The Juvenile Justice Unit of the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office prosecutes juveniles for acts of delinquency ranging from small offenses such as petty theft up to juveniles accused of murder. The goals of the Unit are to ensure public safety through swift and certain adjudication of violent and repetitive delinquents. The main goal of the unit is to reduce recidivism through accountability and recommendations for structured supervision; diversion of those accused of the most minor offenses away from delinquency, thereby reducing the need for further court action. These actions are taken to achieve the goal of ending recidivism and breaking the escalating and intensifying cycle of delinquency.
The Code of Juvenile Justice (N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-23) defines delinquency to include the commission of an act by an individual under age 18 which if committed by an adult would constitute a crime; a disorderly person’s offense or petty disorderly persons offense; or the violation of any other penal statute, ordinance or regulation, excluding motor vehicle, curfew, and smoking in public. (These cases are heard in municipal court.)
The Juvenile Justice Unit is responsible for the prosecution or other disposition of all formal complaints charging acts of juvenile delinquency by juvenile residents of Essex County. As a result, the Unit handles matters from all counties across the state. The Unit has statewide jurisdiction, handling delinquency matters charged against Essex juveniles wherever they occur in the state. The overwhelming majority of cases occurring outside of Essex are returned to the Juvenile Justice Unit for prosecution and adjudication. Less than one percent (1%) of the cases occurring outside of the county result in the retention of jurisdiction in those counties.
The assistant prosecutors assigned to the juvenile courts handle individual court calendars at various stages of the adjudication process – from the detention stage through weekly call calendar (plea conference), waiver applications, hearings, trial, and ultimate disposition. The Juvenile Justice Unit uses a “vertical prosecution” model. Simply put, an Assistant Prosecutor is responsible for a case from start to finish. The Juvenile Justice Unit prepares, investigates, screens, and litigates all delinquency cases that are heard before the court. A vertical prosecution approach helps to move juvenile cases through the court very rapidly. The Juvenile Justice Unit also performs all of the screening functions performed for adult cases by the Initial Screening Unit. It argues the State’s detention hearing recommendations, comparable to adult proceedings in the CJP Court; and also performs trial preparation and all litigation functions.
In addition to prosecuting cases in court, the Unit provides daily legal advice to the twenty-two Juvenile Bureaus within Essex County as well as additional departments that have patrol authority within the county. The unit also works closely with the local schools that require legal or investigative assistance. Members of the Unit also volunteer to conduct training sessions within the community regarding the consequences of delinquency and criminal involvement. Director of the Juvenile Justice Section provides training for law enforcement, educators, parents, and community organizations not only in the county, but a seminars and trainings across the state.
For more information on the juvenile justice system in Essex County, see Frequently Asked Questions.