“Because a defendant pleading guilty waives important constitutional protections, the Rules are crafted to guarantee that the plea (1) has a sufficient factual basis, (2) is offered voluntarily, and (3) is given with a sufficient understanding of the nature of the charge and the consequences flowing from the plea”
In re T.M.,
166 N.J. 319, 325 (2001)
In a case's initial stages an accused juvenile virtually always pleads “not guilty” (not delinquent in the way(s) charged by the State); and family court judges many enter “not guilty” pleas automatically on juveniles' behalves.
(Please note that the correct term is “not delinquent,” but judges often say “not guilty.”) Thereafter, cases can be resolved without a plea to any charge, such as when a case is diverted or dismissed. (See the note on diversion on the Complaint tab.)
Otherwise, a case is likely to be resolved with a plea agreement. A plea agreement generally consists in (i) a juvenile agreeing to plead delinquent to at least one charge and (ii) the prosecutor, in exchange for the plea of delinquent, agreeing to recommend a disposition to the court that the juvenile finds acceptable (such as a deferred disposition, which is defined on the Disposition tab). The prosecutor typically dismisses all other charges as part of the agreement.
Upon a plea agreement, the court will set a hearing at which the juvenile affirms that he or she is pleading delinquent freely, and that he or she knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waives certain rights in order to enter the plea, including the right to remain silent and the right to a full and fair trial. See R. 3:9-2. The juvenile will also provide a plea form. R. 5:21A. Then the juvenile, typically upon questioning by his or her lawyer, will provide a factual basis for the offense or offenses to which he or she is pleading guilty. See In re T.M., 166 N.J. 319, 326 (2001). If the Court is satisfied with the waiver of rights and the factual basis, the Court will accept the plea, enter an adjudication of delinquency, and set the case for a disposition hearing.
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