Juvenile Delinquency

Who Is a Juvenile Delinquent?

When a person who is under 16 years old, but is at least 7 years old, commits an act which would be a "crime" if he or she were an adult, and is then found to be in need of supervision, treatment or confinement, the person is called a "juvenile delinquent". The act committed is called a "delinquent act". All juvenile delinquency cases are heard in Family Court. Children who are 13, 14 and 15 years old who commit more serious or violent acts may be treated as adults. These cases may be heard in County Court, but may sometimes be transferred to the Family Court. If found guilty, the child is called a "juvenile offender", and is subject to more serious penalties than a juvenile delinquent.


How Does the Family Court Case Begin?

A prosecuting attorney from the County Attorney’s Office, called a "Deputy County Attorney", presents the juvenile delinquency case. A Deputy County Attorney prosecutes cases involving juvenile offenders. The presentment agency (prosecutor) prepares a petition against the child containing a description of the acts he or she is accused of committing. The accused child is called the "respondent". The victim in the case is called the "complainant".

A child who has been arrested and held may be brought directly to Family Court by the police, or, when court is not in session, may be held overnight in a detention center until the next court day. In the alternative, a child may be arrested and released after being given an "appearance ticket" directing him or her to appear in court on a certain date. In court, the child and his parent or guardian are given a copy of the petition.

There are no filing fees in Family Court.

Does the Child Need a Lawyer?

The child must have a lawyer representing him or her. If the parent or guardian cannot afford to hire a lawyer, the court will assign a lawyer to represent the child free of cost.


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 court decides that the child must be held in detention ("remanded") while waiting for the fact-finding hearing, a "probable cause" hearing may be held to determine whether there is good cause to hold the child in detention. There is no bail set in juvenile delinquency cases in Family Court.

Other hearings which may be scheduled concern the evidence which the presentment agency may wish to use in the fact-finding hearing. The presentment agency must give certain police reports and other documents to the respondent's lawyer so that the respondent can prepare his or her defense.


What Happens at the Fact-finding Hearing?

At the fact-finding hearing, the presentment agency must prove its case through witnesses and other evidence. The respondent's attorney may cross-examine the witnesses and may 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 petition.

If a finding is made, the judge will schedule a "dispositional hearing" and order the Probation Department to investigate the respondent's home and school behavior. The judge may also order other reports or evaluations to assist in determining the child’s best interests. The court may either "remand" the respondent to a detention facility or release the child to the custody of his or her parent or guardian until the dispositional hearing.


What Happens at the Dispositional Hearing?

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 about the respondent's previous behavior in school and at home, and any previous court cases involving the respondent. The respondent's parents or guardians and other persons with information helpful to the court may testify.

The probation officer may recommend that the respondent be permitted to live at home without court supervision, but with certain conditions set by the court (a "conditional discharge"); or that he or she be supervised by the Probation Department while living at home (an "order of probation"); or that the court place the respondent in a facility away from home, such as a group home or secure facility. The respondent may also be ordered to pay for damage to the complainant's property and/or unreimbursed medical expenses incurred by the complainant as a result of the respondent’s actions

The judge decides which disposition would meet the needs of the respondent and signs a dispositional order. Even if there is a finding that the respondent committed the acts described in the petition, if the judge finds that the respondent is not in need of supervision, treatment or confinement, the petition must be dismissed. The petition may also be dismissed after the court has ordered an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal ("ACD"). An ACD is where the case is on hold for up to 6 months to decide whether it should be dismissed.


What Happens if the Respondent Disobeys the Dispositional Order?

If the respondent does not obey the conditions of his or her dispositional order, the probation officer or placement agency may file a violation petition, and a new dispositional hearing may be held. If the violation is proven, the judge can order a different disposition.