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Arbitration in the Family Court

1.  What is arbitration?  

    Arbitration is an informal Family Court proceeding where a specially trained hearing officer attempts to resolve certain juvenile delinquency cases.  (A juvenile is a person who has not reached his or her eighteenth birthday by the date of the alleged offense.)

2.  How does a case qualify for arbitration?  

    The Attorney General's Office screens the charges that have been filed and decides whether the case will proceed to a formal Court hearing or be referred to arbitration.

3.  What kinds of charges are usually arbitrated?

    a.  First-offender juvenile misdemeanors or violations such as shoplifting, criminal mischief, trespassing, consumption of alcohol, harassment, offensive touching, and disorderly conduct.

    b.  Motor vehicle violations involving youths under 16 years of age.

4.  How is a person notified of an arbitration conference? 

    Everyone involved in the case receives a mailed notice of the date, time, and place of the conference.  The defendant (the person against whom the charges have been filed) and a parent or guardian MUST attend the conference.  The complainant (the person who has filed charges) and the victim are not required to attend.   The Attorney General may notify the complainant and the victim of an arbitration proceeding.

5.  Do I need a lawyer for arbitration?

    You may have a lawyer represent you at arbitration, although it is not a Court requirement.

6.  What happens in an arbitration conference?

    An arbitrator will read the charge to you and ask you if you are willing to accept responsibility for the incident.  You do not plead guilty and you are not found guilty.  If you accept responsibility, you and your parent or guardian will sign an arbitration agreement.  After listening to all parties, the arbitrator will assign conditions to you, such as community service, payment of restitution, conflict resolution classes, or alcohol/drug evaluations.  If all the conditions of arbitration are met, and no new charges are filed for a period of 90 days, the charge(s) will be dismissed after 90 days.  Conditions cannot include commitment to an institution, supervised probation, or payment of Court costs and fines.  If the conditions are not met within the required time frame or new charges are filed, all charges will proceed to a formal Court hearing.

    If you are not willing to accept responsibility for the incident, you may enter a plea of not guilty, sign a waiver of arraignment (a hearing where you are asked how you plead), and your case will be scheduled for a trial.

7.  If a case is arbitrated, can a victim receive restitution? (Restitution is the monetary loss suffered by the victim in a crime.)

    Yes.  When restitution is ordered, the victim must submit written documentation of the loss claimed.  Restitution is paid directly to the victim by the defendant and is not handled by Family Court personnel.

8.  What happens when an arbitrated case is heard in a formal Court hearing?

     The arbitrator cannot testify at any Court hearing about any proceedings that took place in the arbitration conference.  Also, ALL persons involved in the case—defendant, victim, complainant, witnesses—MUST attend the trial.

9.  Will my child have a criminal record?

    The charges will appear on your child’s record as a charge that was dismissed.  In order to eliminate any record of arrest, you must petition the Court for an expungement of the child’s record.  There is a filing fee for this civil petition.  An expungement may be granted by a Judicial Officer, after the arbitration period has lapsed and your child has complied with the conditions of arbitration.  If the charge goes through formal case processing before a Judicial Officer and there is a delinquency finding, an expungement may not be granted for up to three years.

    *NOTE:  If you have a prior record of arrest or another charge has been filed against you recently, please notify the Court immediately as you may not be eligible for the Arbitration Program.