What You Need to Know about Juvenile Defense in New Jersey

When a minor faces legal issues in New Jersey, the stakes are high, and the path forward can be complex. This blog post delves into what families need to know about juvenile defense in New Jersey.
We also discuss the critical role of a New Jersey defense attorney specializing in juvenile defense. Such an attorney is a vital advocate for young individuals navigating the state’s juvenile justice system.

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Understanding Juvenile Delinquency in New Jersey

In New Jersey, juvenile delinquency encompasses the range of illegal acts committed by individuals under the age of 18. These acts would be charged as crimes if committed by an adult but are treated differently under juvenile law.

The New Jersey Code of Juvenile Justice (N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-20 to 2A:4A-91) establishes the framework for addressing these offenses, emphasizing rehabilitation over punishment. Common juvenile offenses include:

  • Theft or shoplifting
  • Vandalism
  • Underage drinking
  • Simple assault
  • Drug offenses

These are often the result of youthful indiscretion rather than a pattern of criminal behavior.


Arrest and Custody

When a juvenile is suspected of committing an offense in New Jersey, the procedure begins not with an “arrest” but with the juvenile being “taken into custody.” This terminology reflects the state’s commitment to treating young offenders differently, focusing on rehabilitation rather than punishment.
A juvenile can be taken into custody under circumstances similar to an adult arrest but with specific procedures tailored to minors. Law enforcement officers need probable cause to believe that a juvenile has committed a delinquent act. This can occur through:

Direct observation of the act

Investigation findings; or

Tips from credible sources

Once probable cause is established, an officer may detain the juvenile, marking the formal start of the juvenile’s journey through the legal system.


Possible Juvenile Outcomes

A juvenile’s entry into the New Jersey juvenile court system can lead to various outcomes depending on the severity of the offense, the juvenile’s history, and the discretion of the arresting officers and the judiciary. Possible outcomes include:

According to N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-33, officers must release juveniles to their parents or guardians unless detention is deemed necessary. If the offense is minor and there are no prior incidents, the juvenile may be released directly to their parents or guardians with a warning or a summons to appear in court later.

This outcome involves resolving the matter informally at the police station without formal charges. It may include community service or restitution as conditions, typically used for less serious offenses and first-time offenders.

For less severe cases, particularly those involving family-related issues such as incorrigibility, truancy, or runaways, a Juvenile Family Crisis Intervention Unit (JFCIU) may become involved. These units offer a range of short-term crisis intervention services aimed to address the underlying issues contributing to the juvenile’s behavior, such as:

  • Counseling and mediation to help resolve family conflicts.
  • Referrals to community resources such as mental health services, substance abuse treatment, and educational support.
  • Crisis intervention to provide immediate assistance in urgent situations.

These services are designed to support the juvenile and their family, creating a more stable and supportive home environment to prevent future issues.

Community-based diversion programs are often preferred for minor, first-time, or second-time juvenile offenses. These programs use community resources to address the root causes of delinquent behavior.

Juvenile Conference Committees (JCCs) are composed of community volunteers. They address minor delinquent acts through community-based resolutions. The committees meet with juveniles and their guardians to negotiate constructive resolutions, such as community service or counseling.

Intake Service Conferences (ISCs) are conducted by court intake staff, who formally assess the juvenile’s behavior and circumstances to tailor appropriate interventions. ISCs involve detailed discussions with the juvenile and their family to devise a structured support plan, potentially including therapy or educational support.

These programs, which are only available after a delinquency complaint has been filed, offer an alternative to formal prosecution for juveniles who have committed minor or first-time offenses. They are designed to keep the juvenile out of the formal court process and provide them with opportunities for rehabilitation and personal growth.

If the offense is more serious or if the juvenile has prior offenses, a signed delinquency complaint is typically filed. The case is then referred to Family Court, where it will be handled according to juvenile justice procedures, focusing on rehabilitation. 

The consequences of formal charges on a juvenile’s life can be severe and long-lasting. This emphasizes the need for a New Jersey defense attorney specializing in juvenile defense to advocate for the best possible outcomes for the child involved.


Secure detention in the New Jersey juvenile justice system refers to temporarily placing a juvenile in a locked facility while their case is pending. According to N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-34, detention may only be considered if the juvenile is deemed a risk to the community or themselves or if there is a significant concern they will not appear in court. 

Each of these outcomes can profoundly impact the juvenile’s development and future opportunities, underscoring the importance of a New Jersey defense attorney specializing in juvenile defense to advocate for the best possible resolution for the juvenile.


Steps in the Family Court Process

In New Jersey, juveniles who enter the legal system are processed through the Family Court. This court is specially designed to handle cases involving minors with a focus on rehabilitation rather than punishment.

The New Jersey Family Court process for juvenile offenses involves several steps:

This hearing, which must occur within 24 hours of detention, determines whether the juvenile should remain in custody pending further proceedings based on the seriousness of the offense and any risk posed to the community or of the juvenile fleeing.

Following the initial detention, the court conducts a Probable Cause Hearing within two court days. If probable cause is found for the alleged delinquent act, the court may decide to continue detention. A second Detention Hearing then reviews the necessity of continued detention or considers alternative arrangements like home confinement or supervision.

For juveniles who remain detained, the court schedules Review Hearings every 14 and 21 days. These hearings reassess the need for continued detention and consider any new evidence or changes in the juvenile’s circumstances.

The Adjudicator Hearing is where a judge determines whether the juvenile is delinquent based on the charges brought against them. This is a crucial phase where a New Jersey defense attorney specializing in juvenile defense can present evidence and argue for the dismissal of the charges or lesser consequences.

In cases where a juvenile is adjudicated delinquent, a Disposition Hearing is scheduled, typically within 60 days of the adjudication. This hearing decides the suitable penalties and rehabilitation measures, which might include community service, probation, or in more severe cases, placement in a juvenile detention facility.

Classification and Placement

Classification and Placement

Once a juvenile is adjudicated and found guilty, the next step involves classification and placement. This process is crucial in determining the most suitable environment for the juvenile’s rehabilitation.
According to N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-44, the classification process considers various factors, including the juvenile’s mental and physical health, educational needs, and the likelihood of re-offending.

Types of Placements
There are two primary types of placements for adjudicated juveniles in New Jersey:

  • Institutional Placements

    Including secure facilities, residential treatment centers, and juvenile correctional institutions. These placements are typically reserved for juveniles who pose a significant risk to themselves or others and require a structured environment.

  • Non-institutional placements:

    Including community-based programs, group homes, and foster care arrangements. These focus on providing a supportive and rehabilitative environment within the community.

Several factors influence the placement of an adjudicated juvenile in New Jersey, including the individual’s needs, risk of re-offending, severity of the offense, and family and community support.


The Role of a Defense Attorney in Family Court

A New Jersey defense attorney specializing in juvenile defense can play a critical role in the family court process. A skilled attorney can advocate for the juvenile’s rights, provide your family with guidance, and work to achieve the best possible outcome. This includes negotiating with the prosecutors, seeking alternatives to detention, and defending the juvenile during hearings. The right New Jersey defense attorney understands the complexities of New Jersey’s juvenile justice system and can protect your juvenile’s interests throughout the process.

Contact The Law Offices of Leon Matchin for a New Jersey Defense Attorney Specializing in Juvenile Defense

If your child is facing charges in New Jersey, do not attempt to navigate the New Jersey Juvenile Justice process alone. Contact the Law Offices of Leon Matchin for a New Jersey defense attorney specializing in juvenile defense. We are here to provide the legal support and guidance you need to protect your child’s future. Call us now at (833) 353-3215 or visit our contact page to schedule your free consultation.