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Raise the Age, Extraordinary Circumstances, Adolescent Offenders and Heightened Services: Removing Child Theft and Robbery Prosecutions in Adult Court to Family Court

Perhaps the most common type of crime committed by young people in New York and beyond is theft. Whether it’s a privileged teenager stealing a magazine for a thrill, or a child who has fallen into gang activity robbing a person on the street, theft-related offenses are all too common among adolescents. Until recently, criminal attorneys representing juveniles and children in New York State’s adult criminal justice system, even as 16 year olds, where these youths faced severe penalties including prison. Due to the recent Raise the Age legislation in New York, these “Adolescent Offenders” can now be diverted into Family Court, rather than the more severe and frightening adult system, where there are more services, programs and support available to hopefully intercept these teenagers before they go too far down the criminal rabbit-hole.

In one recent Long Island case, People v. J.S., the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office sought to keep a young person in the adult criminal justice system due to that child’s already extensive contacts with the law enforcement and the courts. In that case, the teenager was charged as an Adolescent Offender, meaning that they were either 16 or 17 years of age. The defendant was charged with Robbery, Burglary, and other charges. Prosecutors argued against removing the case to Family Court citing “extraordinary circumstances,” stating that this person had already been given several chances to take advantage of various services and alternatives to criminal prosecution and failed to follow through. Further, his high-risk and dangerous behaviors had only escalated.

In order to meet the legal threshold under New York’s Raise the Age law, prosecutors were required to establish “extraordinary circumstances,” which they attempted to meet by relying on this young person’s prior contacts with the criminal justice system including a prior Youthful Offender adjudication (one of the alternatives to a criminal conviction that existed prior to the Raise the Age law, and which still exists). Prosecutors further argued as a matter of public policy that allowing removal to Family Court under these circumstances would be against the purpose and intent of New York’s Raise the Age law. In opposition, the defendant’s attorney argued that “extraordinary circumstances” did not exist in that this teenager’s criminal history alone did not serve as a basis for such, especially where there was nothing particularly unusual or heinous about the prior offenses or arrests.

While the judge presiding over the case was certainly concerned about the young man’s already extensive contacts with the police and criminal justice system, the Court did find that there were mitigating circumstances in favor of sending the case to Family Court and out of the adult criminal justice system. The judge specifically found that the adolescent would not benefit from the heightened services.

These heightened services should certainly be a focal point for any young person who finds themselves charged with a theft-related offense, as well as any criminal defense attorney or family of the young person who has been charged with Robbery, or even a less serious theft-related crime such as Petit Larceny. Avoiding criminal prosecution by the District Attorney’s Office in the adult criminal court is of paramount importance as it can have long-lasting effects, even where a criminal conviction is ultimately avoided. Family Court is generally much better equipped to help young people find their way out of what can quickly become a downward spiral.

To learn more about theft cases, and Raise the Age legislation, follow the provided links.

Saland Law PC is a New York theft, Robbery, Larceny, and Adolescent Offender criminal defense law firm founded by two former Manhattan prosecutors.

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