One of the worst things that can happen in a juvenile case is a waiver to an adult court. In some cases, usually because of the severity of the offense, a prosecutor will ask the juvenile judge hearing the case to “waive” or transfer a particular juvenile matter to an adult criminal court where it will be disposed of using procedures employed in adult criminal cases, including the imposition of an adult sentence. The prosecutor’s office in at least one New Jersey county currently has a policy of automatically seeking a waiver in every juvenile case involving a weapon, regardless of the surrounding facts and circumstances. Waiver is not necessarily automatic; however, defense counsel must work diligently to overcome a prosecutor’s request for a waiver to adult court.
There are some cases where waiver may arguably be appropriate. In most cases, however, waiver accomplishes nothing, and this view seems to be gaining traction. A series of United States Supreme Court decisions issued over the last several years are based clearly on the idea that juveniles cases must be treated differently from adult cases because juveniles are not like adults. The Court has recognized that juveniles have less experience generally, and are less developed both intellectually and emotionally. A recent study from the Campaign for Youth Justice demonstrates that many states may be starting to take this view seriously, and are enacting juvenile justice reforms that address juvenile defendants “in a developmentally appropriate way.” The report can be viewed at www.campaignforyouthjustice.org.
The report observes that approximately 36 states now have laws designed to prevent minors from being incarcerated in adult prisons or jails (where, not surprisingly, they are frequently the first victims of sexual assaults). Further, many states are working on legislation that will reduce the exposure of juveniles to the adult criminal justice system in various ways. Continue reading