New York Juvenile Crimes, Delinquency and Youthful Offender Proceedings

When a child under 16 years old is arrested in New York and alleged to have committed a crime, he or she will typically be charged with committing a "delinquent act" and charged as a "juvenile delinquent" in Family Court. Although there are important practical implications of being identified as a legal juvenile that your criminal attorney or juvenile defense lawyer should explain, for legal purposes, a juvenile delinquent is defined in the Family Court Act Article 3, Section 301.2(a) as a person over seven and less than sixteen years of age, who commits a crime, but due to his or her age is not criminally responsible by reason of infancy. Though not explicitly defined by statute, the Family Court Act, the “delinquent act, is the functional equivalent to the crime committed by this child if he or she was an adult.

Quite different in both process and potential outcomes, juvenile delinquency proceedings are the relative equivalent of being arrested and charged with a "crime" in a criminal court as an adult. A Family Court judge can sentence the child to some level of supervision, treatment or confinement, but your Family Court attorney or juvenile delinquency defense lawyer can also negotiate with the prosecutor (Corporation Counsel in NYC) and the judge before reaching a suitable disposition or plea. Children aged 13, 14 or 15 and who are accused of committing certain serious, violent felonies can be charged as adults in a New York criminal court. However, unlike a child who is 16 or older, a 13-15 year old will be adjudicated a "juvenile offender,” rather than being given a "criminal" record post-conviction.

The difference between these two outcomes – being adjudicated a “juvenile offender” and convicted of a crime as an adult – is significant. A “juvenile offender” as defined by the New York State Penal Law, Section 10.00, and means a person thirteen to fifteen years old who is criminally responsible for acts constituting certain very serious felonies. While a juvenile offender adjudication will not give the child a criminal record (this is critical), it does allow a prosecutor to treat a serious case against a child in essentially the same way as an adult charged with the same offense.

The prosecution of crimes allegedly committed by juveniles is a parallel but unique system to ordinary criminal prosecutions in New York, which requires the assistance of an attorney with expertise in both ordinary criminal law as well as the distinctive issues and dynamics at play in the context of a juvenile prosecution and Family Court more generally. The involvement of the Probation Department, family dynamics, the powers of the Family Court judge, and the office or agency leading the prosecution are just some of the unique issues at play in juvenile prosecutions throughout Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Westchester, Rockland and all of New York State. Representation of your child by an attorney experienced in both criminal law generally, and juvenile prosecutions specifically, is essential.

Commencement of a Juvenile Case

Just as with cases in New York City criminal courts and local justice courts in Westchester, Rockland, Putnam and Dutchess counties, a juvenile case typically begins with an arrest. That should come as no surprise to you or your juvenile defense lawyer. The fundamental rules and tenants of Constitutional Criminal Procedure apply just as they would in any other case and the arresting officer must have probable cause to arrest your son, daughter, niece, grandson or other family member or friend. Once the prosecutor or police officer files an accusatory instrument and officially charges the child with an offense, the child is taken to Family Court before a judge. The child can be held in an Administration for Children Services (ACS), Child Protective Services (CPS), or analogous entity's detention center until a Family Court judge is available to hear the case.

Understanding the Procedure of a Juvenile Case

Terminology and procedures can be confusing in New York Family Court on juvenile prosecutions, especially for those primarily familiar with the adult criminal justice system. If the charges proceed against a child, the Court will eventually schedule a fact-finding “hearing,” which is essentially the equivalent of a non-jury or bench “trial” in an adult case if the matter cannot be resolved through some other resolution. Just as with any other trial, the burden of proof is on the prosecutor to prove the charges not the child or Family Court defense attorney. The prosecutor will typically call witnesses who provide testimonial evidence in support of the charges. The prosecutor can produce physical evidence of various kinds, and the child's defense attorney will have the opportunity to present evidence and cross-examine the prosecution's witnesses. Again, unlike most adult criminal trials, there will not be a jury at the fact-finding hearing. The Family Court judge will act as both the judge of the law and of the facts, meaning the child's guilt or innocence will rest entirely in the Family Court judge's hands.

At the conclusion of the fact-finding hearing, the judge will issue a ruling as to the child's guilt. If the judge finds the child not guilty, the case is over and the child is free to go, just as with an adult criminal trial. If the judge finds the child guilty, there are several sentencing options that are unique to the juvenile justice system. The child may be released on the condition that the child stay out of trouble, not be re-arrested, and abide by any other conditions the judge deems appropriate. The judge may alternatively order formal probation or order the child to attend a relevant program to address the child's behavioral issues. Lastly, the judge may order that the child be placed in a juvenile detention facility which can either be non-secure or secure facilities.

When a child or youth is accused of a crime, their entire future is at risk. Can your attorney mitigate your child’s conduct at the initial stage with probation or the prosecution? Will the case be filed and your son, niece or other youth be subject to a judge’s hearing and “trial?” Be smart, prepared and diligent in your effort to protect him or her from a damaged life or even incarceration. Because an alleged mistake a child makes today should not define him or her forever, contact the New York criminal lawyers, juvenile delinquency and youthful offender attorneys, and former Manhattan prosecutors at Crotty Saland PC to put your child’s interests, rights and future first.

Call the Former Manhattan Prosecutors and Juvenile Defense Lawyers at (212) 312-7129 or contact us online today.

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