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When certain criminal or dangerous acts are committed between direct or indirect relatives or individuals with an intimate relationship, these acts fall under what’s called a family offense. In addition to filing criminal charges, family offense victims have the right to file a family offense petition to seek relief from their perpetrator(s.) This petition outlines the details of the alleged acts committed against the victim, names an alleged perpetrator(s), and specifies the type of relief sought.

What Relationships Fall Under Family Offenses?

• Blood relatives.

• Anyone currently or formerly related to each other by marriage, including in-laws, step-relations, and ex-relations.

• Two individuals sharing a blood-related or adopted child in common.

• Those with an intimate relationship; this does not have to be a sexual relationship, but it must be a relationship beyond causal, friendly, or business. The judge determines if the nature and type of a specific relationship classify it as “intimate” when there are questionable caveats in the statutory definition.

What Crimes Constitute A Family Offense?

• Harassment and aggregated harassment
• Stalking
• Disorderly conduct
• Assault and attempted assault
• Menacing behavior
• Reckless endangerment
• Criminal mischief

Such offenses occur under innumerable circumstances, such as if a victim is physically assaulted or struck by an object; verbally, mentally or sexually abused; threatened with harm; followed or watched as they go about life; or receives continual unwanted contact from a family member.

Which Courts Deal With Family Offenses?

Victims have the right to file a family offense petition in criminal court and family court, and they can use both systems as needed. However, criminal court family offense judges have more leeway in the severity of sentencing, such as imposing greater jail time for perpetrators. And, because criminal court views family offenses as criminal acts, the prosecutor in the case doesn’t need neither the respondent’s nor petitioner’s cooperation to move the case forward. Both, however, do have the right to legal representation.

What Happens The Day The Petition Is Filed?

Once the petition is filed with the court, the case will be reviewed immediately by the judge to determine “good cause” and the need for any immediate temporary orders before hearing from the respondent (the accused person.) This is done the same day the petition is filed.

There are three main directions the petition may take 1) good cause with protective orders and a hearing date, 2) good cause with just a hearing date, 3) or no good cause and a dismissal of the petition.

If the judge determines there is good cause to believe the victim’s allegations against the respondent and the presence of an immediate threat or need, then the judge may issue any temporary orders he/she feels is appropriate for the case immediately, including:

• An arrest warrant for the respondent if the threat of immediate danger is present.

• An order for temporary child support if children are involved.

• Stay away order, which means the respondent cannot go to the victim’s home, school, job, or other frequented places listed. The protective order may also include any children and their frequented places.

• Refrain orders from specific acts, such as to stop calling, texting, mailing the victim and any children involved.

• The ability for the victim to collect belongings from a shared home. Police may be ordered to be present for the victim’s safety.

• Prohibit the respondent from returning to a shared home with the victim.

• Pet protection orders.

• An order to revoke or suspend the respondent’s firearm license. A surrender of firearms order may also be issued.

Again, these are temporary protective order possibilities for immediate needs and dangers, and they only last until the conclusion of the official hearing that will also be scheduled.

If the judge sees good cause without an immediate danger or need for protective orders, then he/she will order a summons for the respondent to appear before the court on a specified date and time.

If the judge does not see good cause, he/she can dismiss the petition.

What Is The Process For A Family Offense Petition?

Once you’ve served the respondent with a court date, the respondent may admit or deny the allegations set forth in the petition. Denied allegations require a fact-finding hearing to determine the truthfulness of the allegations. The judge may take the time to gather information. If the judge determines the allegations aren’t true, then the case is dismissed. Otherwise, a disposition hearing is held, in which the judge may issue any number of dispositional orders, including:

• Suspending judgment in the case for six months as an informal type of probation for the respondent.

• Formal probation for up to a year with or without the caveat of completing educational or addiction programs at the respondent’s expense.

• Restitution of up to $10,000.

• Issuing orders of protection for the victim by which the respondent will be required to adhere to certain requirements for up to five years.

What Does A Final Order Of Protection Include?

In most cases, the final order of protection is effective for two years or less. However, in aggregating circumstances, the judge has the authority to issue them for up to five years. The requirements set forth for the respondent may include any of the aforementioned temporary order provisions in addition to any of the following:

• Stay away orders for the victim and/or children.

• Payment of the victim’s legal, medical, and counseling fees.

• Mandatory participation in addiction and educational programs.

• Refrain from committing additional or continual family offense acts.

• Designated or supervised visitation orders for children involved

• Arrangement of supervised or designated child visitation.

What Can Be Done If The Respondent Violates The Court’s Orders?

The victim will file a violation petition if the respondent doesn’t adhere to the court’s family offense orders. Proven violations can result in the court issuing further protective orders or the respondent serving up to six months jail-time for each violation act. Criminal courts have the authority to issue jail sentences beyond six months.

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