Should Juvenile Offenders Be Entitled to a Trial by Jury?


The theoretical purposes of New Jersey's juvenile justice system have evolved over the years. While at one time our juvenile courts were based on a largely rehabilitative model, one designed principally to attempt to provide assistance to wayward youth, that mission has changed dramatically over the years. Presently, juvenile offenders face significant penalties in our juvenile courts, and the focus (unfortunately) seems to have shifted away from rehabilitation toward a more traditional form of penal consequence, such as incarceration.

For those juvenile offenders whose cases remain in the juvenile courts, certain offenders face the prospect of multiyear sentences in a juvenile correctional facility, and for sexual offenses, the prospect of having to register as a sex offender under Megan's Law. Many people may be surprised to learn that a 15-year-old juvenile offender who makes unwelcome sexual advances toward another 15-year-old juvenile might face the prospect of having to register as a sex offender, but cases like this happen every day in the juvenile courts across the state.

Juveniles have no right to a trial by jury in juvenile court. There is a right to a trial, but only before the judge. One attorney, Michael Chazen, recently attempted to persuade the court that times have changed, and juveniles should be afforded the right to a jury trial. According to the court’s opinion in that case, there are some jurisdictions across the country that do afford juvenile offenders the right to a jury trial, but they are in the minority.

Perhaps the time has come to rethink the issue in New Jersey. Although permitting jury trials in every juvenile case would surely cripple the system because of the numbers involved, permitting the right to a jury trial in the following circumstances might make sense, given the magnitude of the consequences involved:

  • Juvenile offenders facing what would be first or second degree charges if committed by an adult;
  • Juveniles facing the prospect of having to register as a sex offender if convicted.

Limiting jury trials to these circumstances would allow juveniles facing the most serious consequences the right to have their fate decided by a jury. While adult criminal trials are decided by a jury of 12, it is conceivable that a lesser number of jurors might be appropriate in juvenile matters.

There is certainly room for honest debate about the wisdom of injecting elements of jury trials into our juvenile justice system. However, given the increasing seriousness of consequences to juveniles that have evolved in recent years, the time for a serious debate on this issue has arrived.


The postings on this blog were created for general informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice or a solicitation to provide legal services.  Although we attempt to ensure that the postings are complete, accurate, and current as of the time of publication, we assume no responsibility for their completeness, accuracy, or timeliness.  The information in this blog is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, a lawyer-client relationship.  Readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional legal counsel.

This blog may contain links to independent third party websites and services, including social media. We provide these links for your convenience, and you access them at your own risk.  We have no control over and do not monitor the content or policies (including privacy policies) of these third-party websites and have no responsibility for, and no liability with respect to, their content, accuracy, or reliability.  Unless expressly stated, we do not endorse any of the linked websites or any product, service, or publication referenced herein or therein.  We will remove a link to any site from this blog upon request of the linked entity.

We grant permission to readers to link to this blog so long as this blog is not misrepresented. This site is not sponsored or associated with any other site unless so identified.

If you wish for Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer, P.A., to consider representing you, please obtain contact information from the Contact Us area of this blog or go to the firm’s website at  One of our lawyers will be happy to discuss the possibility of representation with you. However, the authors of Wilentz blogs are licensed only in New Jersey and/or New York and do not wish to represent anyone who viewed this site in a state where the site fails to comply with all laws and ethical rules of that state.

Thank you for your interest in Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer P.A.’s legal blogs. You will receive an email sent to the address entered in order to confirm your subscription. Please watch for it and click the link to confirm your subscription.