New York Juvenile Court Process Explained

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New York Juvenile Court process is confusing to say the least. Although it is very similar to the adult criminal court process, there are many differences and similarities. Therefore, if you or your child are dealing with a criminal matter in family court, it is essential to hire not only an excellent criminal attorney, but also someone who practices in family court.

In New York State, children who are 7 years old or older can be brought to court and prosecuted for their criminal conduct. The child’s age and the type of crime that is charged control which court handles these cases and what ultimately happens to the child’s record in the event there is a conviction.

What Are The Different Categories of Offenders in New York Juvenile Court?

New York Juvenile Court divides the underage offenders into categories depending on their age and the severity of the crime. These are:

  • Juvenile Delinquents,
  • Juvenile Offenders,
  • Youthful Offenders, AND
  • Adolescent Offenders

These New York Juvenile Court categories are explained in greater detail below.

New York Juvenile Delinquents

A juvenile delinquent is a child who is between 7 and 16 years old at the time of the commission of the “delinquent act,” whose conduct would be considered a “crime” under New York criminal laws if the child was an adult. If the child is in need of treatment, supervision or rehabilitation and the crime is not considered to be very serious (i.e. felony), the child will be treated as a Juvenile Delinquent and the matter will be heard in Family Court.

New York Juvenile Offenders

Under New York Law, children who are ages 13, 14, or 15 who commit serious crimes (i.e. felonies) may be treated as adults. That means that their cases will he heard in New York Supreme Court: Criminal Term, rather than Family Court. Juvenile Offenders are subject to more serious punishment than Juvenile Delinquent.

New York Youthful Offenders

A youthful offender is a youth who is charged as an adult. In order to be charged as a youthful offender in the state of New York, the individual must be between the ages of 16 and 18 years old. Youthful Offenders can be charged with both misdemeanors and felonies. Under some circumstances, the Judge is obligated to give a juvenile youthful offender treatment, which will result in the conviction being sealed. In other cases, the Judge has discretion on whether to grant someone Youthful Offender treatment. Eligibility for New York Youthful Offender Treatment are detailed here.

New York Adolescent Offenders

Adolescent offenders is the newest category created by Raise the Age Legislation. This category applies to 16 and 17 year olds who commit felony offenses (serious crimes punishable by a year or more). Instead of being handed in Family Court or in Supreme Court: Criminal Term, these matters are handled in the Youth Part of Criminal Court.

How Does the New York Juvenile Court Process Work?

New York Juvenile Court process is very similar to New York Criminal Court process, however there are several key differences. Briefly summarized, these differences are:

  • Ability to divert a juvenile case out of the criminal justice system;
  • Sealed criminal convictions and confidential court records on juvenile cases;
  • Trials with judges and not juries determining guilt or innocence on juvenile cases.

Arrest Process

Similarly to adult criminal cases, juvenile cases are handled by the New York State Law enforcement – i.e. NYPD, local police department or state troopers. In order to be charged criminally, the juvenile’s actions must constitute a crime under the New York Penal Law.

Upon review of the juvenile’s arrest and warrant history as well as the allegations on the matter, the police department will determine if the juvenile can receive an appearance ticket to come to Family Court at a later date. This is similar to receiving a desk appearance ticket in adult criminal court.
Unfortunately some New York juvenile cases are not eligible for receiving an appearance ticket. These are:

  • Cases with allegations of domestic or familial violence,
  • Violent felony charges i.e. Attempted Murder or Armed Robbery,
  • Juveniles with outstanding warrants on other cases, AND
  • Individuals with a history of not showing up for court.

Charging Process

After an arrest is made, not all New York juvenile cases get referred for prosecution. Rather, the Department of Probation conducts an intake to determine if the case can be “adjusted” or resolved without the involvement of the court.  The Department of Probation interviews the juvenile, the juvenile’s parents, the arresting officer and the complainant (if there is one on the case) to determine if the juvenile’s case can be adjusted. That means, resolved outside the Court system.

How Does Probation Decide Which Cases to Adjust?

Probation adjusts those cases where the allegations generally do not involve violent felonies and where the juvenile has not previously received the benefit of having their case adjusted. Importantly, in conducting the interview with the juvenile, probation determines why the matter happened and if the juvenile can benefit from any sort of services.

What Should I Say to Probation During Intake?

In speaking with probation, it is important for the juvenile to express remorse and speak candidly. That is because statements made by the juvenile cannot be used against them in a subsequent criminal proceeding. Additionally, probation interview records are considered confidential and would require a subpoena.

Decision on whether a case can be adjusted may not necessarily be made the same day. Sometimes, probation has a decision right after completing the interviews. Other times, probation requests 7 days to complete their assessment of the case to determine if the matter should be “adjusted.”

Why is Adjustment Beneficial?

If Probation and the juvenile agree to adjustment, that is similar to reaching a plea deal on a criminal case. Except the resolution is reached without ever getting to court. Adjustment is a period of 60 to 90 days during which probation monitors a juvenile’s compliance with certain conditions, such as school attendance and curfew. If the juvenile successfully complies with the imposed conditions, then the matter will be dismissed.

What Happens if Adjustment is not Recommended, or if the Juvenile Doesn’t Comply with Adjustment?

If Probation does not recommend that the matter be “adjusted,” or if the juvenile does not comply with adjustment, the matter gets referred to Corporate Counsel for presentment. Unlike New York State Criminal Court, where a local District Attorney’s Office or the Attorney General’s Office prosecutes adult offenders, New York Juvenile cases are prosecuted by Corporation Counsel.

Unlike criminal court, where the party that brings the criminal action is called the prosecutor, in family court corporation counsel is called a “presentment agency,” because they are the ones presenting a delinquency petition in family court. Corporation Counsel is a state agency charged with many different governmental tasks, one of which is the presentment of juvenile delinquency petitions. 

What is a Fact Finding Hearing in New York Juvenile Court?

Similarly to adult court, in a juvenile delinquency case, a judge presides over the matter. If the child’s attorney cannot reach a disposition with Corporation Counsel or receive an “adjustment” for their client, the matter proceeds to a fact-finding hearing. Just like in adult criminal court, New York juvenile cases proceed to what’s called a “fact finding hearing.”

A fact finding hearing in the New York Juvenile Court process is similar to a trial in adult criminal court. In adult criminal cases, either the judge or the jury decides the person’s guilt or innocence. In New York Juvenile Court cases, there are no juries. Rather, a judge presides over the matter and decides the juvenile’s guilt or innocence on the delinquency petition. Similarly to Criminal Court, Corporation Counsel needs to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt of each and every element of the crime.

Contact Top Rated New York Juvenile Defense Attorneys Today

If you or your child are dealing with the family court process, please contact us today to schedule your free initial consultation. Having the right attorney on a New York juvenile criminal case can make all the difference between having and not having a permanent criminal record that may impact future life plans.