Breakthrough in Juvenile Sentencing Brings Hope to Families

Do you remember holding your child’s hand while you crossed the street or helping your child put on mittens when the weather turned cold? You may never have imagined that those same hands would be handcuffed as a police officer led your child away. Now you have learned that, because of the violent nature of the crime, you child may be facing the rest of his or her life in prison if convicted.

You may have heard of young men who received sentences of hundreds of years, making them eligible for parole only when they reach their 70s or 80s. Because they were minors, the court could not give them life sentences, although the courts tried them as adults. However, a sentence that delays chances for probation for 50 or 60 years may seem like a life sentence to you.

Children are not adults

Apparently, it seems that way to the New Jersey Supreme Court. A recent ruling may give you some hope as you prepare for your child’s upcoming trial. After reviewing cases in which convicted juveniles spent decades behind bars, the court ruled that children are different from adults and judges should treat them differently when sentencing them for violent crimes.

Courts should consider what brain research has discovered: that the area of a juvenile’s mind that controls impulsive behavior is not as fully developed as that of an adult brain. Punishing a juvenile for the rest of his or her life for a crime committed before the impulse center of the brain fully forms may be depriving the offender of important Constitutional rights.

What makes the difference during your child’s sentencing?

The court decided that judges charged with sentencing juvenile offenders must weigh the following factors as they deliberate:

  • The child’s level of maturity
  • The family life of the juvenile
  • The degree to which the child’s behavior toward police or prosecutors impacted the seriousness of the charges
  • The amount of influence the child’s peers had over his or her actions
  • The possibility of successful rehabilitation

The state Supreme Court also suggested that, if New Jersey doesn’t revise its laws, courts might face a barrage of challenges to the constitutionality of harsh sentences for juveniles. The Constitution prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, and the judges say that putting a minor behind bars until he or she reaches old age is both cruel and unusual.

Aggressive defense for your child

If your minor child is accused of committing a violent crime that may essentially result in a lifetime behind bars, you are likely beside yourself with worry. The thought of your child spending his or her entire adult life behind bars in unimaginable, and you want to do everything you can to prevent that from happening.

Having solid legal counsel from an attorney who is passionate about the rights of juvenile defendants may make all the difference in your child’s future. Such an advocate will work to bring about the most positive outcome for your child’s circumstances.

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