New Jersey’s New Juvenile Waiver Law: What’s Different?
A significant reform of New Jersey’s juvenile waiver law took effect March 1, 2016, and with it came the opportunity to better protect the children of the Garden State who encounter the criminal justice system. The reform establishes stricter policies surrounding juvenile waivers — which prosecutors may file in a juvenile case to request the defendant be tried as an adult in adult court — including older age restrictions and eliminating solitary confinement as a punishment for minors.
Gov. Chris Christie signed the bill — S2003/A4299 — into law on Aug. 10, 2015.
The difference between how adult criminal courts and juvenile family courts handle cases in New Jersey is dramatic, and the previous law left many minors susceptible to the possibility of being tried and imprisoned as if they were an adult.
The stakes are much higher in adult criminal court. For example, a juvenile in New Jersey who is charged with armed robbery in juvenile court can receive any one of a number of punishments, ranging from probation to a maximum of four years incarceration in a juvenile facility. In adult criminal court, convicted armed robbers may do anywhere between 10 – 20 years in New Jersey State Prison. Juveniles are typically eligible for parole after serving one third of their sentence, while adults are required to serve 85% of their sentence prior to parole eligibility.
Criminal convictions in juvenile court are also kept private, protecting the minor from the many consequences of having a public criminal record. If a juvenile is waived into a adult court, however, this privacy is also waived and their criminal convictions and sentences become public record. In some instances, their criminal public record will follow the juvenile for the rest of their life.
Comparing the old and reformed law side by side, there are many changes that now protect our minors.
Old Waiver Law
- Prosecutor has 30 days to file for waiver.
- Juveniles aged 14 and older can be waived to adult criminal court.
- If a juvenile is convicted of a non-waivable crime following waiver to adult criminal court, the conviction remains an adult conviction.
- If a juvenile is convicted in adult criminal court, and receives a sentence of incarceration, the juvenile serves that sentence in an adult facility.
- Juveniles are held in an adult county jail pending the resolution of their matter if they are unable to afford bail.
- Solitary confinement is an allowable form of punishment in juvenile facilities and detention centers. There is no time limit on solitary confinement.
New Waiver Law
- Prosecutor has 60 days to file for waiver.
- Juveniles aged 15 and older can be waived to adult criminal court.
- If a juvenile is convicted of a non-waivable crime following waiver to adult criminal court, the conviction reverts to a juvenile conviction and the matter is returned to juvenile court.
- If a juvenile is convicted in adult criminal court, and receives a sentence of incarceration, the juvenile serves that sentence in a juvenile facility, unless the State overcomes that presumption.
- Juveniles are held in a juvenile facility pending the resolution of their matter if they are unable to afford bail, unless the State overcomes that presumption.
- Solitary confinement is no longer permitted as a disciplinary measure in juvenile facilities and detention centers. Time limits are now enforced for solitary confinement used for safety and other measures.
This change in the law directly impacts many Burlington and Camden county youths.
Data from the New Jersey Juvenile Justice Commission for July 2016 shows a total of 583 youths — 557 of them boys and 411, or 70.50%, African American — are a part of the juvenile justice system. The largest percentage of these minors — 19.38%, or 113 youths — were sentenced in Camden County. Eleven, or 1.89%, were sentenced in Burlington County.
The juvenile waiver law reform will positively impact these children and our greater community, reducing the disproportionate effects on the black population and stopping the school-to-prison pipeline. Studies show juveniles jailed in age-appropriate facilities are also less likely to experience abuse and die from suicide.
The law and procedure pertaining to an involuntary waiver to adult criminal court is complex and nuanced, and the consequences are serious. But, there are many instances where a juvenile waiver hearing can be used to the juvenile’s advantage and significantly alter the scope and direction of the case. If your child or a loved one is charged with a juvenile offense, the attorneys at Daniel M. Rosenberg & Associates include two former juvenile prosecutors who are experienced and knowledgeable in New Jersey’s rapidly changing legal framework.