6 Common Criminal Charges for Young Adults and Juveniles
Most people don’t think of themselves as criminals. Most people only drive five or ten miles over the speed limit; most people pay their taxes, and don’t hurt or steal from others; most people don’t have much reason to fear an interaction with the police. However, most people weren’t always this way. We were all young adults once, and as young adults, tended to take more risks, rebel against authorities, and act without full knowledge of the consequences of our actions.
Reforms have attempted to make the criminal justice system more reflective of and responsive to this fact, emphasizing behavioral correction and rehabilitation for juvenile and young adult offenders. However, a criminal charge at a young age can be devastating, disrupting your life, sapping your limited finances, threatening your precious mobility, and potentially jeopardizing your career aspirations.
So much depends on preparedness. If you’re a young person facing criminal charges (or if you’re a parent and your child is facing criminal charges), it will help to know about some of the charges young people most often face, the penalties attached, and some strategies for defending against or reducing the charges. Once you read this blog, give Attorney Carl Spector a call to schedule a free case review.
Joyriding is an all-too-common charge. In New Jersey, a person has been joyriding when they have stolen a parent’s vehicle and driven it without a license. Joyriding is, however, a colloquial term; a person in this situation would probably face a charge of “unlawful use of a motor vehicle.”
While unlawful use of a vehicle isn’t as serious as grand theft auto, it’s still a significant charge, and could lead to a trial. It’s important to know that you can’t rely entirely on your parents’ forgiveness. A parent’s input could persuade a prosecutor to reduce charges, but they would not likely be dropped altogether. If you’ve illegally taken a parent’s car out onto the streets, it’s no longer a “family affair.”
If a juvenile is charged with theft in New Jersey, the offense might not go to court. Police will usually handle minor offenses in a forum or a committee meeting. Larger juvenile thefts will go to the Family Division of the State Superior Court, involving the county prosecutor. Even this might not have a devastating impact on a young person’s life. However, the most serious thefts will end up in front of a judge; a prosecutor may even request to have the juvenile tried as an adult.
Shoplifting is a crime too often misunderstood. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to leave a store with a stolen item to be charged; you might be arrested, charged, and convicted of shoplifting for concealing an item on your person without leaving the store – even if you claim you intended to pay for it. The problem doesn’t “go away” if you return the item, either. Store owners know their rights, and will act aggressively to combat the practice of shoplifting by prosecuting individual shoplifters. In most cases, you could face a maximum sentence of one year in jail and a fine of $1,000. That’s just in criminal court, though; you could face further penalties in civil court.
Underage drinking at a bar, and using a fake ID
If you’re underage and caught at a bar drinking alcohol, the establishment’s owner isn’t the only one in trouble. You could face a disorderly persons offense, or an indictable offense. Often these disorderly persons offenses will be coupled with a charge of false identification (for using a fake or stolen ID), which is an indictable offense.
An officer doesn’t have to find you with a drink in hand to write you up. If they search you and find your fake ID, the court will charge you with possession.
The exact charge or charges you face will depend upon the county prosecutor. An experienced criminal defense attorney will know most of the county prosecutors in the state, and know their policies and tendencies. After looking at the facts of your case, that attorney will be able to make a well-educated guess as to the prosecutor’s likely decision, and will be able to help you plan for whatever comes next.
Like many other states, New Jersey has a “zero tolerance” alcohol policy for drivers under 21. If you are under 21 and police pull you over, and if you blow a BAC of .01-.07, you will be charged with underage DWI. The penalties for this are less severe than those for a normal DWI, and the DWI will not “count” on your future record (unlike normal, “adult” DWIs, which cannot be expunged). Note, however, that even a trace of alcohol in your system will send you to court.
If you blow a BAC of .08 or more, you will be treated as an adult. If you have a strong suspicion that you will register at .08 or above, you should weigh the option of refusing the breath test. You do have this right, but exercising it will carry consequences, including the automatic suspension of your license for one year, and fines from the DMV.
Possession of marijuana
Possession of 50 grams or less of marijuana is a disorderly persons offense in New Jersey. This is a crime, it will involve a fine, and it will stay on your record. However, if this is your first offense, your attorney may be able to secure an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal (ACD). This essentially means that charges will be dropped, contingent on certain conditions. For example, you must not face any other charges for a certain period of time, and you might have to undergo drug use evaluation and a counseling or rehabilitation program. If you meet these terms, your record would be “clean.”
Understanding penalties for juvenile crimes
When dealing with juvenile offenders, the court is far more focused on behavior correction and rehabilitation than on punishment – though punishment may be an element in a program of behavioral correction. Juvenile detention is a last resort reserved for the most serious charges or repeat offenders. The least serious charges might merit a letter written to a judge or to a victim. In many cases judges will sentence a “period of adjustment,” a sort of probation involving classes or other therapy that demonstrates to the court the child’s willingness to reintegrate into law-abiding society.
Thirty years of criminal defense experience
If you’re a juvenile or the parent of a juvenile facing criminal charges, you can’t afford to face the courts without experienced legal representation. Contact The Law Office of Carl Spector today to set up a free, confidential consultation in either our Hackensack or Fair Lawn, New Jersey locations. In the meantime, you can continue browsing the legal resources in our blog and video vault. Or, learn more specifically about charges young people face by visiting the resources in the Defenses for New Jersey College Students section of the website.