New York City Family Court Criminal-Like Accusations
By Don Murray, Esq.
New York Family Courts, including Queens Family Court, Manhattan Family Court, and Nassau County Family Court handle a number of types of cases that either directly or indirectly involve criminal-type accusations. More and more frequently, New York Family Court will pursue cases against people even when those people are being prosecuted for the exact same thing in Criminal Court.
Examples of New York Family Court matters that are often closely related to criminal cases include:
Juveniles or Youths charged with criminal conduct Juvenile Delinquency
Child Abuse Child Neglect
Child Custody Child Visitation Child Support
As a result, an important part of defending criminal accusations against a client can often involve navigating the client through New York Family Court. In cases involving New York Family Court issues, the criminal defense lawyer must either be familiar with New York Family Court himself, or be willing to work closely with the lawyer handling the Family Court matter. In many cases, the New York Family Court matter is so closely linked to the Criminal Court case, that it makes sense for the criminal defense lawyer to handle both matters.
Juvenile or Youth Cases in New York Family Court
Do not make the mistake of thinking that criminal accusations prosecuted against youths in New York Family Court cannot result in loss of freedom. A youth can be sentenced to what amounts to prison for significant periods of time. A youth can be incarcerated while his case proceeds through New York Family Court. In addition, certain results in Family Court for Juveniles can make them ineligible for Youthful Offender status in criminal cases later on. This is often forgotten by those who do not have experience with criminal type accusations in Family Court.
If a youth or juvenile is charged with what would be a crime in Criminal Court, it is essential to obtain a lawyer as quickly as possible. Criminal type accusations are supposed to proceed with extreme speed in Family Court, theoretically a matter of DAYS. The timetable with respect to criminal-like accusations in Family Court is extremely small. Therefore, there is no time to lose in getting an attorney as quickly as possible.
One of the first things that is supposed to happen when a juvenile is charged with a crime is that the case is supposed to be reviewed by the probation department with a view toward "adjustment". Adjustment essentially means that the probation department reviews the juvenile's case and recommends that the juvenile obtain certain services, such as drug rehabilitation. Occasionally adjustment can be explored as an option at the first appearance in Family Court when the option was not explored initially or not seriously explored initially.
After first appearance, the case is set down for an extremely time compressed path ending in the fact-finding (the Family Court phrase for a trial). Witnesses must be interviewed and brought together quickly. Juvenile cases in which there are real contested issues of fact can be extremely labor intensive.
Sometimes, juveniles who are initially prosecuted in Criminal Court can be transferred to New York Family Court for prosecution. Many people see this as a victory to avoid prosecution in criminal court. For a variety of reasons, however, transferring a case to family court is not always something that ends up benefiting the accused. Family court matters have a way of lasting quite a long time and the end result in Family Court is not always quite what everyone assumes it will be.
Child Abuse and Neglect Cases in New York Family Court
Child abuse and neglect cases in New York Family Court are technically not criminal cases, although more and more frequently Criminal Court will prosecute parents accused in Family Court. Child Abuse and Neglect Cases in New York Family Court will typically be charged in criminal court as one or more of the following crimes:
- Endangering the welfare of a child
- Reckless Endangerment
The stakes in New York Family Court will be whether or not the parents will be allowed to continue to have custody of the child. The stakes in the Criminal Court, however, will be the parents' freedom. Sometimes, the existence of a family court matter can be used to the advantage of the criminal case. It may be possible for the criminal defense lawyer to use the Family Court proceedings as a means to obtain discovery that would not otherwise be available in a criminal case.
Being accused of child abuse and neglect in New York Family Court can be more frustrating than being prosecuted criminally, especially if you are innocent of the accusations.
Defending accusations of child abuse and neglect can represent one of the most challenging and emotionally difficult prospects for any human being in our Court system.
Two realities make the defending of accusation of child abuse and neglect extremely difficult.
First, unlike the criminal court accusations, the Family Court accusations need only be proven by a preponderance of the evidence. Preponderance of the evidence means that the scales are tipped just 51%. In Criminal Court, the accusations will have to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, which is an extremely high standard.
Second, unlike in the Criminal Court, every case is a Bench Trial in Family Court. That means that a judge will decide whether a person is guilty of the accusations, not a jury. Most practitioners in criminal court willingly do bench trials only very rarely. We have a jury system for a reason in the United States. There is an amazing power in having cases determined by people who owe nothing to the criminal justice system and who, because they can remain anonymous, need not fear any backlash for deciding a case a particular way. In abuse and neglect cases, you have extremely emotionally charged and serious allegations. A judge who makes the finding that a child was not abused or neglected is making a potentially politically unpopular decision. This is not to say that any judge in New York Family would necessarily ever respond to such political pressure, but this can be fear of the people accused as well as their lawyers.
Also, resisting the pressure to concede responsibility for the accusations of abuse or neglect can result in a longer time before there is an ultimate resolution of the case and therefore a longer time before the accused and the child can be reunited (assuming you are successful at a bench trial on a preponderance of evidence standard). Many people feel as if conceding responsibility is the only way to get their children back as quickly as possible.
These factors can make it extremely emotionally difficult for the people accused. The Family Court supposedly has the goal of bringing the families back together. But when cases are referred for concurrent criminal prosecution it is hard to see how the Family Court is attempting to make this happen.
A parent who is victimized by a child making false allegations of abuse or neglect may be hard pressed to want to try to work everything out and be together after being arrested and accused of a felony in criminal court. In fact, we frequently advise people who are victimized by a false allegations NEVER TO BE AROUND THE FALSE ACCUSER EVER AGAIN. Once a person has tasted the power of falsely accusing someone and realizes how easy it is to get people arrested, the person can never be trusted again. As criminal defense lawyers we have represented many people who, hoping against hope that a false accuser would never do it again, nevertheless find themselves accused falsely multiple times.
After referring cases of abuse or neglect to criminal court for criminal prosecution, the Family Court personnel are often perplexed when parents express reluctance to try to work it all out and have the family be together again.
Child Custody, Child Visitation, and Child Support in New York Family Court
Child custody and child visitation cases are frequently related to criminal cases where false allegations of criminal conduct are brought as leverage in custody and visitation disputes between parents. Likewise, disputes between parents over child support may also lead to false allegations of criminal conduct.
New York Family Court and Criminal Law
Certain aspects of New York Family Court can appear like criminal court and indeed the two courts do appear to overlap in some cases. Juveniles are prosecuted for criminal acts in Family Court and certain child abuse and neglect actions can be prosecuted in Family Court. This article outlines some of the overlap between Family Court and Criminal Court.
Call 718-268-2171 for more information about criminal-like accusations in family court or to schedule your free consultation with a New York criminal defense lawyer from Shalley & Murray.
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