In juvenile matters, the court's goals are rehabilitation and accountability.
The term "delinquency" is used when someone under 18 breaks the law. Juvenile delinquency cases are often heard in family court. Sometimes, they are heard in municipal court.
The court has three goals in delinquency cases. The court wants the juvenile to take responsibility for their actions. Also, the court wants to help the juvenile learn how to avoid getting into trouble again. In addition, the court must be concerned with public safety.
Does my child need a lawyer?
The court system can be confusing, and it is a good idea to get a lawyer if you can. If you cannot afford a lawyer, you can contact the legal services program in your county to see if you qualify for free legal services.
Legal Services of New Jersey maintains a directory of regional legal services offices.
The NJ State Bar Association also maintains a list of county referral services that might be helpful.
If the case is being heard before a judge, your child must have an attorney.
If you cannot afford an attorney for your child, you might qualify for a public defender. Contact your local family court to ask for an “application for assignment of counsel” and instructions on how to submit the form.
Call your local court ombudsman if you have questions about this form or about your juvenile case.
Your child does not need a lawyer if the case is sent to a juvenile conference committee, an intake services conference, or a juvenile referee. In those cases, a parent or guardian must attend.
Things to think about before you represent yourself in court
While you have the right to represent yourself in court, you should not expect any special treatment, help, or attention from the court. You must still comply with the Rules of the Court, even if you are not familiar with them. The following is a list of some things the court staff can and cannot do for you. Please read it carefully before asking the court staff for help.
- We can explain and answer questions about how the court works.
- We can tell you what the requirements are to have your case considered by the court.
- We can give you some information from your case file.
- We can provide you with samples of court forms that are available.
- We can provide you with guidance on how to fill out forms.
- We can usually answer questions about court deadlines.
- We cannot give you legal advice. Only your lawyer can give you legal advice.
- We cannot tell you whether or not you should bring your case to court.
- We cannot give you an opinion about what will happen if you bring your case to court.
- We cannot recommend a lawyer, but we can provide you with the telephone number of a local lawyer referral service.
- We cannot talk to the judge for you about what will happen in your case.
- We cannot let you talk to the judge outside of court.
- We cannot change an order issued by a judge.
The First Juvenile Delinquency Hearing
If your child is not detained, you will be given a court date when you and your child must appear in court.
If your child is held in detention, a hearing will take place by the end of the next day. A parent or guardian must be present at all hearings.
You will find out three things:
- You will get a copy of the complaint, which lists the charges.
- You will be told whether your child needs a lawyer. This will depend on whether the case will be held by a judge or is sent to a committee or court staff to resolve.
- The court will decide whether your child will be released or will stay in detention until the case is decided.
If Your Child Is Held in a Juvenile Facility
The court could decide to hold your child in a juvenile facility if the child:
- is accused of a serious offense;
- a risk to public safety;
- had a record of juvenile delinquency;
- failed to come to a recent court hearing; OR
- failed to stay in a court placement.
Bail is not available for juveniles.
If your child is detained, another court hearing will be held within 48 hours. The child must have an attorney. At this hearing, the judge could decide that the prosecutor has not presented enough evidence to make the judge think that the child could have broken a law. The judge might dismiss the case.
If the judge believes that the juvenile likely broke the law, the case will be scheduled for a hearing. The child could be released or detained at this point. If the child is detained, a detention review hearing will be held within 14 days. After that, a detention hearing must be held every month until the case is decided.
Three Ways Juvenile Cases Are Resolved
- Juvenile conference committee (JCC) or intake services conference (ISC). An informal discussion is held with you, your child, and the person who filed the complaint. If all parties agree, your child might have to follow certain conditions. These could include curfews, counseling, community service, paying for items that were broken or taken, or other things that would aid in their rehabilitation. If the conditions are met, the case could be dismissed. The judge must approve any agreements.
- Juveniles referees. Trained court staff are hearing officers who conduct juvenile hearings and make recommendations to the judge about whether your child is delinquent. They might also recommend things like curfews, counseling, or community service. They cannot recommend detention. The judge will review the case and decide whether to approve their recommendation. You must tell the referee right away if you disagree with the recommendation they plan to send to the judge.
- Hearing before a judge. An "informal" hearing before a judge does not require a lawyer to be present. This is called “counsel non-mandatory.” A formal hearing is “counsel mandatory.” See the instructions above for how to get a lawyer in counsel mandatory hearings. In either type of case, the judge will decide whether your child is delinquent. If so, the judge can set conditions to aid in rehabilitation. Those could include
- Community service;
- Probation supervision; Learn about probation supervision
- Deferred (delayed) disposition;
- Confinement in a juvenile facility
Forms and Brochures
- Directory of Family Division Offices – Find your local family division.
- Juvenile Delinquency Proceedings and Your Child Brochure (CN 11358)—Learn more about delinquency cases.
- Probation Division FAQ brochure —Learn more about New Jersey’s Probation Services
Is Your Family in Crisis?
Sometimes families need extra support when juveniles have problems beyond what they can handle. Families in crisis can call their local juvenile family crisis intervention unit (FCIU). FCIU is a 24-hour on-call service that responds to, de-escalates, and stabilizes juvenile family crises. The FCIU will become involved when there is a serious threat to the well-being and physical safety of a juvenile, a serious conflict between a parent/guardian and a juvenile, and situations involving runaways, human trafficking or other concerns.