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Rules for trying juveniles as adults debated by legislators

In New Jersey, anyone age 17 or younger is considered a juvenile. Defendants age 16 and older who have been accused of juvenile crimes including homicide, kidnapping, aggravated assault, or other violent crimes, can be transferred to adult court. Who is responsible for deciding if a child should be transferred to adult court was recently debated by the New Jersey Supreme Court.

A lot is at stake for juveniles who are tried as adults. Penalties are much lighter if tried as a juvenile as the main goal focuses on rehabilitation. These cases are handled by the Family Division of courts where matrimonial and child-custody disputes are handled. These juvenile proceedings are closed to the public and juveniles are not identified. Being tried as an adult can result in life in prison.

County prosecutors are responsible for deciding if a juvenile should be tried as an adult and they believe it should stay that way. The American civil Liberties Union, New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, state Public Defender's Office and several dozen other groups are challenging the juvenile waiver laws. They are arguing that the decision should be made by the judicial branch.

A deputy state attorney general says that, "an individual's need to remain in juvenile court must be balanced by society's legitimate and growing concern over...juvenile crime." The final decision is yet to be made and hundreds of teens will be affected by it. New Jersey readers may want to follow this story to learn the results. If you or someone you love has been charged with a crime it's important that you contact an experienced attorney right away.

Source: The Record, "N.J. Supreme Court mulls rules for trying juveniles as adults," Kibret Markos, April 24, 2012

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