Being picked up on criminal charges can be a stressful and frightening experience for a young person. Likewise, the young person’s parents must also endure a great deal of anxiety as they try to piece together what happened and what will happen next. One important thing for parents to understand is that the juvenile law system operates differently from the adult law system.

So, in what ways are legal proceedings different for juveniles? First of all, typically people are considered juveniles while they are between 10 and 18 years of age. During that period, they are granted certain protections. For example, a juvenile’s criminal records are usually expunged when he or she turns 18. This is so that youthful indiscretions do not follow people throughout their lifetimes.

Also, instead of trials, juveniles have what are called “adjudication hearings.” Crimes committed by juveniles are referred to as “delinquent acts.” Adjudicated hearings do not have juries; rather a judge hears the case. This means that the judge holds sole discretion in regard to sentencing.

Perhaps the best news for juveniles accused of committing delinquent acts is that the focus of an adjudication hearing is typically on rehabilitation, rather than punishment. Further, when determining a sentence, a judge must follow guidelines intended to look out for the juvenile’s best interests.

Regardless of the protections that juveniles receive, if a child is ever brought into custody, it is generally best if he or she has legal representation present before answering any questions. If your child ever gets in trouble with the law, a New Jersey criminal attorney who is experienced in handling juvenile cases may be able to help you pursue an outcome that is in your child’s best interests.