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NJ Supreme Court to rule on process for sending teens into adult court

The Campaign for Youth Justice reports that around 250,000 juveniles are tried as adults every year throughout the United States. When teens are tried in adult court, the charges are usually significant - murder, aggravated assault and other violent felony crimes.

In New Jersey, the local prosecutor determines whether to move teenagers into adult court. Who decides whether a youth should be tried in adult or juvenile court has become a matter for the New Jersey Supreme Court to decide. The court heard arguments recently on an issue that an make a huge difference to young people.

The question that the court will decide is whether it is appropriate for a prosecutor to decide the venue where a juvenile will be tried. After all, the same prosecutor's office will also be responsible for trying the case on behalf of the state.

There are several very important differences between adult and juvenile court. Juvenile court protects the identity of the teenager - defendants age 17 and younger. The courtroom is closed and the court records are sealed. In contrast, adult court is public, with all records open for inspection. The penalties in adult court are also harsher than those imposed by juvenile court that stresses rehabilitation rather than punishment.

Judges can overturn a decision to try a child as an adult, but to do so they must determine that the prosecutor abused his or her discretionary powers, and judges in New Jersey are reluctant to do this.

Advocates of reform support giving trial court judges more involvement in the initial decision, about where a juvenile should be tried, rather than ruling on the prosecutor's decision. Additionally, say these advocates, there should be input from both the prosecution and defense sides.

Source: North, "The Record: Juvenile justice," Apr. 29, 2012.

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