On October 21, 2020, the New Jersey Supreme Court ordered the dismissal of hundreds of old juvenile warrants for minor matters and more than $140,000 in discretionary juvenile fines. The order is part of a broader initiative to ensure equal justice in the courts.
New Jersey Supreme Court’s Equal Justice Plan
In July, the New Jersey Supreme Court released its Action Plan for Ensuring Equal Justice, which identified nine reforms aimed to remove disparities within the court system and eliminate institutional obstacles to justice. One of the action items called for supporting juvenile rehabilitation by examining options for retroactively rescinding and prospectively eliminating court-imposed punitive fines and penalties for juveniles.
A new law, N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-43(b)(8), also took effect in July, under which courts will no longer impose discretionary fines as part of juvenile adjudications. However, more than $140,000 in fines remain outstanding that were imposed on juveniles before July 1, 2020. Those are now being dismissed under the court’s order.
Dismissal of Juvenile Fines and Warrants
The New Jersey Supreme Court’s Order vacates all outstanding discretionary juvenile fines, effective immediately.“The young people who owe those fines – including disproportionate numbers of youth of color – overwhelmingly lack the capacity to make necessary payments, and the fines serve only to prolong involvement with the juvenile and criminal justice systems,” Chief Justice Stuart Rabner wrote.
The New Jersey Supreme Court’s Order also addresses open failure to appear warrants issued more than five years ago for non-violent 4th degree or lesser juvenile charges. “Based on the passage of time, those warrants no longer serve their intended purpose under N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-34(c)(1) and 34(c)(2), yet they continue to create barriers to employment, housing, education, and social services,” Chief Justice Rabner wrote.
Accordingly, the New Jersey Supreme Court has directed judges to issue orders vacating all open juvenile warrants for failure to appear issued more than five years prior to the date of the Order for non-violent 4th degree or lesser offenses. Going forward, Assignment Judges are authorized and directed to issue orders on an annual basis to vacate all open juvenile warrants for failure to appear that are more than five-years-old as of that date for non-violent 4th degree or lesser offenses.