Today’s post was inspired by a question from Frank, who asks “Cloak and Dagger are teenage runaways. If they could catch them, could the police forcibly separate them, incarcerate them, remand them to their parents and/or institutionalize them as wards of the state?”
Cloak and Dagger aren’t the only examples. There are several other runaway superheroes, including, naturally, the Runaways.
This is a pretty interesting question. I didn’t know the first thing about the law of runaway children, so I had to do a bit of research. I decided to focus on Cloak and Dagger, since the Runaways all fled (and ultimately defeated) parents who were supervillains, whereas Cloak and Dagger were more ordinary disaffected teenagers. As it happens, Cloak and Dagger both ran away to New York City, so we’ll primarily look at the law of New York. Cloak is originally from Boston, and Dagger is from Ohio, which is also relevant.
I. What Exactly are Runaways?
In New York a runaway is a “child under the age of eighteen who has run away from home without just cause.” N.Y. Fam. Ct. Act § 718(a). A police officer may return a runaway to the child’s parent or another legally responsible person or may take the child to a state certified facility. N.Y. Fam. Ct. Act § 718(a), (b). This requires only the police officer’s reasonable belief that the child is a runaway. Id.
The cases and commentaries don’t really explain what “just cause” would be, but presumably fleeing abuse, neglect, or a similarly dangerous situation would be acceptable. Thus, the Runaways might not actually have been runaways, at least under New York law.
Cloak and Dagger don’t seem to have that excuse, however. Cloak ran away out of guilt over the death of a friend, and Dagger ran away because she felt her mother was too busy for her. Not great situations, but probably not enough to justify running away from home, either.
II. So Now What?
If Cloak and Dagger were determined to be runaways, they could be returned to their parents or to a state facility. But their parents don’t live in New York. A state government generally has no authority outside of its borders, so how could the New York authorities legally transport them back to Massachusetts and Ohio, respectively? Enter the Interstate Compact for Juveniles.
The Compact allows the child’s home state (called the “requisitioning state”) to request the child’s return from the state the child ran away to (called the “asylum state”). The requisition includes “the name and age of the juvenile, a determination that the juvenile has run away without consent of a parent or legal guardian, and that it is in the best interest and for the protection of the juvenile to return to the requisitioning state.” 2 Children & the Law: Rights and Obligations § 8:53.
Nearly all states have adopted the Compact, including Ohio, Massachusetts, and New York. Note that the current version of the New York law is set to expire in 2013 and will be replaced with the most recent version of the Compact. See 2011 Sess. Law News of N.Y. Ch. 29.
So, perhaps unsurprisingly, the result is that both Cloak and Dagger could be returned to their home states. This is separate from the issue of juvenile delinquency, however, and actually involves a different age standard. Cloak and Dagger have engaged in a fair amount of vigilantism over the years, often involving the deaths of supervillains and more ordinary criminals. In New York, for purposes of juvenile delinquency, juveniles are generally children over the age of 7 and under the age of 16. N.Y. Fam. Ct. Act § 301.2. When Cloak and Dagger ran away they were 17 and 16, respectively, which means they would likely be tried as adults. I’m not too familiar with their exploits, but from what I’ve read they could be looking at some serious jail time.
As runaways, Cloak and Dagger could either be returned to their parents in Massachusetts and Ohio or placed in a state-certified facility in New York. But as potential criminal defendants, they would likely be tried as adults. In any case, they would almost certainly be separated. The only reason they might not be is that consuming the energy produced by Dagger’s superpower is quite possibly the only legal way for Cloak to stay alive.