How are Juveniles Treated Differently from Adults in the Criminal Justice System?

Posted on: July 9, 2020

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, over 200,000 juveniles are prosecuted for crimes ranging from shoplifting and vandalism to assault, sexual offenses, and other violent crimes. However, because these individuals are still children who may not fully understand the laws and consequences of their actions, they are usually treated differently than adults by the criminal justice system. Juveniles tend to face less severe penalties than an adult who committed the same crime because they have a different set of constitutional rights. When sentencing a juvenile for a crime, the judge must follow sentencing guidelines that protect the interests of the child. If a child has been accused of a crime, an experienced criminal defense lawyer will review the details of the case and recommend the best legal course of action.

Who is Considered a Juvenile by Law?

Depending on the state, a juvenile is a person between the ages of 10 and 18 who commits an illegal act. Children under the age of 10 cannot enter the juvenile justice system. There are circumstances in which a minor may be treated as an adult. For example, if a 15-year-old committed murder, he or she may be treated as an adult, especially if the crime was particularly violent or involved sexual assault. A minor who has a record of delinquent activity, or who refuses to participate in any rehabilitative activities, may also be tried as an adult. The court will also consider a range of other factors when considering whether to send a juvenile case to adult court, including the juvenile’s cognitive development, his or her level of maturity, the degree of criminal sophistication exhibited by the juvenile, evidence of mental health concerns, the court’s ability to impose an appropriate punishment, and whether the juvenile is a danger to the public. In New Jersey, a juvenile who is at least 15 years of age can be tried as an adult for certain offenses, including the following:

  • Criminal homicide
  • First-degree robbery
  • Sexual assault
  • Carjacking
  • Kidnapping
  • Aggravated arson
  • Possession of a firearm for unlawful purposes
  • Possessing a weapon while committing certain drug offenses
  • Leading a narcotic trafficking network

Differences Between Adult and Juvenile Criminal Court

There are key differences between adult and juvenile crimes, which will have a significant impact on how the court will handle the case and the punishment that will be imposed on the juvenile who committed the crime. The following are some of the main differences:

  • Complaint versus petition: In an adult criminal case, a complaint is filed, whereas a petition is filed in a juvenile case.
  • Delinquent acts versus crimes: Adults are convicted of a crime, whereas in juvenile court, the child is considered to have committed a delinquent act.
  • Adjudication versus conviction: If an adult is found guilty of a crime, the offender is convicted. If the offender is a juvenile, he or she is considered an adjudicated delinquent.
  • Disposition versus sentence: If an adult offender is found guilty in a criminal case, there will be a sentencing to determine the punishment. In juvenile court, there will be a disposition to determine the punishment. Unlike adults who can face life in prison for particularly serious crimes, juveniles cannot.
  • No jury: In juvenile cases, there are no juries. Although this means that the trials are less time-consuming, it also means that the juvenile will not benefit from multiple fact finders. In addition, the prosecutor must only convince the judge of the child’s guilt, rather than an entire jury. Juveniles also do not have the right to bail.
  • Location of disposition: In an adult case, all hearings are held in the county where the defendant was charged, which is usually where the crime took place. A juvenile case is held in the county where the crime occurred. This is also where the case will be tried, unless the child lives in a different county, in which case the disposition will be moved to the child’s county of residence.
  • Rehabilitation versus punishment: The juvenile court system makes a concerted effort to take steps to rehabilitate the child, rather than focus solely on punishment. The system emphasizes treatment options, therapy, and education to help the child make lasting, positive changes.
  • Open versus closed hearings: All adult hearings are open to the public, whereas juvenile hearings are closed. In most cases, it is only the lawyers, probation, the child, and his or her family who are present.
  • Juvenile cases involve family members: Unlike adult cases, where the lawyer deals only with the person charged, juvenile cases will involve the child’s parents or guardians. The lawyer will need to interact with family members to ensure that the child follows through with the advice given.
  • Expungements: Juvenile records are sealed, and a juvenile can request an expungement at any time. There are several restrictions that adults face when filing for an expungement, making it more difficult.

Similarities Between Adult and Juvenile Crimes

Although there are major differences between adult and juvenile crimes, and how they are handled in court, there are some similarities between the two, including the following:

  • Both have the right to a trial or hearing, and an attorney.
  • Adults and juveniles have the right to call witnesses and to cross-examine and confront the individuals who brought charges against them.
  • Both have the right to avoid self-incrimination.
  • Both have the right to be made aware of the changes against them.
  • In both cases, the prosecution must prove the charges against them beyond a reasonable doubt.

Examples of Effective Rehabilitation Programs for Juveniles

Depending on the crime that was committed, juveniles may be detained in a juvenile detention center. In addition, the court may require him or her to perform community service and complete parole as part of the rehabilitation. The goal is to rehabilitate and help integrate them back into their community. The more support the juvenile has available, the better he or she will be able to make better choices. As a result, family, friends, and other positive role models play a large part in the rehabilitation process. The type of rehabilitation program used will depend on the crime that the juvenile committed and the child’s willingness to participate. The following are examples of rehabilitation programs that have proved to be effective:

  • Drug treatment programs: Juvenile offenders that are involved in drug crimes are often required to participate in a drug treatment program and comply with random drug tests after program completion. They must also attend meetings if it is part of the court’s sentencing. Outpatient treatment generally continues for at least a year to prevent any relapses.
  • Educational programs: There are a range of educational programs that offer juvenile offenders a path to success, and the option of a legitimate career path that does not involve crime. Education is a key component of any juvenile rehabilitation program, as it allows the child to obtain a GED or a high school diploma. Some facilities will assist juvenile offenders with taking classes at a community college.
  • Vocational training programs: Another key measure of any rehabilitation program, vocational training provides an additional component to formal education. Apprenticeships and job training in areas such as carpentry, mechanics, and electronics can set the juvenile on a path toward a legitimate and rewarding career.
  • Counseling programs: Individual counseling allows the juvenile offender to have a one-on-one interaction with a counselor who has experience with at-risk youths. If there are family issues that contributed to the child’s behavior, the counselor can help the child work through some of these issues. Family counseling is also effective, particularly when family members are supportive and want the best for their child. This can help motivate the child to make positive choices going forward.

Freehold Criminal Defense Lawyers at Ellis Law Advocate for Juveniles Facing Criminal Charges

If your child committed a crime, it is in your best interest to contact the Freehold criminal defense lawyers at Ellis Law at your earliest convenience. We will review the charges that have been brought against your child and determine the best legal course of action. We will work closely with you to develop an effective legal strategy that protects your child’s rights and provides the best opportunity for rehabilitation. To set up a free case evaluation, call us today at 732-308-0200 or contact us online. Headquartered 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, New Jersey, as well as Brooklyn and New York, New York.

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