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What happens in a juvenile 'fact-finding' hearing in New York?

When a child in New York who is between 7 and 16 years of age is accused of a crime, in most circumstances their case will be handled by the Family Court through a "fact-finding hearing" rather than through a criminal trial. In this type of hearing, the case will be decided by a judge rather than a jury. That being said, in certain cases, juveniles between the ages of 13 and 15 may be tried as adults.

In some cases, prior to the fact-finding hearing, the court determines that the juvenile should be detained. In this situation, a different type of hearing called a "probable cause" hearing will take place to decide whether it is necessary to remand the juvenile.

In a fact-finding hearing, it is up to an entity called the presentment agency to prove the juvenile committed the crime. They may do so by presenting evidence and calling witnesses to the case. The standard of proof in this type of hearing is "beyond a reasonable doubt," just like in a criminal trial. The entity that represents the juvenile is called the respondent's attorney. This attorney can cross-examine the presentment agency's witnesses and can also submit evidence in favor of the juvenile's defense.

After the presentment agency and respondent's attorney have presented their cases, the judge presiding over the case will issue a "finding" as to whether the juvenile committed the crime. If the juvenile is found innocent, the petition charging the juvenile with the crime will be dismissed. If the juvenile is found to have committed the crime, there will then be a "dispositional hearing."

Juvenile law matters can have long-term consequences for the child involved. Children do not have the same mental capacity as adults when it comes to decision-making. This is why it is so important that they do not face the same criminal trials and sanctions as adults. Those who are in need of more information about the juvenile criminal justice system may want to engage the help of a criminal defense attorney experienced in such matters.

Source: nycourts.gov, "Juvenile Delinquency," Accessed July 20, 2015

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