The vast majority of juvenile delinquency cases will be resolved with a plea agreement. (Plea agreements are discussed in more detail on the Pleading tab.) The alternative is usually a delinquency hearing, which is essentially a trial. As noted previously, the delinquency hearing is a bench trial, before a single judge instead of a multi-person jury, at which the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt each element of each offense charged. (At an analogous but different kind of hearing, a violation of probation hearing, the State must prove a willful failure to comply with a term or condition of probation by a preponderance of the evidence—a markedly lower standard than proof beyond a reasonable doubt.) The evidentiary record admissible at a delinquency hearing is shaped by discovery and motion practice, such as when a prosecutor successfully moves to admit the statement of a juvenile. (See the Custody and Motion Practice tabs for more information.)
Like at an adult criminal trial, the State typically attempts to meet its burden of proof by calling witnesses and presenting other evidence. Regarding proof of the charged offenses, the burden never shifts, see, e.g., In re State in the Interest of L. M., 56 N.J. 358, 361 (1970), and the defense has an absolute right to remain silent. But the defense also has a right to call witnesses—including a juvenile himself or herself—and even to present its own affirmative case.
If a case does make it to the delinquency hearing stage, it is essential to have a lawyer who is:
- familiar with all the evidence in the case and the applicable Rules of Evidence;
- prepared to prove the facts through cross-examination of the State’s witnesses; and
- continually thinking strategically about what evidence, if any, to present on behalf of the juvenile.
The juvenile’s attorney, at a minimum, should “defend the proceeding as to require that every element of the case be established.” See R.P.C. 3.1.
If the State fails to meet its burden, the charge on which it failed will be dismissed. If the State carries its burden on at least one charge, the Court will adjudicate the juvenile delinquent on that charge and set a disposition hearing. Disposition hearings are addressed on a separate tab, presented after discussion of an alternative to delinquency hearings: plea hearings.
Note: The information on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; instead, all content is for general informational purposes only. Information on this website may not constitute the most up-to-date legal or other information. This website contains links to other websites, which are simply for the convenience of the reader.