In New York, a juvenile delinquent is a child over the age of seven and less than eighteen who has acted in a way that would constitute a crime if the child was an adult.
All people, including children, have the Constitutional right to remain silent and refuse to answer questions posed by the police and other law enforcement authorities. The child's parent or other legally responsible person should be notified by police before the child is questioned. The child is also entitled to speak with a lawyer before being questioned or interrogated. The best practice is to seek the guidance of an attorney for your child before permitting your child to speak with any police officer or member of law enforcement.
Probation and Adjustment
Sometimes a child is arrested and given a Family Court Appearance Ticket, which directs the child and parent to appear before the designated Probation Department. Some cases can be resolved by a probation officer without the formal involvement of the court. The probation officer will meet with the parties involved to seek a solution without the need for filing a petition. Resolving the case in this manner is known as adjustment.
If the matter cannot be adjusted, a petition will be filed against the child by the County Attorney's office (called the "Presentment Agency"), which is the authority that prosecutes juvenile delinquency matters in Family Court outside of New York City. In New York City, the the Corporation Counsel of the City of New York is the Presentment Agency.
In some cases, the police will bring the child directly to the Family Court or to a juvenile detention center for arraignment before a Family Court judge. In this instance, a petition is already filed in Family Court before arraignment. Despite the filing of the petition, many cases are still referred back to the Probation Department for adjustment.
Fact-finding and Disposition
The Family Court Act lists many procedural protections put in place to safeguard the constitutional rights of the accused child. Any protections or procedures that are not explicitly listed in the Family Court Act is governed by the Criminal Procedure Law and other laws.
Every child who is the respondent (accused) in a juvenile delinquency petition is entitled to a fact-finding hearing. However, at any time before making a finding (except for designated felonies), the proceedings may be "adjourned in contemplation of dismissal" for a period not to exceed six months, with the respondent's consent. This means the matter is adjourned and if the respondent complies with the rules of the court, upon the expiration of the allotted time, the petition will be dismissed in the furtherance of justice.
If the matter is not resolved at the various other stages, a fact-finding hearing will be scheduled. At that hearing, the judge will consider all the evidence, which may include testimony, documents, audio or video recordings, and the like, and then determine whether the child committed the act. The standard of proof at a fact-finding hearing is "beyond a reasonable doubt," the same as for criminal cases, which is a very high standard. Once the Presentment Agency has finished presenting its case, the child, through his attorney, can then call witnesses and offer evidence; however, as in all criminal cases, the child need not put on a defense, need not testify and may remain silent, as is guaranteed by the Constitution.
If the child was found to have committed a criminal offense, then a dispositional hearing is scheduled. At the dispositional hearing, the presentment agency and the respondent may call witnesses and offer proof. The standard of proof is only "a preponderance of the evidence," a much lower standard than beyond a reasonable doubt. Some describe the standard as a "tipping of the scales" or as a percentage of "fifty-one percent" to meet the burden of proof.
At the conclusion of a dispositional hearing, the court must order the least restrictive alternative available, considering the best interests of the child and the need to protect the community. The judge may:
- Conditionally discharge the respondent
- Put the respondent on probation
- Place the respondent with various agencies, away from home
- Issue an Order of Protection together with any other disposition
It is best to consult with a lawyer who is knowledgeable and experienced in all phases of the Juvenile Delinquency process. Feel free to call us to discuss your child's rights.