In a move many New Jersey criminal defense attorneys condone, the New Jersey Supreme Court recently ruled that prosecutors must meet a tougher standard before trying a juvenile as an adult in a criminal case. Specifically, prosecutors must now explain why trying a particular juvenile as an adult would be a more effective deterrent to crime than trying the case in the juvenile court system. The New Jersey Supreme Court's decision comes on the heels of a June 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision that banned states from placing mandatory life sentences on juveniles.
The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office and the Middlesex Prosecutor’s Office both contend that the decision will have little or no effect on their ability to waive juveniles into adult court when needed. They characterize the decision as simply a clearer explanation of the type of detail that must be included when a prosecutor seeks to try a juvenile as an adult. However, it remains to be seen how strictly trial courts will construe the higher court’s decision and whether the ruling will have any practical effect on the number of juveniles tried in adult court.
When a juvenile is charged with a crime, and the prosecutor seeks to have the juvenile tried in adult court, the consequences of conviction are significantly more serious. If convicted in adult court, juveniles will have a permanent, public criminal record that may hinder their ability to obtain employment or credit when released from prison. They will also serve prison time in an adult facility and will face a significantly longer prison sentence.
In contrast, the juvenile system allows for the sealing of juvenile criminal records, which permits juveniles to start over with a clean slate when they become adults. Some studies also show that juveniles who are waived to adult court and incarcerated in adult prisons are more likely to commit suicide, suffer physical and sexual abuse, and commit more violent crimes.
The New Jersey criminal defense attorneys of Helmer, Conley & Kasselman provide legal representation to juveniles and adults in the state of New Jersey who have been accused of all types of criminal offenses.