The way juveniles facing criminal allegations are treated in New Jersey differs from the way adults are treated, unless the juvenile is being tried as an adult offender. Juveniles are often tried in adult criminal court when they are accused of serious violent crimes, such as rape, murder, armed robbery, or similar offenses. If convicted in adult court, minors can receive adult sentences, which can last for decades or even life. Many juveniles may not be released until they are quite elderly or they may even die in prison.
In 2012, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled that in cases involving juveniles and sentences of life in prison without parole, judges must carefully consider a variety of factors before imposing this sentence. Some factors include:
- The juvenile’s age and maturity (or immaturity) level
- Their family status and home environment
- Whether they participated in the crime due to peer pressure
- Whether they understood how to deal with law enforcement, the prosecutor, or their defense attorney
- Chances the juvenile may be rehabilitated
While this required judges to take a closer look before locking juveniles up for the rest of their lives with no chance of parole, it did not address prison sentences that may last decades before the opportunity of parole.
Recent New Jersey Decision
The New Jersey Supreme Court recently issued a ruling that will change the way judges issue lengthy sentences for juveniles convicted of violent crimes. Citing both the SCOTUS decision and the 8th Amendment, the court’s ruling intended to protect juveniles against cruel and unusual punishment, essentially asserting that juveniles need different protections than adults, even in adult court.
In a unanimous decision written by the Chief Justice, the highest court in New Jersey took the SCOTUS decision a step further by requiring judges to consider such relevant factors in the case of any juvenile who may face a lengthy sentence.
The case stemmed from two juvenile defendants who had been sentenced to 55 years and 68 years, respectively, before they could be eligible for parole. In light of this decision, those individuals will undergo re-sentencing with those factors considered.
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While the above ruling is positive for juveniles in New Jersey, facing a criminal charge at any age is still an extremely serious matter. The Law Offices of Leon Matchin represents defendants of all ages in a wide variety of criminal cases. Call us today to discuss your case.