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Juvenile Justice Process Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between a Juvenile Delinquent, a Juvenile Offender and an Adolescent Offender?

A Juvenile Delinquent is a youth between ages 12 and 15 who has committed an offense. 16 and 17 year old youth charged with all misdemeanors or felonies that have been removed from Criminal/Supreme Court are also considered Juvenile Delinquents. All juvenile delinquency cases are heard in Family Court.

A youth who is 13, 14 or 15 years old and has committed a very serious felony, may be tried as a Juvenile Offender in the New York City Supreme Court. If found guilty, the youth is subject to more serious penalties than a Juvenile Delinquent. Juvenile offender charges can be removed to Family Court.

An Adolescent Offender is a 16 or 17-year-old youth charged with a felony that has been retained in the Youth Part.

Where does my child go when he/she is arrested?

If your child is arrested as a juvenile delinquent, the Police Officer may process the case in a few different ways. The Police may do one of the following:

  1. Release your child to you
  2. Release your child with a Family Court Appearance Ticket (directing your child to report to court on a certain date)
  3. Bring your child directly to the Family Court, if the Court is open, or to the Criminal Court
  4. Bring your child to an ACS detention center, if the Family Court is closed. Your child may be seen by Probation and be released to you, or your child may stay in detention and be transported to court on the next court day

If your child is arrested as a juvenile offender or an adolescent offender, your child will be brought from the precinct to Criminal Court for arraignment.

What happens after my child is arrested as a Juvenile Delinquent?

The New York City Department of Probation (DOP) conducts an interview with the child, the family, the Police Officer, and the victim. Based on the interviews, the probation officer may refer the case to the New York City Law Department for prosecution in the Family Court.

Instead of referring the case to the Law Department, the Probation Officer may “adjust” the case. This means that DOP will send the child home and monitor him or her for up to 60 days. If the child follows all the rules and conditions, the case would end without Family Court involvement. However, if the child is not complying with DOP supervision, the Probation Officer will refer the case to the Law Department which has discretion to file a juvenile delinquency petition in Family Court.

Does my child need a lawyer?

New York City provides lawyers free of cost to individuals who are prosecuted in Family and Criminal Court and who cannot afford to pay.

While the court case is pending, does my child get to come home?

The Judge decides where the child should go for the duration of the court case at the initial court appearance. The Judge can order your child to an ACS detention facility, or allow your child to return home with you with or without conditions. Other options may be discussed in court.  

When sending a child home, the judge can place the child under the supervision of Probation or require participation an alternative-to-detention program.

What is a fact-finding hearing/trial?

A fact-finding hearing takes place in Family Court for youth charged as Juvenile Delinquents, and is similar to a criminal trial in the adult Court system. The Judge hears evidence to determine whether the child committed the charged offense. If the Court finds that the child committed the offense, it will schedule a dispositional hearing to determine whether the child is in need of probation supervision, treatment, or placement.

Youth charged as Juvenile Offenders and Adolescent Offenders have their cases processed in the Youth Part of Supreme Court. A trial is the process where evidence is presented and a determination is made by a judge or jury as to the guilt or innocence of the youth charged.

What happens at the dispositional hearing/sentencing?

The dispositional hearing occurs in Family Court after the court makes a finding against a juvenile delinquent and is similar to the sentencing hearing in the adult system. The Judge receives evidence about the youth's history, behavior, and progress. The Court may order a Mental Health Study if the Judge feels that information will be helpful in determining the disposition of the case. Parents and other people with information helpful to the Court may also testify.

Based on the testimonies and any supporting documents, the Court decides which option would best meet the needs of the youth and the safety of the community. The Court has the following options:

  1. Send the youth home without Court supervision, but with certain conditions set by the Court, which is called a conditional discharge
  2. Send the youth home under Probation supervision
  3. Send the youth home and put him or her in an alternative-to-placement program
  4. Place the youth in a Close to Home placement facility

In the Youth Parts, the judge announces the sentence at the end of sentencing proceedings for juvenile offenders and adolescent offenders. Determinations as to whether a young person will be adjudicated a youthful offender happen at sentence. A judge can sentence a young person to a period of incarceration which will be served in facilities administered by the Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) until the youth's 21st birthday, with any additional time to be served in the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS). A sentence of a year or less can be served in an ACS facility if ordered by the judge. A court can also sentence a youth to probation or a conditional discharge.

What is expected of my child if he is placed in a community-based program or under Probation supervision?

Your child is expected to follow the rules and conditions of the program and the Probation Officer.

Watch a video for families produced by the Center for Court Innovation that helps explain the juvenile justice process and answers common questions and concerns.

Download a Guide to the Juvenile Justice System for Youth.

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