There are two criminal justice systems in the United States: one for adults and another for minors. The principle underlying the juvenile justice system is that children are still developing, which means they should be considered less culpable for the things they do wrong and more capable of reform. Unfortunately, the U.S. has a long history of trying juveniles as adults despite understanding that adults and juveniles are fundamentally different. Thankfully, trends may be moving in a more positive direction.
In 2010, about 8% of juveniles nationally were being referred to adult courts for prosecution. By 2019, that number had dropped to just 2%. Instead of being tried in the adult system, which focuses on punishment and incarceration, juveniles are increasingly being tried in the juvenile justice system, which focuses on rehabilitation, community involvement and support to prevent future troubles with the law.
How the process works in New Jersey
Like most states, New Jersey considers 18 to be the age at which an alleged offender is automatically considered an adult and tried in the adult criminal justice system. But like most states, New Jersey also transfers the cases of some juvenile offenders to adult court.
The alleged offender must be at least 15 years old, and they must have committed one of about a dozen offenses deemed egregious enough to warrant treatment as an adult. In order for a minor’s case to be transferred to the adult system, the prosecutor must submit a waiver motion.
After hearing from prosecutors, defense attorneys and any other relevant parties, the court ultimately decides whether to keep the case in juvenile court or grant the motion to waive to adult court.
Why it is critical to work with an experienced defense attorney
If your child has been charged with a crime and prosecutors are attempting to try them as an adult, it is crucial to seek the help of a skilled defense attorney who will work tirelessly to keep the case in the juvenile system. If transferred, your child can be held in adult jail/prison and will face the same penalties for conviction as an adult would.
Preventing the waiver to adult court is the highest immediate priority. But once the jurisdiction is decided, an experienced and dedicated defense attorney will then shift focus to providing the strongest possible defense in either juvenile or adult court.