criminal activity can have long-lasting negative impacts. Someone with a criminal record may have difficulty in pursuing certain careers and securing credit.

The following are some common juvenile crimes:

  • Larceny: Examples include taking someone’s wallet or shoplifting items.
  • Vandalism: Typical offenses include spraying graffiti, keying cars, or breaking windows.
  • Assault: Teenagers may bully others, taunt, and fight with them.
  • Sexual Crimes: Examples include sexting pornographic photos of themselves or others or getting involved in prostitution.
  • Drug and Alcohol-Related Crimes: Examples include drunk and disorderly conduct and DUI/DWI charges.

What is the Purpose of the Juvenile Justice System?

The juvenile justice system is designed to consider the maturity of an accused criminal offender in determining how to administer justice. The focus of the system is to rehabilitate juvenile offenders so that they will learn from their mistakes and avoid repeating them. Juvenile cases are those where the accused was under the age of 18 years old when the alleged crime was committed.

The juvenile justice system advances use of alternatives to incarceration in a juvenile detention center. These include community service, educational courses, fines, and rehabilitation. Other examples include mandatory counseling sessions and various parole and probation programs.

What is Involved in Juvenile Justice Proceedings?

The case begins with filing of a complaint, usually by police, but sometimes by a private citizen. An intake evaluation is made of the complaint. The intake process can result in a dismissal, informal proceeding, or referred to the juvenile division of the family court for the juvenile to be formally charged.

In New Jersey, most juvenile criminal cases are heard in a family court. If the case goes to trial, the family court judge serves as both fact finder and judge.  There are no jury trials for juveniles.

For certain serious crimes, if the juvenile defendant made decisions in the same way as an adult, they can be tried as an adult. In this case, the juvenile is sent to adult criminal court.

Legal Representation of Minors

It is important to understand that the defense lawyer’s client is the child. Even though it is usually the parent or family member that pays the lawyer’s fees, the ethical, legal, and professional obligations of the lawyer is owed to the client.

The lawyer may be able to share details regarding the court process and how to navigate the system with a parent or guardian. However, the substance of private legal consultations with the child, some facts of the case, and details regarding legal strategy are confidential and cannot be shared.

Family Support and Involvement

Family members are a crucial part of the child’s defense. They are the best source of information on the child’s social history and can provide important insights into the child’s strengths and challenges.

Family can inform the defense lawyer about home life, school performance, extracurricular activities, physical and emotional development, and other important insights that can strengthen the lawyer’s ability to advocate for the child. The family can also help the child understand how to participate in the various stages of a juvenile delinquency court process.

Haddonfield Criminal Defense Lawyers at Agre & St. John Help Juveniles with Criminal Charges

When a juvenile is accused of a crime, they will need to be represented by a competent criminal defense lawyer. Our Haddonfield criminal defense lawyers at Agre & St. John defend those accused of crimes. For an initial consultation, contact us online or call us at 856-428-7797. Located in Haddonfield, New Jersey, we represent clients throughout South Jersey, including Burlington County, Camden County, Gloucester County, and Salem County.

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