The Law and Your Child

In New York State, we have two separate systems of justice, juvenile and criminal. Which system a young person becomes involved with depends upon age and in some instances, the act that s/he is alleged to have committed. The JUVENILE JUSTICE system applies to youth up to age 16. In some instances; if a youth is alleged to have committed a serious felony, i.e., murder, s/he can be charged as an adult and the case will proceed through the criminal justice system. In New York State, all criminal cases of youth age 16 or older, will proceed through the CRIMINAL JUSTICE system. If you are the parent of a young person (under the age of 21), you can be held liable for damages or injuries caused by your child.

Criminal Law

Each state has particular criminal laws to deal with acts committed by youth and adults. If a youth under the age of 16 commits an act that would be considered a crime if committed by an adult (someone 16 and older), the youth is called a JUVENILE DELINQUENT. A criminal record can affect a youth later in life. If a person has a record, s/he may not be accepted by some schools, branches of the armed forces, or employers. What you or your child might think is a harmless prank or "no big deal", could have consequences in his/her future.

If a youth is picked up by the police, s/he can either be issued an appearance ticket (notice of when and where to appear, similar to a traffic ticket) or be taken into custody. If a youth is taken into custody, s/he will be taken to either the Children's Center (Secure Detention) or Non-Secure Detention. These facilities will hold (detain) the youth until s/he appears before a judge in Family Court on the next day that the court is in session. The judge must decide whether to hold the youth in detention while the case proceeds through Family Court or to return the youth to the parent(s) or guardian. If the youth is given an appearance ticket, s/he and the parent or guardian will receive a letter from the Ontario County Office of Probation and Community Correction's Juvenile Intake Unit telling them when and where to appear. If the youth and parent or guardian do not report to Probation for the interview, a warrant for the child may be issued by Family Court.

The purpose of the interview is to determine if a youth is eligible and suitable for diversion services in lieu of court intervention. If a youth is determined eligible and suitable for diversion, the probation officer will conduct a more in-depth assessment, identify problem areas and services to address those areas and develop a plan. Diversion services can be provided for up to 4 months. If a youth is not eligible for diversion services, Probation will refer the case to the Presentment Agency for petitioning to Family Court. Cases where the youth is found guilty, may result in the youth being given a warning and/or conditions for behavior by the judge (Adjournment in Contemplation of a Dismissal (ACD), Conditional Discharge (CD) or a Suspended Judgment), placed on Probation for a period of time, community service, asked to pay restitution, or placed out of the family home. and/or conditions for behavior by the judge (Adjournment in Contemplation of a Dismissal (ACD), Conditional Discharge (CD) or a Suspended Judgment), placed on Probation for a period of time, community service, asked to pay restitution, or placed out of the family home.

If the individual is 16 or older, or in special circumstances for youth under 16, as noted above, the case will be handled in the criminal justice system. Depending upon where the alleged activity took place and the severity of the offense, the case may be heard in town or village court, City Court, County Court, Supreme Court or Federal Court. Penalties for adults include fines, community service sentencing, restitution, warnings, special conditions, probation, jail time, or a combination of these.

If a young person, or someone the young person is with, is stopped or picked up by the police, here are things s/he needs to know.

  • Do not resist arrest. The most important thing to do is cooperate-attitude and cooperation will have a direct effect on how s/he is treated.
  • A youth does not need to say anything to the police in answer to their questions without a parent present (if under 16) and/or advice from an attorney. A youth will be asked to give the police his/her name, address, phone number, date of birth, parent or guardian's name and how to reach them. Beyond this, a youth does not have to volunteer anything.
  • A youth does not need to sign anything without advice from parents (if under 16) or an attorney.
  • If a youth gives permission to any search, s/he is consenting to the police to fully search them.
  • A youth has the right to a lawyer. If s/he cannot afford one, the court will appoint one for her/him.
  • A youth should ask the police to call his/her parents or some other adult.

Status Offense

In New York State, if a youth is under the age of 18 and shows a pattern of disobedience, running away, curfew violations, drug or alcohol abuse, violent behavior or severe school truancy, s/he can be brought to the attention of the Juvenile Justice System. The term used to describe these youth are Persons in Need of Supervision (PINS). Most PINS complaints are made by the parents or school districts. To make a complaint you must have specific allegations, including information on when the behaviors occurred. You do not need police reports but may need school attendance records. A probation officer is available to accept telephone inquiries or return calls daily, Monday through Friday. The officer will discuss the situation, make referrals, or schedule appointments. Ask for Preliminary Intake Review (PIR) at 396-4222. All PINS cases must be reviewed by Probation Intake to ensure that they are eligible for service and to conduct assessment and planning. The process may take two to three hours and includes a complete family history. In some cases Probation will ask that your child be seen for other evaluations. Probation Intake can supervise cases for up to six months. Youth may receive the following from Probation: assessment, supervision, counseling, evaluation, advocacy, respite housing or other services-often free of charge. Most PINS cases are resolved at Probation and do not go to court. New York State law requires that every effort be made to avoid court. In those cases, which do go to court, the youth may be given a warning and conditions by the judge and returned to Probation for services, be placed on probation supervision for one year, or, placed out of his/ her home. If a case does go to court, the law requires both parents be notified, even if they do not live together.

Legal advice cannot be given over the phone. For information and referral for legal services, call Legal Assistance of the Finger Lakes at (315) 781-1465. You can also call the following for more information.

Canandaigua City Police, (585)396-5035
Canandaigua Juvenile Aid Bureau, (585)396-5045
Ontario County Youth Bureau, (585)396-4035
Ontario County Probation Dept., (585)396-4222
Ontario County Sheriff's Office, (585)396-4560
Youth Court, (585)396-4519

Legal Responsibilities of Parents and Youth

Parenting brings with it a number of legal responsibilities to ensure the health, safety and care of your child. As a parent, you are legally responsible to provide for food, shelter, clothing, education and adequate medical care to ensure the safety and well-being of your child. The following outlines some of the key legal responsibilities.


In New York State, the law requires that a youth be in attendance in an approved/licensed educational program from age 6 to 16. Attending school at age 5 is optional. Once a youth turns 16 s/he has a right to decide whether or not to continue in school. If a child chooses to leave school, but a parent wants the child to remain in school, the child has the legal right to decide. A child is legally allowed to stay in school up to age 21 if s/he has not received a high school diploma. Keep in mind that some schools have adopted a policy of not allowing students to drop out of school until age 17.


It is against the law to serve or permit liquor to be served to minors (under 21) anywhere, including in the home. Anyone who is over the age of 16 and helps a minor to obtain alcohol can be charged with a felony crime punishable by imprisonment and/or a fine

Financial Responsibility

Parents are legally responsible for the financial support of their child until the child reaches their 21st birthday. If parents are unwilling or unable to financially support their child, they or the child may apply for public assistance. (See BASIC NEEDS page 20).

If your child damages property or injures another individual, you can be held financially responsible for costs incurred by the victim and or the victim's family.

Leaving Home

Parents are legally responsible for the care of their child until his/her 21st birthday. Youth may choose to leave home once they reach age 18, with or without their parents' permission.


If a youth under the age of 18 signs a contract (i.e., to purchase a stereo, buy a car, rent an apartment) it may not be legally enforced against the minor. It is for this reason that most people will require an adult co-signer when entering into a contract with a minor.


The law requires that all males register for the draft (Military Service) within 30 days of their 18th birthday. A young man may register for the draft at any United States Post Office, or online at www.ssa.gov. As of 2003 there is no draft. However, if there is one and a young man is drafted, he will have 10 days to appeal.

If a youth thinks he has religious or moral objections to military service, he needs to understand what his rights and responsibilities are. Draft counseling is available through some churches and through PJEC (Peace and Justice Education Center) at 585-244-7191.

Information on the Emancipation of Minors also is available.

For further information:

Geneva Police Department
The department's youth officers work with juvenile deliquency and sometimes petitions to family court for Persons in Need of Supervision.

Juvenile Aid Section Ontario County Sheriff's Office
(585)396-4675; (585)924-7500 or (315)781-1200
The section investigates crimes and offenses committed by persons under 16 years of age, and makes presentations to increase public awareness of crime, health and safety topics.

Legal Assistance of the Finger Lakes
Legal Assistance provides legal representation for people in civil matters for those who meet income requirements.

Ontario County Department of Social Services
(585)396-4060 or (877)814-6907 toll free
The agency's services are geared toward families and include financial assistance and family and children services including child protective, foster care and preventative services.

Ontario County Probation Department
The department provides screening and referral services for youth under age 18 who are referred by schools, parents and police as persons in need of supervision due to truancy, incorrigibility or runaway behavior.

Ontario County Youth Bureau
The Youth Bureau provides funding to service providers in the community that meet the needs of youth and families.

Student Transition and Recovery Program
(585) 396-4482
Challenges faced by the S.T.A.R. program include bullying, truancy, fighting, stealing, disrespect

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