“New Jersey’s Code of Juvenile Justice provides a comprehensive scheme that empowers Family Part judges to tailor dispositions toward aiding and rehabilitating juveniles charged with delinquent acts, while simultaneously ensuring protection of the public from dangerous and/or repetitive juvenile offenders”
State in Interest of C.V.,
201 N.J. 281, 285 (2010)
The Juvenile Justice Code’s main dispositional statute is N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-43. This statute “authorizes a wide variety of appropriate dispositional alternatives other than incarceration for juveniles adjudicated delinquent.” In re Registrant J.G., 169 N.J. 304, 335 (2001). These alternatives reflect “emphasis on supervision, care and rehabilitation,” id., and show that “rehabilitation and reformation of the juvenile remain a hallmark of the juvenile system.” State in the Interest of C.K., 233 N.J. 44, 48 (2018) (citing N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-43(b)).
More specifically, among the dispositional alternatives available to the family court are deferring a disposition “for the purpose of determining whether the juvenile makes a satisfactory adjustment” and then dismissing the complaint; placing the juvenile on probation; and ordering fines, restitution, or completion of community service or work or education programs. N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-43(b). There are other options still, including ordering “that the juvenile satisfy any other conditions reasonably related to the rehabilitation of the juvenile,” N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-43(b)(18), and more serious options including placing the juvenile in residential or non-residential programs, see, e.g., N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-43(b)(14), or incarceration. See also State in Interest of C.V., 201 N.J. 281, 295 (2010) (“Although not explicitly included in the statute, the Code has been found to permit suspended sentences as a necessary, viable disposition.”).
A judge considering which disposition to enter is “challenged by the complex, diverse, and changing needs of youth, and must confront the unique emotional, behavioral, physical, and educational problems of each juvenile before the court.” C.V., 201 N.J. at 296. Choosing among the dispositions is guided by statute. The determination whether to incarcerate a juvenile depends on consideration of “aggravating” and “mitigating” factors in one statute. See N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-44. Regarding other dispositions short of incarceration, the court considers an analogous set of factors in another statute. See N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-43(a). Being so context-sensitive, a disposition cannot be predicted with certainty in advance. That said, “[t]he most common disposition is probation supervision.” See Moving through the JJC System, Juvenile Justice Commission, https://www.nj.gov/oag/jjc/fam_court_process.htm.
At the dispositional hearing, see R. 5:24-1, both the State and the defense will be permitted to address the court and present arguments or observations regarding the factors’ application (or lack of application) to the case. An attorney representing a juvenile must be prepared to make the most of this opportunity and argue cogently why the disposition recommended by the State as part of a plea deal, or a more lenient disposition, is appropriate. Potential developmental disability1 on the part of a juvenile may affect this analysis. See, e.g., State in the Interest of R.M., 141 N.J. 434, 451 (1995).
It is also worth noting that the court may order a “predisposition evaluation” before a hearing, which generates a report to which the parties may refer at the hearing. See R. 5:24-2. The court’s decision regarding a disposition will be memorialized in an order. See R. 5:24-4. As discussed on the following tab, the court will “retain jurisdiction” for the duration of the disposition. See N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-45(a); R. 5:24-5.
1 People generally use the term “disability,” but I prefer the term “diffability” to indicate that the person simply has different ability—not non-existent ability.
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