As much as you would like to, it is impossible to control your child’s actions when you are not around. Unfortunately, some young adults make poor choices that can impact their entire family emotionally, legally, and financially. Once they have committed a juvenile offense, they have not only violated your trust, they have broken the law. A mistake under the age of 18 hardly means a life of crime to come. The justice system in New Jersey is designed to rehabilitate youth offenders and motivate them to make better choices in the future. With skilled legal representation and an understanding of the juvenile justice system in New Jersey, your child can move past an offense and move toward a positive future. Knowing more about the crimes commonly committed by teens and how the juvenile system works can help answer your questions and take the right steps to move forward.
Common Juvenile Crimes
- Assault: Assault can constitute anything from pushing, shoving, and other unwanted physical provocation and attacks. In New Jersey, there is simple assault and aggravated assault depending on the circumstances surrounding the offense. Crimes against a school employee and those involving deadly weapons carry more serious penalties.
- Curfew violations: Know the curfew for your community and enforce consequences at home when your child does not comply. In most towns, parents can be held responsible if they knowingly allow their children out after curfew.
- Disorderly conduct: Disorderly conduct covers a wide range of behaviors from offensive language, to arguments and fights. This sort of offense tends to occur when children meet up in large groups, and sometimes involves alcohol.
- Drug possession and sale: The sale or possession of illegal drugs is a serious crime in New Jersey, regardless of the offender’s age. Marijuana, heroin, cocaine, MDMA, and prescription pills may bring penalties, including juvenile detention and heavy fines.
- Sexual misconduct: Sexual offense comes with some of the harshest penalties of all, including possible lifetime registration as a sex offender under Megan’s Law. The type of assault under the law is determined by the ages of the offender and the victim, as well as any extenuating circumstances that may be involved.
- Stealing: Theft is one of the most common crimes committed by juveniles. It can involve anything from shoplifting a snack from a convenience store to taking a neighbor’s car for a joyride. Penalties depend in part on the value of the stolen property and the number of previous offenses. Detention is a possibility for items valued at even a hundred dollars.
- Traffic violations: Penalties for juvenile traffic violations can include steep fines and license revocation and suspension. Remind your child that driving is a privilege that can easily be taken away if they choose to drive without a license or while impaired by drugs or alcohol. Driving with too many passengers, speeding, and texting while driving is common among teens.
- Underage drinking: It is illegal for anyone under 21 in New Jersey to buy, consume, or possess alcohol in a car, school, or public place. It is generally a disorderly persons offense, but drunk driving is a more serious offense that can bring fines, license suspension, and even jail time.
- Vandalism: Tweens and teens may not realize that damaging equipment at the public park or defacing walls with graffiti is more than mischief. It is a crime. Penalties and fines for the deliberate destruction of another’s property depend on what type of damage occurred and where.
- Weapons offenses: Now more than ever, we are acutely aware of the risks of dangerous weapons in the wrong hands. Possession of a weapon by a minor is a serious offense in New Jersey and can include incarceration. Guns are not the only weapons of concern. Stun guns, knives, and projectiles are considered weapons as well.
Some activities that happen at school are considered criminal. In these situations, school administrators work with local law enforcement officials to ensure proper protocols are followed. Depending on the nature of the offense, juvenile students may not be able to return to school until the legal process has been completed.
Juvenile Misdemeanors in New Jersey
According to the New Jersey Juvenile Justice System, there are currently more than 500 juvenile offenders in the state who are either committed, on probation, or in aftercare. They come from every county in the state and represent all walks of life and backgrounds.
Juvenile misdemeanors are crimes committed by minors under age 18. They are less serious than felonies but more serious than other minor infractions. Vandalism, shoplifting, and assault are common juvenile misdemeanors. Penalties for misdemeanors can include fines and possible time in a juvenile jail. However, first time offenders may benefit from lighter penalties, such as community service or house arrest.
The Juvenile Criminal Justice System in New Jersey
In New Jersey, crimes committed by individuals under 18 are treated differently under the law than those committed by adults. Juvenile proceedings do not take place in Superior Court but are held instead in the Superior Court Family Division. The focus is on redirecting young offenders rather than penalizing them. So, all decisions are made based on the best interests of the juvenile in the hopes they can be rehabilitating and make smart decisions going forward. Possible penalties for juvenile offenders include:
- Community service
- Confinement in a detention center
- Court-mandated restitution or fines
- Driver’s license suspension
- Mandatory drug or alcohol treatment
Important Questions for Parents of Juvenile Offenders
Will My Child Be Charged as an Adult?
Children under the age of 14 can never be charged as an adult in new Jersey. Juveniles aged 14 to 17 can be tried in adult court for more serious offenses if the prosecutor secures a special waiver to do so. It should be mentioned that even if an individual is still in school, if they are charged with a crime once they turn 18, they will be prosecuted as an adult.
Will My Child be Detained?
In most cases, juveniles will be released to the custody of their parents. In cases involving more serious crimes, they may be detailed. However, state law ensures young offenders will receive a hearing quickly. Juveniles in detention should receive them within a day. Parents who feel their children are being detained unreasonably should contact an attorney as soon as possible.
Where Will Our Case Be Heard?
Depending on the crime involved and the circumstances surrounding the offense, the case can either be adjudicated by a New Jersey Juvenile Judge in Family Court, in the County Superior Court Criminal Division, or your local Municipal Court. Juvenile Delinquency hearings can also be heard by a Juvenile Conference Committee (JCC), an Intake Services Conference (ISC), or a Juvenile Referee.
To ensure the best outcome for your child, it is essential to work with an attorney who has experience in all these venues and understands the procedures and requirements of each. These types of cases require a unique approach and an effort to encourage rehabilitation and minimize penalties.
The good news is many juvenile records eventually become eligible for expungement, which means they are sealed or erased in the eyes of the law. This means it does not have to be disclosed to a potential employer or educational institution. Your criminal defense attorney will advise you if your juvenile’s offense can possibly be expunged in the future. Juveniles who want to change deserve a chance at a bright future.
Freehold Criminal Defense Lawyers at Ellis Law Help Individuals Charged with Juvenile Crimes
Because teens do not fully understand the consequences of their actions, they are more likely to take risks and challenge authority. The Freehold criminal defense lawyers at Ellis Law take the time to explain all the possible scenarios and your rights and options under the law. To learn more about our services, call 732-308-0200 or use the online form to schedule a consultation today. Centrally located in Freehold, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout East Brunswick, Toms River, Middletown, Jersey City, Neptune, Hudson County, Union County, Essex County, and Ocean County, as well as Brooklyn and New York, New York.