Given the “tough on crime” stance taken by so many of our politicians and law enforcement officials here in Morris County, an important point can get lost amidst the bluster and swagger. That is that defendants charged with crimes are entitled to a presumption of innocence. It’s not just a courtesy extended to them. They have the right to defense against the charges and the burden of proof is on the prosecution to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This concept is perhaps no more important anywhere than it is in cases of juvenile crimes.
Take, for example, recent allegations of a robbery not even 15 minutes outside Morristown. A teenager told police that two suspects had approached him, threatened him, demanded his money and stolen his cell phone. He also described to police the vehicle in which they supposedly fled.
Police quickly picked out a vehicle matching the description provided and a chase ensued, with multiple local agencies scrambling to respond. The vehicle was eventually found abandoned with two flat tires and identified as stolen property. Police then reportedly searched the area, eventually picking out two youth nearby and arresting them.
One of the boys is 18, but the other is only 17 and has been charged as a minor with the initial cell phone robbery, theft of the vehicle and fleeing from police. He was taken to Morris County Juvenile Detention Center. Notably, the other teenager (just one year older) was taken to jail on $100,000 bail and no 10 percent cash option.
Right there we see an immediate difference in how New Jersey’s juvenile law system treats a defendant. But what happens after the initial booking? How do juvenile suspects move through the system once they’ve entered? We’ll take a closer look at the answer to this question in a follow-up blog post.