PINS Petitions and Family Court
By: Jacqueline Harounian, Esq.
In our family law practice, we are sometimes asked about the use of PINS Petitions in Family Court. Usually the questions arises in connection with unruly teenagers whoAcannot be controlled@by their parents. This goes beyond normal teen behavior of breaking curfew, or talking back at home. PINS cases deal with teenagers who are involved with drugs or alcohol, truancy, staying out overnight, or perhaps engaged in criminal behavior. When these issues arise, one or both parents can file a petition in Family Court for PINS (Person In Need of Supervision). The Family Court, and various social service agencies will get involved with the family and attempt to restore some measure of control.
If a juvenile commits a crime and is arrested, the Family Court will be the venue where the crime is prosecuted (instead of the Criminal Court, where adult crimes are prosecuted). If the child is found guilty in Family Court, the child is usually sentenced to a juvenile correctional facility or other residential facility. The record of the conviction is then sealed and generally cannot be reopened.
In 2001, Governor Pataki signed a bill that raised the PINS age from 16 to 18. This enables parents with children over age 16 to still ask for help from the Family Court. As a result of the change in the law, police are required to return 16-, 17- and 18-year-old runaways to their parents.
In New York City, parents filed more than 5,500 PINS petitions in 2000. That number has remained about the same since 1998. The number of filings has increased by nearly 50% since the PINS age was increased to 18. It is also expected that filings will increase due to cultural clashes between immigrant parents and their Americanized children.
There are numerous contradictions inherent in the new law. For one, New York State Family Court only tries kids who commit crimes until they are 16. Now, it will have jurisdiction over PINS kids until they are 18. Another glitch involves kids who skip school in their junior and senior years. The law allows teens to legally drop out at age 16. Yet, parents can take PINS petitions out on them for truancy until they are 18 years old.
Parents are often confused about the scope of the law. Usually, a parent will file a PINS petition against his or her child, sometimes at the suggestion (or demand) of a school official or police officer, with the false hope that a judge will immediately force the child to attend school or into a treatment facility. But a judge hears only about 30 percent of cases filed. The judge has the authority to send a PINS child to a group home or to a non-secure detention center, but not without the parents' permission. Under a 1985 law, all PINS cases must first go through a diversion process in order to try to resolve them before being brought in front of a judge.
In Queens, the probation department takes the PINS application and refers the case to Queens Mediation Services, a non-profit group that conducts family mediation or refers the family to appropriate services, such as therapy, alternative high schools or drug counseling.
Some believe that the PINS process has noAteeth@. Because the children have in most cases
not committed crimes, when they go to court, there's no way to stop them from walking out. Also, the court system is so overwhelmed that follow-up on non-criminal matters takes a low priority. Many parents point out that they are legally and financially responsible for their children until they turn 21. In the wake of Columbine, parents realize they're held responsible for their kids' behavior. Parents are motivated to provide a record that they did everything they could.
ANSWERS TO COMMONLY ASKED QUESTIONS REGARDING PINS
WHAT IS PINS?
Persons in Need of Supervision is a term used to describe youth with serious behavioral problems who come to the attention of the Juvenile Justice System. The Family Court Act (Article 7) contains laws which determine how PINS cases must be handled.
WHO IS A PINS?
Youth under the age of 18 who show a pattern of ungovernable behavior, such as running away, curfew violations, curfew violations, alcohol and/or other drug abuse, violent or destructive behavior or severe school truancy.
WHO CAN BRING A COMPLAINT?
Most PINS complaints are made by parents, or in the case of severe truancy problems, by school districts. Specific information will be needed to document the complaint.CAN A PINS DIVERSION BE USED TO PREVENT PROBLEMS WITH A TEENAGER? NO
PINS Diversion cases are accepted only if a pattern of ungovernable behavior already exists. Threats to run away or not attend school are not grounds for PINS intervention.
HOW CAN A PARENT APPLY FOR SERVICES?
A parent can go to the Family Court, and they will be given an intake appointment.
The law requires that both the potential petitioner (usually a parent) and the potential respondent (the child) be seen by the Probation Officer. The petitioner may come alone only if the respondent has been notified of the appointment and refuses to come.
WHAT SHOULD BE DONE IF A CHILD RUNS AWAY?
*Note: Children 18 and over do not meet the legal definition of a runaway.
_ If the child is under the age of 18, has not returned for 24 hours and you do not know their whereabouts, you may come to the Probation Department on business days between 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. for referral for a Family Court warrant.
_ If the child is 16 or over and returned on a warrant, he or she may be released administratively, without a court appearance, after a review of potential at home risk by Detention Intake.
WHAT SHOULD BE DONE IN AN EMERGENCY?
_ Call 911 for Police assistance
_ Call a Crisis Services 24-hour hotline