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Court Discusses Rights of Minor’s Right to Due Process

A New York Family Lawyer said the issue presented is whether the Family Court has jurisdiction to commit a juvenile to the Department of Mental Hygiene if it is alleged that the juvenile is a delinquent in a situation where, prior to being adjudicated pursuant to the Family Court Act, he is found to be incompetent to defend himself in such proceeding. It is hold that the Family Court has such jurisdiction, but that it must be exercised only in a manner consistent with the juvenile’s constitutional right to due process.

A New York Custody Lawyer said the appeals present a novel question concerning the rights of juveniles charged as delinquents. Each of the petitioner-appellants has been charged by a petition filed in the Family Court with committing acts which, had they been committed by an adult, would have constituted felonies.

Boy A was accused of several counts of robbery, assault and weapons possession arising out of the robbery of two elderly gentlemen. In the course of the robberies he used an ice pick and thereby inflicted minor wounds on his victims. Two days after the petitions were filed in the Family Court seeking to adjudicate him (he was then 14 years old) a juvenile delinquent he was remanded to Kings County Hospital to determine his fitness for trial. The examination was ordered at the request of the Law Guardian, and was conducted.

A Suffolk County Family Lawyer said that although there is no express authority in the Family Court Act for an examination of the fitness of a juvenile to proceed through the adjudication process, the courts have upheld the use of the corresponding section of the Criminal Procedure Law (CPL) providing for such an examination for adults charged with a crime. The court concluded that to overcome this omission in the Family Court Act and to guarantee due process to the juvenile, the constitution mandates that the juvenile at least receive due process in the making of a determination as to whether he is competent to proceed. Thus the juvenile, while still shielded from a full-blown criminal proceeding, is assured his right to due process when his ability to stand trial is in issue.

A Suffolk County Custody Lawyer said that on June 7, 1977 two psychiatrists concluded that Boy A was not competent to stand trial. Their diagnosis was severe mental retardation, hyperkinetic reaction and unsocialized aggressive reaction. Their report concluded that Boy A is a boy who lacks adequate judgment stemming mostly from the cognitive shortcomings implicated in his primary diagnosis as well as from his impulsivity and short attention span which tends to make him act out on impulse and without foreseeing consequences. His acquisition of social values is far from completed, and he does not have an internalized set of rules at this point. This makes it mandatory for him to function under supervision. This supervision could be provided either by a careful joint action of a probation officer and a Puerto Rican social worker joint efforts in organizing a community setting within his neighborhood that would tend to provide for precarious controls or in absence of resources to implement that, or in case of failure, then it would be necessary for him to be taken care of in an institution for the severely retarded with emotional disturbance (as a second standby plan).

On June 9, 1977 the senior psychiatrist at the hospital prepared his own report confirming that Boy A was incompetent to stand trial. He, too, recommended court supervision with community counseling but indicated that placement in a residential treatment facility for severely retarded individuals with emotional problems would be necessary if his antisocial behavior continued. Based on those reports the Family Court found that the boy was potentially dangerous and remanded him to Kings County Hospital for appropriate treatment or certification.

One of the psychiatrists then wrote to the court expressing disappointment that his recommendation for out-patient counseling and supervision had not been followed. Further examination confirmed the finding of the boy’s incompetence to proceed. It was also revealed that the boy’s application for admission to the Brooklyn Developmental Center was denied because he had been found to be potentially dangerous. However, the doctors continued to recommend constant supervision and suggested a residential placement facility only if constant supervision could not be provided.

On August 25, 1977 the Family Court conducted a hearing, after which it concluded that Boy A was incompetent to proceed to an adjudication hearing. The Law Guardian then sought to have the petition dismissed on the grounds that Boy A was mentally retarded and there was virtually no possibility of his becoming competent to proceed. Opposing counsel was willing to consent on condition that appellant be committed for one year which provides for the commitment of an adult who, charged with the commission of a felony, is found incompetent to proceed to trial. The court, acknowledging the lack of any express provision providing for commitment of a juvenile not yet adjudicated a delinquent, but charged with serious acts and found to be incompetent to proceed, committed Boy A to the Department of Mental Hygiene of the Family Court Act. In the interim he was remanded to Kings County Hospital. Once there the Department of Mental Hygiene refused to accept the boy on the ground that the Family Court had not been authorized to commit him in this manner.

On September 27, 1977 the Law Guardian commenced a habeas corpus proceeding in the Supreme Court. The Law Guardian, after a hearing, dismissed the writ and concluded that the Family Court Act authorized the commitment. Following his decision, the Law Guardian moved for re-argument, submitting an affidavit from the psychiatrist that alleged that Richard’s lengthy stay in the psychiatric ward of Kings County Hospital was anti-therapeutic since the boy was not psychotic but retarded. The court granted re-argument but adhered to its original decision.

Boy B who was then 13 years old was accused of several counts of reckless endangerment, menacing, attempted assault and weapons possession arising out of his firing of a handgun in a subway station. The two petitions seeking to adjudicate him a juvenile delinquent were filed in the Family Court on October 12, 1976. He was then remanded to Kings County Hospital to determine his fitness for trial. The examination was ordered at the request of the Law Guardian and was conducted pursuant to CPL. A psychiatric report concluded that he was mildly retarded and lacked the mental capacity to stand trial. The juvenile was paroled and the matter adjourned. Prior to a court hearing to determine competency, a new petition was filed in the Family Court seeking to adjudicate Jack a delinquent. The new petition charged him with acts which, had they been committed by an adult, would have constituted criminal trespass, criminal possession of a weapon, menacing and attempted assault. He was again remanded to Kings County Hospital. By report two psychiatrists concluded that the boy was incompetent to stand trial. The diagnosis was severe receptive language problems and cognitive impairment from mild mental retardation, epilepsy, hyperactive syndrome and specific language disability. He was found not to be psychotic and the prognosis was stated to be good. The report recommended comprehensive educational, recreational and family support in a framework of community counseling.

On August 24, 1977, a hearing was held in the Family Court on the first two petitions. The court confirmed the psychiatric findings and found the juvenile incompetent to proceed to the adjudication hearing. Over objection of the Law Guardian, the court committed Jack to the Department of Mental Hygiene for care and treatment in an appropriate institution for one year. Pending the transfer he was remanded to Kings County Hospital. The judge, recognizing that it was an issue of first impression and acknowledging the lack of statutory directive, analogized to the adult provisions of the Criminal Procedure Law and found authority for the commitment in CPL. He stated that in view of the nature of the acts allegedly committed by Boy B under no circumstances will the court entertain the suggestion that the boy be placed back in the community.

On September 27, 1977 the Law Guardian commenced a habeas corpus proceeding, which was heard with the proceeding reaching the same conclusion, dismissed the writ, finding that sections of the Family Court Act authorized the commitment. A motion for re-argument similar to that made on behalf of Boy A was disposed of in the same manner as was the motion made on behalf of Boy A.

The court must act as parens patriae. The youths, charged with serious crimes, have been found incompetent to proceed and mentally retarded. Each Judge found the youth before him to be a threat to society and to himself. The Family Court must consider both of those factors in reaching a just disposition of the cases before it. Consistent with protecting the rights of these youths, the court has an inherent power in its role as parens patriae to ensure that, before they are committed, their best interests are secured in a uniform manner. The rationale of this policy is that the State must intervene in order to protect an individual who is not able to make decisions in his own best interest. The decision to exercise the power of parens patriae must reflect the welfare of society, as a whole, but mainly it must balance the individual’s right to be free from interference against the individual’s need to be treated, if treatment would in fact be in his best interest. Because of the variables, the question of whether this power should be exercised in a given situation is quite difficult. It is apparent that the court has the inherent power to fashion an adequate remedy in effectuating this policy.

The problems presented in this case have arisen because of a legislative oversight. It is conceded that existing laws would adequately deal with an adult charged with a crime but found incompetent to proceed. Furthermore, if the appellants had been adults and not charged with a crime, civil commitment pursuant to the Mental Hygiene Law was available. If appellants had been adjudicated delinquents they could then have been placed in restrictive placement. It is inconceivable that the Legislature intended that a juvenile charged with a serious crime, ascertained to be a threat to himself and to society, and found incompetent to proceed, should be returned to his community without some procedure established for his care and treatment. It is hoped that this oversight will soon be corrected by legislative action. In the meantime, the procedures here outlined adequately provide for the protection of the juveniles’ rights while upholding the jurisdiction of the Family Court to adequately deal with these circumstances.

Each of the judgments should be reversed and the writs granted to the extent of directing that the proceedings be remanded to the Family Court with directions that the Family Court follows the procedures of the Mental Hygiene Law and consider the application required therein to have been made at the time of the request for an examination. In the interim, appellants are to remain in the custody of the respondent. The findings of the Family Court at the competency hearings shall be considered the statement of facts required by the Mental Hygiene Law. In implementing the decision the Family Court may wish to use section of the Family Court Act to ensure the co-operation of any other necessary officials or agencies.

Judgments of the Supreme Court are reversed and applications granted to the extent of directing that the proceedings be remanded to the Family Court for further proceedings. In the interim appellants are to remain in the custody of the respondent.

Parents should and will always be responsible for their children. If you know a minor who had gone astray and needs to be guided accordingly, ask the Kings County Family Lawyer or a Kings County Child Custody Attorney from Stephen Bilkis and Associates to hear them out and represent them in court.

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