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Juvenile Waiver Evaluations

While the technical rules vary from state to state, the concept of a waiver is similar across the United States. A juvenile who is accused of a serious crime can, in certain circumstances, be tried as an adult, in adult criminal court. In New Jersey, the minimum age for a juvenile to be considered for waiver is 14 (at the time the offense was committed). The types of crimes involved in a waiver request are more serious crimes, such as aggravated sexual assault, aggravated assault or criminal homicide. Alternatively, the juvenile may be considered for waiver if there is a pattern of past offenses that leads to a conclusion that rehabilitation is unlikely. The state is concerned with protecting the interests of the public from further crimes by the juvenile. The defense must show that the probability of rehabilitation outweighs the reasons for the waiver. 

Psychologists are essential in waiver hearings. Since probable rehabilitation is a major issue, evidence must first be presented that connects the crime with an identifiable psychological disorder that can be treated. Psychological testimony is also important in establishing whether the prognosis for successful treatment is good or not. Determining the length of treatment needed to effect successful rehabilitation is also important, because it must be accomplished by the juvenile's 19th birthday. 

A psychological evaluation for a waiver hearing is similar to the assessment of juvenile offenders for sentencing or for probation. The psychologist reviews the particulars of the criminal allegations, the juvenile's past criminal record, the school record, any past psychological or substance abuse treatment, and the family situation, including the effectiveness of the family as a support system for the juvenile to remain out of trouble, and to follow through with treatment. The psychologist will then complete a clinical interview, and administer psychological tests appropriate to the situation. The psychological report will summarize these findings, and make specific recommendations regarding how psychological treatment can help the juvenile reach rehabilitation. The report will include a prognosis relating to the potential success of the rehabilitation plan, within the time frames of the law. 

When the psychological recommendations are contested, the psychologist will present the findings in court. During testimony the psychologist will respond to cross examination questions, as well as questions from the court, who is the finder of fact in determining whether to waive the juvenile. If both the state and the defense present an expert psychologist, then the psychologist may also be asked to evaluate the findings of the opposing expert. 

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