Stuck between a rock and a hard place: Juvenile Waivers

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Seven high school football players in New Jersey have been charged with committing violent sexual hazing, including aggravated sexual assault. The boys await their first hearing this week, and if prosecutors are successful in requesting waivers, some or all of the boys might be tried as adults in criminal court.

Whether a case is moved into the adult system depends on several factors, including the history of the teenager, his age and the nature of the charge. They may also consider a victim’s opinion, said Laura Cohen, a professor at Rutgers Law School who is focused on juvenile justice issues.

“Some don’t want children subjected to the very harsh ramifications of an adult prosecution and conviction,” she said.

Even if the boys are to remain in juvenile court, the punishment is no less harsh:

For a 15-year-old charged with a serious offense, a defense attorney can fight a waiver by arguing that his client is a good candidate for the sort of rehabilitation programs that are the focus of the juvenile justice system. But after age 16, that option mostly disappears, Ms. Cohen said, and all prosecutors need to do to obtain a waiver is prove probable cause that the teenager committed the crime.

Even if they remain in the juvenile system, the teenagers could still face stiff punishments. A sex crime conviction could mean years in a juvenile detention center, and the teenager’s name would be added to a sex offender database. “It is not just a slap on the wrist,” Ms. Cohen said.

How 15-year-old boys can be “good candidates” for rehabilitation, whereas 16-year-olds cannot appears incredibly unfair and arbitrary, since in New Jersey, any child under 18 is considered a minor and is automatically in the juvenile justice system.

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