Pennsylvania, like most states, has a unique juvenile justice system that focuses on restoring and rehabilitating juvenile offenders. While one of the system’s main goals is to keep the community safe from delinquent offenders, it ultimately seeks to redeem, educate, and rehabilitate Pennsylvania’s youth offenders so that they will avoid engaging in future criminal behavior. Most juvenile offenders (offenders under the age of 18) have their cases filed in juvenile court, but if the crime is serious and the juvenile has a criminal record, a Pennsylvania prosecuting attorney may be required to forgo the juvenile system and file a case directly in adult criminal court. This is called a “direct file.”
Direct File Juvenile Cases
In the following instances, Pennsylvania prohibits a prosecuting attorney from filing a case in juvenile court if the offender is over the age of 15 and used a deadly weapon in the commission of the offense; the matter must be brought as an adult “direct file” offense in Pennsylvania criminal court:
- Aggravated sexual offenses
- Grand theft auto
- Aggravated assault
If the juvenile did not use a deadly weapon in the commission of the offense but had a previous juvenile criminal record, then the commission of any of these offenses is also direct file. However, the law is not black and white in this area, and even though a prosecuting attorney is required to file the case in adult court does not mean that matter will stay there. A qualified Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney can file a petition for “decertification” to the juvenile court and argue that the juvenile would truly benefit from the juvenile justice system.
Benefits of Prosecution in Juvenile Court
There are a lot of benefits when it comes to prosecuting a case in juvenile court, as a juvenile will not be required to serve prison time. Even if the juvenile is transferred to a delinquency center, this is a much different experience than prison. In those centers, the offender will receive the counseling and education he or she needs to become a productive member of society. Further, Pennsylvania has a policy of expunging juvenile records so that the offender can start his or her adult life without a criminal record. It is also important in some circumstances to prosecute through the juvenile system, as the judges and caseworkers are trained to spot abuse and take action to protect the child and his or her family if necessary.
Making a Decertification Motion
Although juvenile offenders are not provided with the same constitutional rights as adult offenders, such as a jury trial, most criminal defense attorneys will attempt to get the case decertified to the juvenile court system. Once your defense attorney files the motion to have the case removed to juvenile court, the judge will consider the following factors:
- Age and maturity of the offender
- Mental capacity
- Sophistication of the crime
- Whether the offender will benefit from the services offered by the juvenile system
- Public safety
After a hearing where your attorney will argue on your behalf, the judge may decide to remove the case to juvenile court.
Contact Philadelphia Criminal Defense Attorney Brian Zeiger to Discuss Your Juvenile Case
If you or a loved one is a juvenile but has had a case filed in adult criminal court, Philadelphia attorney Brian Zeiger can work to review the specific facts of your case and help you apply for decertification if that is in your best interest. Such matters are sensitive and complex, so consulting with an attorney early in the proceedings can increase your chance of removing the case. Contact him today at 215-546-0340 or online for a confidential, no-risk consultation.