West Seneca Police Department

Family & Youth Courts

Family Court

In Erie County, when a person under the age of 16 years-old commits a crime, he or she can only be prosecuted as juvenile. This means that their case is not sent to a regular adult court such as the Town of West Seneca Justice Court, but instead goes to Erie County Family Court.

Erie County Family Court is part of the New York State Family Court System. According to the New York State Criminal Procedure Law, all family courts are superior courts. This makes their rulings binding throughout the State of New York. This feature also means that no matter where in New York State a juvenile commits a crime he or she will be handled the same way. The process is different from how a case is handled when a person is charged for a crime as an adult.

A juvenile that is being sent to Erie County Family Court has all the facts in his case presented to the Erie County Probation Department. At the probation department, a New York State probation officer will review the case with the victim and the suspect and then decide if the case is serious enough to be sent to the Erie County Attorney’s Office. This is much like the plea bargaining sessions that are handled in adult courts. All felony-level and most misdemeanor cases at the juvenile level are sent to the county attorney for petition to Erie County Family Court.

At the county attorney’s office, the case is reviewed by a prosecuting attorney, and if the facts are all in place, a petition is filed with Erie County Family Court. The juvenile suspect is then appointed a law guardian who makes sure that his or her rights are not violated in this process. Once the case goes before an Erie County family court judge, a hearing is held and possibly a trial is run. If the juvenile is found guilty, he or she is adjudicated as a juvenile delinquent. At this point the juvenile suspect is sentenced by the Erie County family court judge and he or she must follow the guidelines of the sentence. Once the sentence has been completed, the juvenile is done with the court and his or her case is sealed. These sealed records are not public documents and not even the suspects themselves can acquire a copy of the record.

Many times people have trouble with their children that need to be addressed but the family is at a loss as to where to turn. One avenue that they can use is the PINS Diversion Program through Erie County Family Court. Visit the Family Services Team (PINS) web page for more information.

Youth Court

The West Seneca Youth Court was one of the first of its kind in New York State when it was established on May 21st, 1984.

A youth that must appear in court is arraigned by a youth judge and assigned a youth defense team. The court prosecutes the case with a youth prosecution team and the determination of guilt or innocence is made by the youth judge after hearing the case. A juvenile convicted in youth court is sentenced to community service of up to 20 hours. The community service is done under the direction of Detective Lt. William Leitzel at various sites within the Town of West Seneca.

In order to have a case heard in youth court, the defendant and his or her parents must agree to abide by the decision of the court. In any case where there was any damage done to a victim’s property, the total value of the damage must be paid to the victim prior to the case being heard. If the defendant will not abide by the rules of the court the matter is sent directly to Erie County Family Court which is part of the New York State family court system. The victim in any case also has the right to ask that the case be sent directly to Erie County Family Court instead of using the West Seneca Youth Court.

The youth court is run under the direction of the West Seneca Police Juvenile Department and overseen by an executive board of town citizens, and each court session is monitored by a qualified volunteer attorney and a police detective. At present the entire program is run by Detective Lt. William Leitzel. Prior to this Detective Lou Giordano had been with the program since its inception until his retirement. The first youth court was setup by the late Detective Henry Kozierowski and then West Seneca Youth Director Marge McLaughlin. The West Seneca Youth Court has been used as a model for other departments all over the United States.

Youth court is a peer court. Juveniles who have not reached their sixteenth birthday will be tried, judged, defended and convicted or exonerated by a court made up of other juveniles. The court will have guidelines established for advice. However, the youths selected to serve the court will make the final decisions. The primary goal of youth court is to reduce incidents of juvenile crime, divert offending youths from the juvenile justice system and to provide an alternative to the family court process and further contact with police.

The most common cases heard in Youth Court are petit larceny, harassment, trespassing, criminal mischief, disorderly conduct and ABC violations.

This unique court serves the community in diverse ways: it educates youth to a better understanding of the laws and allows them to examine the workings of the justice system, and problem youths with minor offenses who are often overlooked can be appropriately handled in this court, community, the police and themselves. Training attorneys is also an integral part of the youth court operations.

Youth Court History

In 1980, Detective Hank Kozierowski observed a youth court presentation at the New York State Police Juvenile Officers Conference. West Seneca’s youth court was formed in 1984 as an alternative to sending children between seven and fifteen years-old to family court for lesser crimes.

The first executive board was formed and set the framework for the development of West Seneca Youth Court. The board was made up of school officials, town businessmen, local attorneys, youth board members, police juvenile bureau officers, and persons interested in youth.

Subsequently, the Training Attorney Committee was developed. It was composed of eleven area attorneys, judges, and town attorneys who volunteered their services to the program. They developed the Youth Court Training Manual and the ten-week orientation and training program.

In the fall of 1984, the first youth court recruitment was held. Twenty-three young persons were chosen out of ninety-five applicants to enter youth court training, all between the ages of thirteen and nineteen years of age. The first youth court session was held in February of 1985.

Copyright © 2020 West Seneca Police Department. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2020 West Seneca Police Department. All rights reserved.