The Juvenile Case Process in New Jersey

As Burlington County Juvenile Lawyers, we understand that the last thing parents want is a criminal charge filed against their child that could threaten his or her freedom and future. For this reason, we make it our responsibility to counsel our clients through every phase in the juvenile case process, from the initial complaint filed by the prosecutor to the disposition hearing.

Filing the Delinquency Complaint

This judicial process begins when someone accuses a child of committing an illegal act according to New Jersey law, such as shoplifting or underage drinking. To formally press delinquency charges, this individual will file a complaint that is then signed by a third party. In most cases, these complaints are signed by a member of the police based on either their personal observation of the delinquency act or information provided by victims. School officials and probation officers can also sign a complaint. Once this complaint is signed, it is sent to Formal Court intake staff for their review and a decision on how the case should be handled.

Juvenile Custody & Detention

In some cases, while the Family Court reviews a minor’s case, he or she may be taken into juvenile custody. The decision whether to detain a minor or not is based on the nature of the offense they are being charged with, if the juvenile is considered a danger to the community, or if there is a chance that the juvenile will fail to appear for their scheduled court date.

Parents whose son or daughter has been detained at the Burlington County Juvenile Detention Center often ask us whether they can post bail for their child.  To their surprise, the answer is no.  There is no bail option available for juveniles in New Jersey. Juveniles are governed by the Juvenile Justice Code (“JJC”), N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-20 to -90. The JCC does not provide Juveniles with the right to bail under N.J.S.A. 2A: 4A-60. While this may seem harsh at first blush, the court and statute allow for the release of juveniles without bail.

The Initial Detention Hearing

Once a juvenile is taken into custody, their parents or guardians are notified immediately and an initial detention hearing must be held no later than the morning following the juvenile’s placement in a detention facility. This is the juvenile judge’s first opportunity to determine whether the juvenile can be released. Factors considered during the hearing include the charges against the juvenile, the seriousness of these charges, the ability of a parent or guardian to monitor or supervise the juvenile, and the safety and welfare of the public.

The Probable Cause Hearing 

If the juvenile is not released after the initial hearing, a probable cause hearing is scheduled within two (2) court days. At a probable cause, the juvenile is represented by an attorney. The juvenile judge, again, will consider the juvenile’s potential release from custody. Release from detention can be in the form of house arrest, Electronic Monitoring (ankle bracelet), or some other variation of release that the court deems appropriate. If the juvenile is not released at the probable cause hearing, the court will schedule periodic reviews of the juvenile’s matter. At each hearing, the juvenile’s detention status is evaluated with an eye toward release and alternative detention.

New Jersey’s Family Court: Case Referral Options

After a delinquency complaint is signed, the case is then referred to Family Court. Here, intake staff decides which course of action is best for the case. A complaint can be dismissed, diverted or scheduled for court action. When determining how a case should be handled, Family Court considers several factors, including the seriousness of the offense, the age of the child, any prior record that the juvenile may possess, whether the juvenile poses any danger to the community, the child’s family circumstances, and the willingness of the juvenile to participate in remedial education or counseling. The Family Court’s decision can also be influenced by recommendations from the prosecutor who filed the complaint, the arresting police officer, or the victim of the delinquency act.

Juvenile Court Diversionary Programs

As one option for handling a juvenile case, court diversion offers an alternative to the formal juvenile court process and is more often the outcome for juvenile cases than formal court. Diversion procedures are most often used when a juvenile is charged with a minor offense. These juvenile cases are then diverted to a Juvenile Conference Committee (“JCC”) or Intake Services Conference (“ISC”).  A JCC is a trained citizen volunteer panel appointed by the court. Meanwhile, a judiciary staff person conducts an ISC. The ISC program handles cases that are referred through the Juvenile Group Screen process. The parent, the juvenile and the person who filed the complaint are invited to discuss the offense and other related factors. The committee or intake officer does not have the authority to determine delinquency. This is an informal discussion of the events and all parties must be in agreement.  A Burlington County Juvenile Lawyer is not required to attend either a JCC or ISC, but is permitted to assist the juvenile and their family in these proceedings. There is no chance of a child being sent away to a juvenile facility. The disposition recommendations will be placed on an agreement/court order signed by the child, his or her parent/legal guardian, and the person who filed the complaint. This agreement will then be forwarded to the judge for final approval.

The resolution of the case can include conditions such as curfew, counseling, evaluation, community service, restitution, or any condition that will aid in the juvenile’s rehabilitation. If the parties do not agree to the proposed conditions, the terms can be discussed and changed to all parties’ satisfaction. If all agree to the conditions, a juvenile conference committee or intake staff person will monitor the completion of the conditions. The conditions ordered by JCCs and ISCs are limited to 6 months. If the parties cannot come to an agreement, the case may be sent back to the judge. Upon successful completion of the agreed upon conditions, the case is dismissed. However, if the child fails to complete the conditions or new complaints are signed prior to dismissal, the original complaint will go back to court to be heard by a judge.

Another diversion option available to New Jersey’s juvenile justice system is the Juvenile Referee/Informal Court. As part of this diversion option, a juvenile referee conducts a hearing at which the child involved will be expected to admit or deny charges in the filed complaint. The juvenile referee then can recommend dismissal of a complaint or make a finding of the facts and a determination of delinquency. Any dispositions recommended by the juvenile referee are subject to approval by the judge and include those available in matters handled by a judge with the exception of out-of-home placement. If the defendant objects to the juvenile referee’s findings, he or she must tell the referee before the findings and recommendations are sent to the judge for approval.

In Burlington County, the contact information for JCC and ISC are:

Juvenile Conference Committee Program 609-518-2547 

Juvenile Intake Service Conference 609-518-2547

Judge/Formal Court Proceedings

If a child’s case is referred to formal court, it is mandatory to choose between hiring an experienced private criminal defense attorney or apply for a public defender for legal representation.

At this hearing, a judge oversees the court hearing and the juvenile is expected to enter a plea either admitting or denying the charges against them. The judge will then hear the case and determine the outcome based on what is presented at court. If the judge finds the child delinquent, he or she will impose a disposition in accordance with New Jersey law. If there is any disagreement with the court decision, the child can file an appeal within 45 days.

Juvenile Case Consultation

Regardless of the path your child’s case may follow, it is important to have the best representation in place to preserve his or her reputation and freedom. At Daniel M. Rosenberg & Associates, we have served many families whose children have been accused of delinquency charges, such as drug possession, underage drinking, physical assault and more. Contact a member of our firm today so we can begin assisting you with your juvenile case.