WHO IS A JUVENILE DELINQUENT?
A “juvenile delinquent” is someone at least 7 but under 16 years old who commits an act that would be a crime if committed by an adult and is found to need “supervision, treatment or confinement.” The act committed is a “delinquent act.” Juvenile delinquency cases are heard in Family Court. In Family Court, the accused child is called “the respondent.” The alleged victim is called “the complainant.”
Children who are 13, 14, or 15 years old who commit certain more serious or violent acts may be treated as adults. These cases are heard in Supreme Court but may sometimes be transferred to the Family Court. If found guilty in the Supreme Court, the young person is called a “juvenile offender” and can be subject to more serious penalties than a juvenile delinquent.
HOW DOES A DELINQUENCY CASE BEGIN?
After a youth is arrested, the police may release the young person with a “desk appearance ticket,” directing the child to appear in court on a specific date. If the court is still in session, the police will bring the young person to court. If the child is not released from the police department and the court is not in session, the child is taken to a detention center until court reopens on the next business day.
At court, the young person goes through the Probation Intake process. An intake officer from the Department of Probation (Probation) interviews the young person about the alleged crime, school attendance, and living situation, among other topics. The intake officer also interviews the arresting officer, the complainant/victim, and the young person’s parents or caregiver. The intake officer then determines whether the case should be referred for formal court proceedings (prosecution) or held open with Probation for adjustment services. Adjustment services can include restitution, community service, referral for community-based services, letter of apology, and/or mediation. If the case is held open for adjustment services, it may be monitored by Probation for up to four months.
If the intake officer refers the case to Family Court, the matter proceeds to the Office of the Corporation Counsel, which prosecutes Family Court juvenile delinquency matters, including more serious crimes called “designated felonies.” These attorneys, also known as the Presentment Agency, prepare the petition against the child describing the acts the child is accused of committing. In court, the child and the parent or guardian are given a copy of the petition.
DOES THE CHILD NEED A LAWYER?
The child must have a lawyer. If the parent or guardian cannot afford to hire a lawyer, the court will assign a lawyer to represent the child for free. This lawyer is called an “attorney for the child.”
WHERE DOES THE CHILD GO WHILE THE CASE PROCEEDS IN COURT?
When the case first comes to court, the child is “arraigned” on the charges. This is called the “initial appearance.” The child is assigned his or her lawyer, and the child can plead not guilty and ask for a trial or can plead guilty. When the child is being interviewed by Probation, the Probation officer conducts a risk assessment using a Risk Assessment Instrument (RAI). The RAI uses a young person’s strengths and risk factors to assess what level of risk the young person would be at to commit a delinquent act or fail to reappear in court if released at the initial appearance. At the initial appearance, the CLO recommends “parole” or “remand” of the child based on the RAI results.
If the child is detained while the case is proceeding, the child can be held in secure detention or non-secure detention. This detention is called “remand.” Alternatives to Detention (ATD) were also developed to provide a true continuum of supervision and service options based on a youth’s risk level. The ATDs allow the child to be “paroled” (sent home with a parent or guardian) because they attend one of these programs. If the child presents a low risk, the child can be “paroled home” with no conditions while the case proceeds in court. No bail is set in juvenile delinquency cases.
WHAT TYPES OF HEARINGS ARE HELD?
In a juvenile delinquency case, the trial is called a “fact-finding hearing.” A fact-finding hearing is the same as a criminal trial but without a jury. The judge decides whether the child committed the acts described in the petition.
If the child is “remanded” to secure or non-secure detention until trial, the child is entitled to a “probable cause hearing” before the fact-finding hearing to determine whether there is good reason to hold the child in detention.
The Presentment Agency must give certain police reports and other documents to the respondent’s lawyer to prepare a defense. Other hearings might be scheduled to determine whether the Presentment Agency may use those documents or other certain evidence at the fact-finding hearing.
WHAT HAPPENS AT THE FACT-FINDING HEARING?
At the fact-finding hearing, the Presentment Agency must prove its case by calling witnesses and showing other evidence to the court. The respondent’s lawyer may cross-examine the witnesses and present witnesses and evidence for the respondent. If the Presentment Agency proves the case beyond a reasonable doubt, the judge makes a “finding” that the respondent committed some or all of the acts described in the petition. If the case has not been proven, the judge will dismiss the case.
If a finding is made, the judge will schedule a “dispositional hearing.”
WHAT HAPPENS AT THE DISPOSITIONAL HEARING?
The purpose of the dispositional hearing is for the parties to argue and offer evidence so that the judge can decide what to do next. To prepare for the hearing, the judge will order the Department of Probation to investigate and prepare a report about the respondent’s home and school behavior. The judge may also order Mental Health Services to evaluate the child.
At the dispositional hearing, the judge decides whether the respondent is a “juvenile delinquent” in need of supervision, treatment, or confinement (placement). During the hearing, the judge may hear testimony from the probation officer who conducted the investigation regarding the respondent’s home and school behavior and about any other court cases involving the respondent. The respondent, the respondent’s parents or guardians, and any other persons with information helpful to the respondent may testify.
The Probation Officer may make one of several different recommendations in their report:
. 1) That the respondent is permitted to live at home without court supervision but with certain conditions that the judge sets called a “conditional discharge.”
. 2) That the Department of Probation supervises the respondent while living at home.
. 3) That the child is placed on Probation but with the condition that he or she attends an Alternative to Placement (ATP) program such as the Juvenile Justice Initiative (JJI) or Esperanza.
. 4) The child is placed away from home in a juvenile incarceration facility or foster care with Social Services Commissioner.
The judge must decide which of these recommendations is best for the child and the community; the judge must balance the child’s needs to protect the community. The judge is required to use the “least restrictive” option, meaning that the court must not lock up or otherwise limit the respondent’s freedom more than is necessary to achieve the goals of helping the respondent change his/her behavior for the better and protecting the community from further crimes by that respondent.
Even if a judge finds that the respondent committed the acts described in the petition, the judge may dismiss the petition at disposition if the judge finds that the respondent does not need supervision, treatment, or confinement. The judge may also adjourn the case in contemplation of dismissal (ACD). For an ACD, the judge will set conditions for the respondent to follow. If the respondent follows the conditions and is not re-arrested, the petition will automatically be dismissed after 6 months.
When the judge reaches a decision, the court issues a written decision, ordering the respondent to cooperate with that disposition (“dispositional order”).
WHAT HAPPENS IF THE RESPONDENT DISOBEYS THE DISPOSITIONAL ORDER?
If the respondent does not obey the dispositional order, the Probation Officer or the Presentment Agency may file a Violation of Probation (VOP) petition. If a violation is proven, the judge can order a different disposition, including placement in a juvenile incarceration facility.
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