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Court Decides if Juvenile is entitled to Habeas Corpus Relief


Upon this Writ of Habeas Corpus, petitioner Elizabeth Stuart Calvert, the Law Guardian of Relator, seeks his release upon the grounds that Family Court Judge improperly adjourned the dispositional hearing beyond the total twenty (20) day period authorized for “good cause” under FCA § 350.1, subd. 5. A New York Family Lawyer said that, on July 6, 1987, the Relator, under 16 years of age, was arrested inside premises 849 Bruckner Boulevard, Bronx, New York, by Police Officer Gwendolyn Guy of the 41st Precinct, Bronx County. Thereafter, a Bronx Family Lawyer said that, a juvenile delinquency petition, under FCA § 311.1 was filed charging Relator with acts which, if an adult, constitute the crimes of: Burglary in the Second and Third Degrees; Criminal Trespass in the Second Degree; Possession of Burglar’s Tools and Criminal Mischief in the Fourth Degree. Relator was present, with his father and step-mother, represented by the Legal Aid Society, which entered a denial and objected to his remand until July 10, 1987, by Family Court Judge.

A Bronx Order of Protection Lawyer said that, on July 10, 1987, Relator pleaded guilty to Criminal Trespass in the Second Degree before the Judge in full satisfaction of the entire FCA § 311.1 petition. The case was set down for a dispositional hearing on July 20, 1987, with the New York City Probation Department (“Probation”) directed to investigate and report (“I & R”) Relator’s background and circumstances, as well as explore placement by the adjourned date. In addition, the Court’s Mental Health Services (“MHS”) was ordered to conduct a mental health study and status examination and report to the Court by the July 20, 1987, adjourned date. In the interim, Relator was remanded to the New York City Commissioner of Juvenile Justice (“CJJ”), which referred Relator to a non-secure detention (“NSD”) facility.

A New York Custody Lawyer said that, At about 11:30 P.M. on July 19, 1987, Relator left the NSD facility without permission, returning to his father’s and cousin’s home (same building) the next morning, claiming he spent most of the night outdoors. Relator’s father then telephoned the Police Department, which returned Relator to CJJ in a secure detention facility (Spofford Juvenile Center) and Family Court custody that morning, being the adjourned date. On July 20, 1987, Relator and his father appeared before Family Court Judge, receiving reports that the Probation Department had not begun its I& R and MHS, had to re-schedule its July 15, 1987 examination because CJJ failed to produce Relator. Since Relator was then detained over ten (10) days, a “good cause” finding was required under FCA § 350.1, subd. 3(a). Judge Lynch found such “good cause” over the objections of Relator and counsel, based upon Relator’s absence from Court that very morning, which probably prevented the Probation interview. A dispositional hearing was now re-scheduled for July 30, 1987, by the Judge ordering, as did Judge Fields on July 10, 1987, the New York City agencies (Probation and MHS) to take the identical actions (I & R and mental health study and status examinations) and make the same reports to the Court. According to Petitioner, the Court, “remarked that failure to complete these reports would require the Realtor’s release on parole on the adjourned date.”

Respondent, in opposition, correctly notes nowhere is such noted on the Judge’s July 30, 1987, Court endorsement.

A Nassau County Family Lawyer said that, on July 30, 1987, Relator appeared before Judge Fields, with his father and counsel. Probation was not ready with a final specific recommendation and MHS had not yet, after twenty (20) days and two (2) prior Judges’ Orders, interviewed Relator. Relator’s counsel then requested parole under FCA § 350.1, subd. 5, which required the “special circumstances” finding to detain Relator over twenty (20) days. In response, Judge Fields ruled that Relator’s absence from before midnight, July 19, 1987, to noon, July 20, 1987, must be deducted from his net detention period, which then totals nineteen (19) days, re-ordered the MHS Study report for the next morning, July 31, 1987, to when the case was adjourned and Relator remanded.

A Nassau County Custody Lawyer said the issue in this is case is whether the juvenile, detained for twenty-one (21) days for failure of New York City agencies to be ready for twenty (20) days is entitled to habeas corpus relief where Family Court Judge adjourns the dispositional hearing an additional ten (10) days for “special circumstances” under Family Court Act (“FCA”) § 350.1, subd. 5, based solely upon juvenile’s absconding a non-secure detention facility for thirteen (13) hours.

For the Court to remand Realtor further than at least twenty (20) days–July 10-31, 1987, the Judge had to find, on the record, a showing of “special circumstances,” under FCA § 350.1, subd. 5. In support, Respondent’s counsel submitted that: (a) Relator’s July 19-20, 1987 abscondence from a NSD, unknown to Probation before July 20, 1987, is a factor to be considered; (b) such abscondence is an implicit waiver by Relator of his right to a speedy disposition under FCA § 350.1, subd. 1, perceived as his implicit motion to adjourn under FCA § 350.1, subd. 3(b) up to thirty (30) days; and (c) upon Relator’s absence without leave (“AWOL”), Relator’s detention under F § 350.1 ended and began anew, restarting the first ten-day period upon remand, thus obviating the “special circumstances” showing.

In opposition, Relator’s counsel contended that: (a) FCA § 350.1, subd. 5 allows additional beyond the ten [10] plus ten [10], or total twenty [20] days allowed by FCA § 350.1, subds. 1 and 3[a] adjournments only in a “showing, on the record, of special circumstances,” which excludes calendar congestion, the status of the Court’s docket or backlog; (b) two prior 1985 cases in Supreme Court, Bronx County, which released Respondent-Relators indicate Relator’s needs, not aberrational behavior, is the sole criterion; (c) the Court found no “special circumstances” for the failure of Probation and MHS to timely furnish the Court with the ordered reports; and (d) the Court’s finding of “special circumstances” for his “AWOL of NSD” twelve (12) days earlier for several hours that did not affect Probation or MHS non-readiness does not justify further remand detention, and Relator must be released.

Article 3–Juvenile Delinquency–FCA, partial successor to the Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 1976 has a dual purpose consideration: rehabilitative and quasi-criminal. Such is statutorily codified as, “the needs and best interests of the respondent as well as the need for protection of the community” and, except for a designated felony, consistent therewith the Court shall order the least restrictive alternative disposition. Juvenile proceedings are, at the very least, quasi-criminal in nature so that juveniles are entitled to the same due process rights as adult defendants.

FCA § 350.1–Time of dispositional hearing–provides, designated felony act excepted, “the dispositional hearing shall commence not more than ten days” after the fact-finding determination or order. Additional adjournment beyond the above maximum twenty (20) days, “shall not be granted in the absence of showing, off the record, of special circumstances,” which “shall not include calendar congestion or the status of the court’s docket or backlog.” Similar two-tier adjournment standards are set forth in FCA §§ 340.1, 748 (juvenile delinquency and PINS). “The prohibition of repeated adjournments is meant to discourage repeated delays by a Court or presentment agency.” A sole “good cause” adjournment of hearing criterion is contained in FCA §§ 325.1

Generally, the FCA seeks fair and prompt dispositions of all proceedings, including juvenile delinquency. Examples of “special circumstances which might justify successive disposition hearing adjournments include the necessity for unusually complex psychological and neurological reports or the likelihood of a private placement”. Thus, it is clear from the author of FCA’s Article 3 that the targets of the limited time frame are the Court, through calendar congestion, or the presentment agency, through administrative obstacles to final reports by Probation or MHS. In fact, for subsequent adjournments the more rigorous standard of “special circumstance” applies. Especially where the juvenile is in detention, the closest parallel provision to FCA § 350.1, subd. 5, in terms of language and purpose is contained in the speedy trial provisions of Criminal Procedure Law (“CPL”) § 30.30, wherein delay is excused because of some “exceptional fact or circumstance.” In the absence of a 1984 specific statutory amendment (L.1984, Ch. 670, eff. 8/1/84), defendant’s absence or unavailability was not excludable grounds for pre-readiness trial delay unless the (as distinct from a–one of many) but for cause.

In prompt arraignment or release requirements under CPL § 180.80, the People are required to show “good cause,” defined as “some compelling fact or circumstance which precluded disposition of the felony complaint” within 120-144 hours after filing of the felony complaint. Recently, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, Chief Judge Constance Baker Motley ruled, stayed pending appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, that all such arraignments must be completed within 24 hours or defendant released.

Nowhere contrary to subject Family Court Judge are Relator’s or respondent’s acts, such as abscondence, considered “good cause” or “special circumstances” justifying delay and continued remand unless “but for” their nature, quality and duration the presentment agency would have completed its reports to the Court. As noted above, the subject Family Court Judge, who created an unnecessary separate issue, found the dispositional recommendation(s) was (were) “not made ready not because the respondent absconded but because Probation and the MHS had not done their piece within the time period. If they had done their piece it would have happened before respondent absconded” because Relator’s appointment was before his July 19-20, 1987 abscondence).

In reviewing FCA parallel references to “special circumstances,” this Court has not discovered any authority, except for Prof. Sobie’s Practice Commentary for FCA §§ 340.1 and 350.1 and a 1986 Decision of this Court covering “good cause” in FCA § 350.1, subd. 3, analyzing the nature and limited extent of this Court’s reasonable discretion on a Writ of Habeas Corpus.

Applying the above five-pronged test, Relator easily surpasses the release level. Relator: (a) was detained 31 days at the time of hearing because (b) Probation and MHS were unable to substantially progress, much less complete, their respective I & R and Study and Report after 20 days, although Relator was scheduled for interviews on July 15 and 17, 1987 before (c) his abscondence for 13 hours from a NSD and remand to a secure detention facility in which continued detention, if not punishment, may violate due process of law and constitute cruel and unusual punishment. Since Dr. Schiff testified juvenile is in good physical and mental health, except for possible suicidal threats, (d) the juvenile’s release will best serve his needs and interests as well as protect the community and (e) there is little or no danger to the juvenile, his family or the community by Relator’s release.

Accordingly, the court held that by reason of the foregoing, this Writ is sustained.

If your child is being detained illegally by the juvenile court, seek the assistance of a Bronx Family Attorney and/or Bronx Order of Protection Attorney at Stephen Bilkis and Associates.

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