Articles Posted in Juvenile

Generally, criminal suspects that are juveniles are treated differently than adult offenders by the criminal justice system and are afforded greater rights. In some instances in which a crime allegedly committed by a minor is egregious, however, the State may move for a waiver that would allow the minor to be prosecuted as an adult. In a recent case, a New Jersey appellate court discussed the appropriate procedures for determining whether a juvenile that is charged with a grave crime should be waived to the Criminal Part and tried as an adult. If you or your child are accused of committing a crime, it is critical to understand your rights, and you should speak with a trusted New Jersey criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

Facts of the Case

Allegedly, the defendant was accused of sexually assaulting a five-year-old boy. The defendant, who was seventeen at the time the offense was reportedly committed, suffered from intellectual disabilities, which an expert psychiatrist stated resulted in the defendant’s intellectual age being the same as that of a thirteen-year-old child. The State requested that the defendant be waived to the Criminal Part due to the serious nature of his offenses. The trial court granted the waiver, and the defendant appealed. On appeal, the appellate court reversed the trial court ruling.

Evaluating Whether a Juvenile Defendant Should be Waived to the Criminal Part

Under New Jersey’s revised waiver statute, the minimum age for an offender to be eligible for waiver is fifteen. Additionally, a waiver motion must be accompanied by a written statement of reasons that explicitly explains the facts used to assess the waiver factors enumerated under the statute, along with an explanation of how the evaluation of those facts supports a waiver for the juvenile in question.

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Criminal defendants have numerous rights that extend even after they are convicted of crimes, especially if they are juveniles at the time they allegedly engaged in unlawful activity. For example, a juvenile that is convicted of an offense is protected from being sentenced to mandatory life imprisonment without parole. Recently, a New Jersey court discussed the parameters and implications of this prohibition, in a case in which the defendant appealed a life sentence issued when he was seventeen on the grounds that it was unlawful. If you are a minor charged with a crime, it is important to confer with a knowledgeable New Jersey criminal defense attorney regarding your rights.

Facts of the Case

It is reported that in 1976, the defendant was charged with multiple crimes when he was seventeen, including murder and armed robbery. He was then indicted on numerous other charges, including intent to steal and escaping from a youth corrections center. He ultimately pleaded not guilty to the murder and intent to steal charges in exchange for dismissal of the remaining charges. He was then sentenced to life imprisonment.

Allegedly, during his imprisonment, the defendant was found guilty of over one hundred infractions, almost forty of which were serious. In 1990 he engaged in a riot during which a prison guard was stabbed. He was charged and convicted of multiple counts relating to the riot and was ultimately sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment with a parole bar of close to seven and a half years. He was subsequently denied parole multiple times. He then filed a motion arguing that his life sentence was illegal under recent case law.

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On Wednesday, Governor Corzine put more restrictive driving laws into effect for young drivers (i.e. those under 21 years old).  The new law includes a provision requiring placement of a car decal on vehicles operated by permit holders or provisional license holders. The rules have also been refined to limit the times that teens on a provisional license may operate a car. The law now prohibits operation after 11:00 p.m. The final piece of the legislation prohibits provisional drivers under 21 from operating a vehicle with more than one passenger and this limitation applies irrespective of whether the passengers are related or reside together.

My observations regarding this NJ amendment are multiple. While I am certainly sympathetic as to the horrors of teen motor vehicle deaths, it seems to me that the statute is somewhat unrealistic.  To limit children under 21 to one passenger has the real potential for being excessive and having negative effects. This law will also undoubtedly provide additional opportunities for stops and motor vehicle searches as it has been the experience of our NJ Juvenile Crime Defense Attorneys that, at least insofar as it relates to young people, the law against unreasonable search and seizure becomes very grey in the field.

Various youth organizations have been pushing for an amnesty provision under the New Jersey Underage Drinking Law, N.J.S.A. 2C:33-15. Currently, a minor is guilty of a Disorderly Persons Offense if he or she possesses or consumes alcohol while being under the legal drinking age of 21 years old.  While such a violation is not a crime, a conviction nevertheless gives rise to a record. 

The Legislature of NJ is considering an exception under the statute for those who are “outed” as a result of calling for police assistance. The proposal would grant immunity to those under 21 if they call police because another underage drinker needs medical assistance. Proponents claim that the exception is needed to eliminate the chilling effect which currently exists for those underage to summon the police.

Underage drinking arrests are on the rise in NJ. Police are aggressive in enforcing N.J.S.A. 2C:33-15 and I think that some even see this as an opportunity to attack other issues. The honest truth is, however, that our attorneys are overwhelmingly successful in getting these offenses downgraded and/or dismissed under the current law.

Reports and surveys in New Jersey have continually revealed a high incident of alcohol and drug use by high school students. In fact, a survey conducted by the Freehold Regional School District indicated that as much as 50% of high school juniors used these substances. Similar data has been generated by other districts including Hunterdon Central Regional. It also appears that a significant source of concern involves illegal use of prescription drugs.

In response to this information, numerous high schools in the state have put in place or are in the process of putting in place, random drug test protocols for students. Districts have also endorsed policies to screen students for alcohol use, especially at events like proms.

Parents and students can anticipate a rise in the volume of juvenile charges filed throughout the state.  In this regard, police will undoubtedly become involved in some situations where students have positive test results for narcotics and other illegal drugs. This shall also give rise to a litany of legal issues and/or possible defenses. 

NJ has adopted guidelines for how juvenile proceedings, including communications with minors, are to be undertaken by police and other officials. In this regard, N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-39 mandates that juveniles be represented by counsel at all critical stages of a case. The question addressed by the Court last week in State in the Matter of P.M.P concerned when a “critical” stage of a juvenile case is triggered. To wit, the Supreme Court concluded that every stage is critical from the point that police file a juvenile complaint and obtain an arrest warrant. Any questioning of a child following institution of the complaint and issuance of a warrant would require the presence of counsel or a valid waiver of this right following consultation with their defense attorney.

In P.M.P., the police began questioning of the juvenile prior to involvement of counsel. Since any interrogation undertaken following issuance of the warrant was at a “critical stage”, an absolute right to counsel attached. The confession, which was procured following this stage of proceedings, was therefore held defective and was precluded from use in prosecution of the juvenile.

The decision in P.M.P. basically imposes a bright line rule precluding interrogation of minor’s following arrest. One would have to question how anything otherwise could ever have been constitutionally permissible. Notwithstanding the holding, we can fully expect its dictates to be stretched beyond their limit absent proper attention by the defense.

When individuals imagine what a counterfeiter might look like, it does not include a vision of a Colts Neck High School student. I guess you get where I am going with this – high school kids in Monmouth County were counterfeiting fake 10s and 20s.  The money was sold to other juveniles in return for lesser domination of real money.  The United States Secret Services is involved in the investigation and charges are forthcoming against the high school sophomore and junior involved in this fraud.

Once the charges are filed, the first official court proceeding is a mandatory assignment of counsel hearing.  This proceeding is designed to establish who shall be representing the juvenile as every child must be represented by a NJ Juvenile Crime Defense Attorney.  The next proceeding is an arraignment where the juvenile is read the charges against him or her, and advised as to his or her rights.  A plea hearing and/or status conference (or several) usually follows thereafter where the prosecutor and defense counsel elaborate as to their positions, and a determination is made as to what, if any, investigation or other work is needed to resolve the case.  Ultimately, a decision must be reached as to whether or not a trial is necessary to resolve the charges.  If a trial is necessary, it is important to keep in mind that there is no right to a jury trial.  Since Juvenile cases are decided in family court as opposed to criminal court, the Judge presiding over the case decides all issues.  The same burden of proof, that is, proof beyond reasonable doubt, nevertheless applies in the case.

We will have to see how the counterfeit case in question proceeds through this process.  I anticipate a rather uneventful progression of the case.  While the case involves a rather interesting little scenario, there is nothing to warrant significant scrutiny given the lack of violence and other considerations. 

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