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Trenton, N.J.�Parents have the right to attend the juvenile delinquency trials of their children even though they may be called as witnesses, and excluding them from the courtroom is harmful error, a New Jersey appellate court has ruled. The judges ordered a new trial for a youth whose mother was sequestered at his original trial at the prosecutor’s request, after the public defender said she might be called as a witness. The mother was the only relative present in court. “Although our research has uncovered no New Jersey precedent directly on point, the importance of the presence of an accused juvenile’s parents at critical stages of the juvenile delinquency process is firmly established,” wrote Judge Michael Winkelstein of New Jersey’s intermediate-level Appellate Division in State in the Interest of V.M., No. A-6378-01T4. Sequestration may serve a necessary purpose in most cases, but the need of a juvenile to have his parent present during trial outweighs the possibility that the parent’s testimony might be tainted if he or she hears other witnesses’ testimony, wrote Winkelstein. He added that the Code of Juvenile Justice affords parents the right to participate in detention hearings, ask that the proceedings be open to the public and be involved in the adjudicatory and rehabilitative process. Attorney not enough The presence of the accused juvenile’s attorney is not enough. “In most cases, the juvenile’s attorney is an assigned public defender-a stranger to the juvenile,” Winkelstein wrote. “The juvenile’s parent provides a degree of comfort and support for the juvenile in an unfamiliar setting, as well as an added layer of protection, that the child’s attorney does not.” Winkelstein found a “more concrete” reason in Rule 5:20-4, which states that parents are necessary parties to every proceeding in all juvenile delinquency actions. Moreover, judges, unlike lay jurors, have the ability to “exclude from their consideration irrelevant or improper evidence and materials which have come to their attention,” he added. “Accordingly, we are loath to deny a juvenile the support and additional protection that may be supplied by a parent during the course of the juvenile’s trial,” he said.

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