Problem-Solving Courts

Specialty courts, often referred to as “problem-solving courts” or “community courts,” have become more and more prevalent in New York and throughout the nation during recent years. These courts are flexible in structure, and can be created to address many difference kinds of individual and/or community issues. These courts can be designed to address drug use, mental health, prostitution, “quality of life” offenses such as graffiti or trespassing , and more. These courts often incorporate various forms of alternatives to incarceration, such as addiction treatment, mental health treatment, education, community forums, and other forms of support. Some common problem-solving courts are:

1. Youth Courts: These courts often incorporate both family court and criminal court remedies and functions to arrive at appropriate resolutions for young people who find themselves in the criminal justice system.

2. Integrated Domestic Violence (IDV) courts: These courts were established based on the concept that family members often find themselves on opposite sides of criminal and family court matters simultaneously and repeatedly, and that it is appropriate to have a single court and a single judge hearing and deciding on all the cases and issues. Cases in the IDV court can be extremely complex, and fraught with personal histories and unique relationship dynamics. By having one judge who is informed and familiar with all of the issues in the particular family situation, criminal and otherwise, the process should be more efficient and the outcomes more appropriate.

3. Drug Treatment Courts: There are often separate drug treatment courts to handle felony and misdemeanor charges, but they will typically operate in a similar fashion. Generally, speaking drug courts operate by allowing non-violent offenders to enter into an agreement with the treatment court whereby the defendant pleas guilty, is subject to many terms and conditions, enters into drug treatment on an in-patient or out-patient basis (whichever is deemed appropriate given the circumstances), continues that treatment for a long period of time (usually between 6 months and 2 years), and is given the opportunity to receive a reduced charge or no criminal conviction at all if he or she successfully completes the treatment program.

4. Mental Health Courts: These courts typically operate in much the same way as drug treatment courts, with the difference that these courts are instead designed to help defendants with mental illness. These courts often have a judge who specializes in handling cases of this kind, highly trained and specialized support staff and resource coordinators, and even prosecutors and defense attorneys who specialize in handling cases involving mental health issues. These courts monitor defendants very closely, and typically collaborate closely with the community, local mental health service providers and social service providers.

This blog entry is not an attempt to substitute for an examination of your particular case by your own criminal defense or Family Court lawyer who will determine what is best for your case. Instead, this entry can give you the foundation to better understand problem-solving courts in New York State.

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Orders of Protection in New York State

Orders of Protection issued by New York State criminal and family courts can be confusing, even when they are thoroughly explained by the issuing judge. This confusion can be exacerbated by the countless circumstances that you can find yourself in after an order of protection is issued, many of which are not clearly addressed by the standard form order of protection.

Individuals accused of crimes involving a civilian victim, particularly if that alleged victim is known to the charged individual, will likely have an order of protection issued against them. Orders of protection can also be issued by a Family Court judge, usually in the context of a Family Offense petition, in which one person is accusing a family member or person with which there is or has been an intimate relationship of one or more of the criminal offenses enumerated in the Family Court Act. That order of protection can come with several different specific prohibitions or requirements.

Orders of Protection generally fall into one of two categories. The first are known as “full orders of protection” or “stay-away orders of protection.” These include the requirement that the accused person has no contact whatsoever with the protected person, whether in person, over the phone, through social media, or through third parties. They also typically include the requirement that the accused person stays away from the protected person’s home, school, and place of work. Exceptions can be made to these requirements when, for example, the parties live next door to each other, or one of the parties needs to retrieve belongings from the other’s home. It is important to have an attorney with experience addressing these kinds of nuanced situations.

The second category is often known as “limited orders of protection” or “non-stay-away orders of protection.” These typically do no include the restrictions mentioned above. What they do share with “full orders of protection” is the requirement that the accused person no harass, assault or commit any other crimes against the protected person. Of course, the accused person isn’t allowed to commit crimes against the protected person anyway, or against anyone else for that matter. However, this kind of order of protection creates an extra layer of protection for the protected party and an extra layer of potential criminal liability for the accused person. For example, if the accused person is subsequently accused of assaulting the protected person, what would ordinarily be charged as a misdemeanor Assault in the Third Degree could be charged as a felony Criminal Contempt in the First Degree.

Another important distinction is between so-called “temporary orders or protection” and “final” or “permanent orders of protection.” Temporary orders of protection are issued while the case is still pending, and before a final disposition of the case. They are renewed periodically if the order is set to expire before the case is concluded. Courts can modify temporary orders of protection from time to time as the circumstances of the case changes. “Final” or “permanent order of protection” are issued at the conclusion of case as part of the final disposition. The length of a “final order of protection” depends on the nature of the disposition – whether it is an ACD, a violation, a misdemeanor or a felony conviction.

Disobeying an order of protection can have extremely serious consequences, even if you are honestly misunderstand the restrictions or are told by the protected party that they don’t want the order of protection any more. If an order of protection has been issued against you by a Court, consulting with an experienced criminal defense attorney or family law attorney is essential.

This blog entry is not an attempt to substitute for an examination of your particular case by your own criminal defense lawyer or family law attorney who will determine what is best for your case. Instead, this entry can give you the foundation to better understand orders of protection in New York State.

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