Understanding the Pennsylvania Juvenile Court Process
The juvenile justice process can be confusing for anyone, however a family’s involvement with the process can be crucial to the outcome and to the child’s future. Parents know their children better than juvenile justice system professionals, therefore the insights parents or guardians, bring to the table can be invaluable during this difficult time. Unfortunately, the juvenile justice system can create barriers which prevent family members from participating in a juvenile case, therefore the more a parent or guardian knows about how the process works, the better for the juvenile.
The juvenile court system in the state of Pennsylvania—like most juvenile court systems across the nation—works differently than the adult criminal justice system. In theory, the juvenile court system is meant to help juveniles correct their mistakes and do better rather than punishing these young offenders for their mistakes. This means that family support, community activity and rehabilitation are usually the primary options for juvenile offenders. Juvenile courts tend to be less formal than adult criminal court, even using different terms.
The Pennsylvania juvenile courts expect young offenders to take responsibility for their actions and repair any harm caused to the community or victims of the crime while keeping the community safe from harm and teaching juveniles’ skills which help them be productive members of society. That being said, the consequences of a juvenile criminal offense can be quite serious. A young offender could potentially be sent to detention or another facility away from their home. Juvenile criminal records can make it difficult for a young person to obtain employment, get into the college of their choice, obtain financial aid, or even enter the military.
Can a Young Offender Be Tried as an Adult?
Parents are often worried that their child will be tried as an adult, with a sentence which reflects the adult criminal justice system. Generally speaking, children between the ages of 10 and 17 who are accused of a criminal offense will enter the juvenile justice system rather than the adult criminal justice system. In the state of Pennsylvania, there is only one situation where a teen could face prison time and have their conviction become a part of their permanent criminal record.
This would occur when the state of Pennsylvania made the choice to charge an older teen as an adult—and a judge approved that choice. Under Pennsylvania state law, this situation can only apply to a youth who is over the age of 14 and who is charged with committing a serious, violent felony offense (42 Pa. C. S. Sec. 6355(g))—except in the case of murder (a child of any age can be tried as an adult in Pennsylvania for the offense of murder–42 Pa. C. Sec. 6302). A serious, violent felony offense could include rape, armed robbery and aggravated carjacking. In many cases, even if a teen over the age of 14 commits a serious, violent felony, he or she may still be placed into the juvenile justice system.
An Overview of the Process of the Juvenile Court System
When a juvenile is arrested in the state of Pennsylvania, he or she will either be released to a parent or guardian or will be placed in detention (42 Pa.C.S.§6325). If the juvenile is placed in detention, there will be a detention hearing and a petition will be filed. Depending on the offense and other factors, there will either be an adjudicatory hearing, a consent decree or a transfer hearing to send the case to adult court. Following an adjudicatory hearing, either the case will be dismissed, or there will be a decision made on the issue.
Once a formal judgment or decision has been made on the juvenile case, then a disposition hearing will occur. During the disposition hearing, the judge will order: 1) a deferred adjudication, 2) fines, restitution and/or community service, 3) probation or 4) placement. If placement is ordered, there will be review hearings and release/aftercare in the future.
If the juvenile is released (42 Pa.C.S.§6326) to a parent or guardian at the time of the arrest/referral, there will be a juvenile court/probation intake, the either the charges will be dismissed, there will be an informal adjustment, or a petition will be filed, and the process will continue as above when detention is implemented rather than release to a parent or guardian.
Notice Regarding Hearing Following Detention
If your child is placed in detention following his or her arrest or referral, there must be a hearing (42 Pa.C.S.§6335) held by a judge or master within 72 hours. Notice of that hearing must be provided to the juvenile, the parents or guardians and the juvenile’s attorney. The notice must include the purpose of the hearing, the place the hearing will be held, and the date and time of the hearing, however the notice can be made via phone, in person, or in writing. If proper notification was not received, the parents/guardians or attorney can provide an affidavit to the probation officer assigned to the child, stating there was no notification, whereupon another hearing must be held within 72 hours of the time the court receives this affidavit.
Purpose of the Hearing Following Detention
There is only one purpose of the hearing after a juvenile has been placed in detention. That purpose is to determine whether or not the juvenile should remain in detention. This means that the judge must determine whether it is reasonable to believe the child committed the crime he or she is accused of, and if there is a reasonable basis, then the judge must determine whether the juvenile should remain in detention to protect the community. If a less restrictive option is available—such as electronic monitoring—then the judge may not order return to detention.
Can Parents Talk to the Judge at a Detention Hearing?
The judge will absolutely want to talk to the parents/guardians to determine whether the child can be kept safe and out of trouble if released. If your work schedule conflicts with your ability to keep your child safe and out of trouble, or if you have a history of conflict with the child, you might want to talk to other family members to determine whether one of them would be willing to step forward and take care of your child.
If your child has any type of disability, make sure the judge is aware of how that disability could potentially affect your child’s behavior as well as his or her ability to communicate and understand. If your child has any special medical conditions which could require monitoring or treatment if he or she is returned to detention, make sure the judge is aware of those medical conditions. Likewise, if your child has been receiving any type of medical health services or counseling prior to the detention, let the judge know so those services can be continued if the child is returned to detention.
What Happens if the Judge Decides to Return Your Child to Detention?
If the judge believes your child should be returned to detention, a delinquency petition (42 Pa.C.S. §6334) must be filed with 24 hours, and an adjudication hearing held within 10 days of when the delinquency petition is filed. If the adjudication hearing is not held within 10 days for any reason, the child must be released from detention unless the prosecution asks for more time to gather evidence, in which case only 10 more days in detention will be approved, for a total of 20 days. Families are allowed to visit a juvenile who has been placed in detention, and it is highly recommended that they do so.
What is the Alternative to Detention?
Following the arrest of a juvenile in the state of Pennsylvania, the juvenile may go through probation intake rather than being sent to detention. The juvenile and his or her parents/guardians will meet with a probation intake officer, then the intake officer will make a recommendation to the court regarding what will happen next, based on interviews with the juvenile, the parents, the person who filed the charges and the victim (if there was a victim).
Prior to the probation intake, parents/guardians and the child will be provided with a written statement of the allegations. Following probation intake, the case could be: 1) Dismissed, 2) An informal adjustment could be made (no delinquency petition will be filed so long as your child complies with stated conditions), 3) The juvenile could be placed in a diversion program which addresses his or her needs while holding accountable, or 4) A formal delinquency petition will be filed, leading to an adjudicatory hearing.
The Delinquency Petition
A delinquency petition is a legal document which states what the juvenile has been charged with. Once a delinquency petition is filed, a court date will be set, however your child could still be eligible for a consent decree, which is similar to an informal adjustment, agreed to by the judge and the district attorney. While waiting for the court date, the juvenile could be returned home, could be placed on home detention via electronic monitoring, could be placed on pretrial supervision, could be placed in foster care or shelter care, or could be placed in detention.
The Adjudication Hearing
An adjudication hearing is similar to an adult trial; if the child is in detention, the adjudication hearing must occur within 10 days of when the petition was filed or if the child is not in detention, within 90 days. During the adjudication hearing, your child could admit to the offense he or she is charged with or could deny the offense, whereupon the judge will hold a hearing. Following the hearing, the judge will either dismiss the charges or enter a finding of delinquency, at which time it will be determined whether the child needs treatment, rehabilitation or supervision. A disposition hearing will either be held immediately or at a later date.
The Disposition Hearing
At the disposition hearing, your child could receive probation, community service, restitution, participation in court-ordered services or even placement in a facility outside your home. If your child has been charged with a criminal offense, it is essential that you speak to an experienced Pennsylvania juvenile attorney as quickly as possible. As you can see, the juvenile court process can be quite daunting. You do not want to do or say anything which could make the situation worse for your child, therefore speaking to a knowledgeable Pennsylvania juvenile attorney is a necessary step in the process.
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?
Call the Ciccarelli Law Offices Today
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.