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Court Discusses Jurisdiction Over Juvenile Defendant

The Facts:

Two witnesses testified at a fact-finding hearing.

On 7 September 1978, sometime after 5:30 P.M., the victim alleges that he heard rocks strike the side of his house. A New York Drug Possession Lawyer said that such an event had occurred previously and he testified that he knew that the persons who were responsible for those past acts lived across the street from him. Accordingly, he armed himself with a stick and proceeded to go across the street to a green house. The green house was the home of the two respondents. As he approached the house, the witness testified that sticks were thrown at him. While he was attempting to knock on the door, one of the respondents approached him shaking a stick. Fearful of being hit with the stick, the victim left the porch, intending to return to his own home. At that point he struck one of the respondents; it was not clear which one, on the “backside”. Two or three seconds later the other respondent spoke to him and said to him: “You hit my brother.” This respondent then struck the witness in the arm with a broom or shovel handle. The witness testified that he then fell to the ground and the same respondent struck him in the eye with a metal tipped stick which caused his eye to be enucleated. As a result, the victim has lost the sight of his left eye.

The second witness, the victim’s adult son, testified that he was present in his father’s house during the subject incident and that he saw his father go to the green house across the street. A New York Drug Crime Lawyer said that he said that as his father was leaving the house he was struck with a shovel, but this witness did not know who struck his father. He went to assist his father and in the ensuing melee, he saw the other respondent (not the one his father testified had committed the act) strike his father in the eye with a stick with a nail.

At the close of the testimony there was a stipulation entered into by both parties that the loss of the left eye was a serious physical injury.

Respondents made a motion to dismiss on failure of proof.

Both respondents came before the court on allegations that they committed an act which if committed by persons who had reached their sixteenth birthday would have been a crime. Also, the petition alleges that the crime in which the respondents were allegedly involved would be assault in the first degree, which is one of the crimes enumerated as a designated felony. Moreover, the victim was over 62 years of age. Thus, a Nassau County Drug Possession Lawyer said the age of the respondent was a critical factor not only to the court’s jurisdiction, but also to the placement of the respondents, if indeed they were found to have committed the act alleged.

The juvenile delinquency petitions filed against the respondents alleged upon information and belief that one of the respondents was eight years old and that the other one of the respondents was ten years old. Both of the respondents are physically tiny persons. It was impossible for the court to determine the age of the respondents by personal inspection. In fact, one of the respondents was so small that he might well have been under seven years of age and, thus, completely outside of the court’s jurisdiction. On the other hand, it is possible that the other one of the respondents could have been a very small thirteen-year old and, therefore, subject to restrictive placement pursuant to Section 753-a of the Family Court Act.

The court was unable to determine his age from his appearance.

The Issue:

The issue here is proof of the age of the alleged juvenile delinquents.

The Ruling:

The Family Court is a court of limited jurisdiction and cannot exercise powers beyond those granted to it by statute. It has exclusive original jurisdiction over any proceeding involving a person alleged to be a juvenile delinquent. A Queens Drug Possession Lawyer said in determining the jurisdiction of the court, the age of the respondents at the time the delinquent act allegedly was done is controlling.

A juvenile delinquent is defined in the Family Court Act as a person over seven and less than sixteen years of age who, while having done an act that would constitute a crime, is not criminally responsible for such conduct by reason of infancy. A designated felony act is an enumerated offense; assault in the first degree is among those offenses enumerated, committed by a person thirteen, fourteen of fifteen years of age.

The legislature has the power to fix the age of criminal responsibility, and in order to justify a proceeding against an offender as a delinquent, he must fall within the classification as to age prescribed by statute. Since the statutes uniformly make juvenile delinquent jurisdiction dependent upon the accused’s being of or under a designated age, questions arise as to the proper manner of, and forum for, determination of the age of the alleged offender. The cases in which problems of this kind have been considered are of so miscellaneous a nature as to preclude the formulation of any general principles.

With regard to establishing jurisdiction, an analogy may be made between the family court and the federal district courts. Both are courts of limited jurisdiction, unlike the State’s Supreme Court. Since federal district courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, there is no presumption in favor of subject matter jurisdiction. It follows, therefore that a party who invokes the district court’s jurisdiction for the first time must clearly show that his action is within the court’s jurisdiction and if the jurisdictional allegations are properly challenged, the party invoking jurisdiction has the burden of establishing the matter.

Analytical confusion is created in a juvenile proceeding when age as a jurisdictional fact is not distinguished from infancy as a defense under the criminal law. Further, the common law presumption of lack of capacity owing to immaturity must also be distinguished from age as a jurisdictional fact.

Also to be distinguished is age as an element of an offense. A birth certificate could be offered to establish the age of a respondent in a juvenile proceeding in which age constitutes the basis of the court’s jurisdiction rather than being merely an element of the offense allegedly committed. At the least, testimony could be offered as to the age the child appeared to be.

Only averring the age of a respondent leaves the prosecution subject to the dismissal of the petition.

In conclusion, the court holds that in a proceeding under Article 7 of the Family Court Act, the burden of alleging and proving the age of a respondent is upon the prosecution. Failure to prove the age of a respondent may result, as in the subject case, in a dismissal for lack of jurisdiction.

Age is a jurisdictional fact in a juvenile delinquency proceeding and the burden of proving that a respondent falls within the age group over which the court has jurisdiction rests with the prosecution.

Accordingly, the respondents’ motion to dismiss the petition for failure of proof is granted.

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