Serious Juvenile Charges
Juvenile Cases that Can be Tried Like an Adult Case
Although the goal of the juvenile justice system is rehabilitation rather than punishment, more and more often we hear of children being tried as adults. As an example, in the state of New Mexico a couple of years back a 14-year-old boy who threw a rock at police during a political rally was tried as an adult. Although a police spokesperson claimed that the state was not attempting to make an example of the boy, rather were interested in “guiding and leading him in the right direction,” the boy’s attorney strongly disagreed, claiming the state would “destroy the child” by trying him as an adult. Despite the fact that most adults are aware that juvenile offenders merit unique consideration under the law—and that the punishments for a juvenile who commits a criminal offense should be development and reform rather than punishment—juveniles continue to be tried as adults in far too many situations.
Finding the Best Juvenile Lawyers Before Its Too Late
In Pennsylvania—as in most states—there are significant differences between the treatment the state affords a juvenile within the juvenile justice system and the treatment the same juvenile would receive if transferred to the adult criminal justice system. Each state determines an upper age under which an individual will have his or her case automatically sent to juvenile court. Seven states use age 16 as the upper age for juvenile court jurisdiction (Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Texas, South Carolina and Missouri), while 41 of the states—including Pennsylvania—use 17 as the highest age an individual can have his or her case originate in juvenile court. Two states (North Carolina and New York) consider 15 as the upper age an individual can have a case originate in juvenile court, although as of 2015, New York was considering raising that age.
How Juvenile Cases are Transferred to Adult Court
No matter the upper age a state sets for a juvenile to be placed within the juvenile justice system, all states have laws which allow the transfer of a juvenile court case to the adult criminal justice system. Under a judicial or discretionary waiver, the judge will evaluate the circumstances of the case, including the juvenile’s age and alleged crime, before determining whether the juvenile should be tried as an adult. Under prosecutorial discretion, it is within the discretion of the state prosecutor to determine whether a case will be tried in juvenile or adult court.
Under statutory exclusion laws, the legislature has granted the adult criminal court jurisdiction over specific types of offenses involving juveniles. Further, some jurisdictions in the United States operate under the “once an adult, always an adult” rule. This means that if a juvenile has been criminally prosecuted as an adult in the past, any future criminal offense will result in automatic filing in adult court, no matter the level of seriousness of the crime.
Is Adult Prosecution a Deterrent to Juvenile Crime?
There is a body of research which has clearly shown there is little deterrent effect on juveniles prosecuted as adults, and, in many states, the rate of recidivism actually increases among juveniles tried as adults. When juveniles are tried as adults, they miss out on the opportunity to acquire the crucial competencies, experiences and skills necessary to grow into successful adults, and, essentially, adult criminals become their teachers.
Why Might a Juvenile Be Tried as an Adult?
As one example, a juvenile charged with the offense of murder who is close to the upper age limit for juvenile court, who has a long record of prior criminal activity—in particular, violent crimes—and who has already received juvenile justice system services might have his or her case transferred to the adult criminal justice system. For crimes which are especially brutal and violent, however, a juvenile who had not been in the juvenile justice system, was not close to the upper age and who had no prior record of criminal activity could be tried as an adult. While some states have age limits for waivers and transfers to adult court, other states have no age limit. This means a judge could decide to transfer the murder case of an 8-year-old to adult court.
In the state of Pennsylvania, a discretionary waiver (42 Pa. C. S. Sec. 6355) can be used for a youth as young as 14 accused of a criminal offense should the court determine that to do so would serve the public interest. Presumptive waivers (42 Pa. C. S. Sec. 6355(g)) exist for juveniles age 14 and older when the offense involves a deadly weapon, and for juveniles age 15 and older when the juvenile was previously adjudicated delinquent for a felony offense. Under statutory exclusion (42 Pa. C. S. Sec. 6302) a child of any age can be tried as an adult for the offense of murder. Juveniles age 15 and older who meet statutorily delineated offense criteria, may be tried as an adult. Pennsylvania does operate under the “once an adult, always an adult” rule.
In the state of Pennsylvania, a juvenile who is 15 or older who uses a deadly weapon or was previously found to have committed a violent act will be tried in the adult criminal justice system for the following crimes:
- Aggravated assault
- Involuntary deviate sexual intercourse
- Voluntary manslaughter
Could a Juvenile Face Adult Court for a Summary Offense?
As a general rule, an attorney for a juvenile with no prior criminal history who is a consistently good student and has never had counseling could likely successfully argue that the juvenile system be given the opportunity to rehabilitate the child rather than sentencing him or her as an adult. If, however, there is strong evidence that the juvenile committed a particularly gruesome, cold-blooded crime, it could be difficult to keep the juvenile out of adult court.
Most states do draw the line at ever transferring a juvenile to adult court for more minor criminal offenses, particularly when no other person was hurt, however Pennsylvania is one of the exceptions. In the state of Pennsylvania, a juvenile who is alleged to have committed a summary offense (42 Pa. C.S.§ 6304.1–underage drinking, disorderly conduct, certain traffic offenses or shoplifting items priced under $150) could face adult court and adult punishment. The only time this is a possibility, however, is when a juvenile is found guilty of a summary offense in juvenile court yet fails to comply with the punishment(s).
Are There Any Potential Benefits to having a Juvenile Case Transferred to Adult Court?
At first glance it would seem there could be no possible benefit to ever having a juvenile case transferred to adult court. In fact, under very limited circumstances there could be a marginal benefit to having a juvenile case transferred to adult court, such as:
- The right to a jury trial, rather than a hearing before a judge
- The fact that a jury in an adult court could potentially be more sympathetic to a juvenile
- A possible willingness to dispose of a juvenile’s case more quickly and impose a lighter sentence in adult court.
In virtually every instance, the disadvantages of adult court far outweigh the possible advantages. Disadvantages of trying a juvenile in adult court include:
- The juvenile could be sentenced to adult jail or prison, meaning he or she would be subject to adult assaults as well as adult “teaching” from more experienced criminals.
- The juvenile could receive a more severe sentence than he or she would have received in juvenile court.
- A judge in adult court has a much more limited array of punishments and treatment options than those available to juvenile court judges. As an example, a judge in an adult court could not order counseling in lieu of jail time.
- There is a more serious social stigma for a conviction in adult criminal court than for a conviction in juvenile court.
- Adult criminal convictions whi ch trigger a criminal record are much harder to seal or expunge than juvenile court records. Sealing or expunging a criminal record makes it unavailable to the public, meaning a potential employer would not have access to a sealed or expunged criminal record.
Key Issues in Juvenile Defense
Juvenile Proceedings in Pennsylvania
Deferred Adjudication and the Consent Decree for Chester County Juveniles
Potential Consequences for a Juvenile Conviction in West Chester
How will Juvenile Charges Impact My College Application?
Do a need a Juvenile Attorney?
What is the Juvenile Court Process?
Will Your Child Be Prosecuted like an Adult?
What Does a Juvenile Probation Officer Do?
What’s the Difference Between a Juvenile and an Adult Prosecution?
Get the Legal Help Your Child Needs Now
If your child is alleged to have committed a criminal offense and he or she might be tried as an adult, it is imperative that you immediately seek representation from a highly experienced Pennsylvania juvenile attorney. In fact, under any circumstances, if your child is charged with a criminal offense, contact a Pennsylvania juvenile attorney. The stakes are extremely high for a young person charged with a criminal offense, especially if he or she is tried as an adult. Sending a juvenile to an adult prison will alter his or her life forever—and rarely in a positive manner.
A knowledgeable Pennsylvania juvenile lawyer can aggressively fight for your child’s rights and future, while providing a solid defense for the alleged criminal offense. Your child’s future should never be left to chance, and you should never allow your child to go to court unrepresented, hoping for the best. Your child needs a solid advocate in his or her corner during this difficult time, and as the parent or guardian, it is up to you to ensure that is what happens.
Contact Ciccarelli Law Offices For Advice, Guidance and Advocacy
If your child has been arrested and charged with a crime, the highly experienced criminal defense attorneys at the Ciccarelli Law Offices can help. We will fight aggressively for your child’s rights and their freedom. We will protect them during this difficult time and represent them aggressively throughout the criminal process. Contact the Ciccarelli Law Offices today by email or by phone at (610) 692-8700 or (877) 529-2422 immediately to begin building a solid defense against these serious charges. We represent juvenile clients in Chester County, Berks County, Bucks County, Lancaster County, Delaware County, Montgomery County and Philadelphia.