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Court Discusses Case Involving Juvenile Delinquent


A New York Family Lawyer said a fifteen-year old boy has petitioned the Supreme Court to prohibit the judges of the Family Court from reopening a fact-finding hearing by which he may be adjudged a juvenile delinquent, on the grounds that he will thereby be subjected to double jeopardy in violation of the Fifth and 14th Amendments to the United States Constitution, and contrary to the New York State Constitution.

The petitioner contends that he had already been exposed to jeopardy of his liberty in the Family Court when a witness was sworn and testified against him in an adjudicatory hearing, based upon a petition which charged him with criminal assault. In the midst of that proceeding the court declared a mistrial, over the objections of the law guardian for the petitioner. In fact, the presiding judge ordered the mistrial, Sua sponte, and for his own convenience. The judge remarked as he did so that he is disqualifying himself and declaring a mistrial.

A New York Child Custody Lawyer said the next day, the presiding judge, on his own initiative, recalled the case and abrogated the mistrial order for the purpose of reinstating the adjudicatory hearing against the accused. The law guardian again objected and raised the constitutional issue of double jeopardy as a bar.

Jeopardy attached against the petitioner when a witness was sworn and testified in the fact-finding hearing. The object of that proceeding was to determine whether the accused had committed an assault upon another person which violated the criminal law. The result of the hearing might have been to deprive the respondent of his liberty for as long as three years. The presiding judge should not have declared a mistrial, in view of the law guardian’s objections, since there was no manifest necessity for doing so, nor would the ends of public justice have been defeated had he not done so. On May 27, 1975 the United States Supreme Court declared that juvenile defendants are entitled to the protections of the 5th Amendment to the United States Constitution. In crystal-clear language the court announced that juveniles enjoy the full panoply of constitutional rights which guard the liberties of adults accused of crime, in Family Court adjudicatory proceedings, except the right to a trial by jury. The Supreme Court has now issued precise injunctions to State Juvenile Courts commanding them to accord young defendants accused of crime the same Fifth Amendment safeguard against double jeopardy as adults. The court was prompted to speak specifically to the double jeopardy question because it was confronted with a conflict between the courts of appeals and the highest courts of a number of States on the issue presented and similar issues, and because of the importance of final resolution of the issue to the administration of the juvenile court system.

The State of New York may not deprive its delinquent children of their constitutional rights under the ancient doctrine of parens patriae, when it charges them with crimes. There is evidence, in fact that the child receives the worst of both worlds, he gets neither the protections accorded to adults nor the solicitous care and regenerative treatment postulated for children.

The President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice, Task Force Report on Juvenile Delinquency and Crime, published in 1967, confirmed the Supreme Court’s findings and said that the great hopes originally held for the juvenile court have not been fulfilled. It has not succeeded significantly in rehabilitating delinquent youth, in reducing or even stemming the tide of juvenile criminality, or in bringing justice and compassion to the juvenile offender.

The Supreme Court was compelled to speak out again in defense of the constitution rights of children in an historic opinion. Juvenile Courts were criticized for failing to attempt the reconstruction of the lives of juvenile delinquents by tender care and humane measures. Instead, the court found that judges and other state officials maintained the young offender in prisons where his world becomes a building with whitewashed walls, regimented routine and institutional hours. Instead of mother and father and sisters and brothers and friends and classmates, his world is peopled by guards, custodians, state employees, and delinquents confined with him for anything from waywardness to rape and homicide.

A Queens Family Lawyer said when a number of state Juvenile Courts persisted in ignoring the spirit of Gault and relentlessly subjected delinquent children to the worst of both possible worlds, the Supreme Court ended the charade by which judges pretended to act as parens patriae.

A Queens Child Custody Lawyer said there was no legal justification, no manifest necessity for the declaration of a mistrial in the midst of the Family Court adjudicatory hearing. When the juvenile’s law guardian moved for a continuance in order to obtain a transcript of the previous testimony of a witness for the purposes of cross examination, the court should have acquiesced.

Instead, the judge declared a mistrial because he had been assigned to work in another county! He claimed that he could not or would not return to Kings County to complete the pending case. The rotation of Family Court Judges from county to county and from one jurisdiction to another for administrative purposes cannot justify the declaration of a mistrial for the convenience of the court system.

For 150 years it has been the law that a mistrial may be ordered in a case only when the presiding judge has determine that there is a manifest necessity for the act, or the ends of public justice would otherwise be defeated. The court’s decision to do so must be supported by circumstances that are imperative and substantial. Among several imperatives which appellate courts have considered appropriate bases for mistrials, without a defendant’s consent, are when the court found that it was physically impossible to proceed with the trial in conformity with law or on gross misconduct by the defendant.

The reassignment of a Family Court Judge to another county for administrative reasons in this case was manifestly not a manifest necessity contemplated by statute or case law. Nor was this a situation in which the court found it physically impossible to proceed with the trial or to prevent the defeat of the ends of public justice, the Appellate Division, said that when the trial judge aborts the trial without the defendant’s consent the defendant has been deprived of his valued right to have his trial completed by a particular tribunal and the trial court should consider the importance to the defendant of being able, once and for all, to conclude his confrontation with society through the verdict of a tribunal he might believe to be favorably disposed to his fate.

The Appellate Division invoked the Fifth Amendment warning that unless the trial is terminated by the disagreement of the jury, or their discharge pursuant to law, or by consent of the accused, or through extreme or absolute necessity, as by illness or death the accused, has been put in jeopardy, and cannot be prosecuted again in the same or another court on the same charge; and the discontinuance of the prosecution is equivalent to a discharge, for the constitutional protection grants the defendant immunity against a second trial.

The petition is therefore granted. A Writ of Prohibition will issue to prohibit the judges of the Family Court from reopening the trial begun against the man, or retrying the petitioner on any other complaint based on the same facts.

Even the most heartless criminal deserves a fair trial with proper representation in the courtroom. If you experienced a mistrial or know someone who needs a second chance to be heard in court, consult the Kings County Family Lawyer together with the Kings County Custody Attorney from Stephen Bilkis and Associates.

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