For adults, navigating the criminal justice system can be very challenging. So what happens when the defendant is your child? For many parents, learning that their child may face criminal charges can be alarming, especially when you don’t know what to expect next. Let us tell you.
Overview of the Juvenile Justice System
The juvenile justice system differs from the adult criminal justice system in many ways. Perhaps the most notable difference is that the goal of the juvenile justice system is to rehabilitate the child. In order to meet this objective, the juvenile justice system in Pennsylvania is rooted in the concept of restorative justice and provides the following:
- Community Protection: Balancing the public’s right to safe communities while also helping to rehabilitate the child.
- Accountability: The child is responsible for the crime and must take action to remedy the harm caused by their acts.
- Competency Development: Juveniles are taught skills that will help them become responsible and productive members of the community.
Generally, every state has special courts for minors who have been accused of a crime. These courts are called juvenile courts. In juvenile court, minors are not formally charged with a crime like an adult would be in the adult criminal justice system. Instead, juvenile offenders are accused of having committed a delinquent act.
To qualify for juvenile court, your child must be a considered a “juvenile” under state law. Normally, children between the ages of 10 and 17 years old are considered juveniles.
There are two ways a child may enter the juvenile justice system:
- The child is arrested for a suspected offense.
- An individual or school official complains to the police.
What happens after my child is arrested?
It can be a terrifying feeling for any parent when they receive a phone call telling them that their child has been arrested. At this stage, it is critical to remain calm and be alert.
Depending on the nature of the charges, one of the following may happen to your child:
- Your child may be released to your care and custody until a meeting with a juvenile probation officer is scheduled.
- Your child may be detained in a detention facility, shelter program or other out-of-home placement until the next court date.
While the process varies in each jurisdiction, when your child is arrested, he or she will likely be referred to a juvenile probation officer for intake. At this stage, the probation officer will evaluate the child and the offense the child is being charged with. Along with the prosecutor, the probation officer will determine whether the situation can be resolved out of court. If not, your child may appear before a judge. Many juvenile cases in Pennsylvania are resolved without going to court.
In the event that your child’s case cannot be resolved out of court, a civil petition charging the juvenile with an offense is filed in juvenile court. Essentially, the petition asks the court to make a determination that the juvenile is delinquent.
Will my child have a criminal record?
A record is created the moment your child enters the juvenile justice system. When your child is arrested, he or she will likely be fingerprinted and photographed, and a record of your child’s arrest will be created. This record is created even if no charges are formally filed.
It is a common misconception that juvenile records are automatically sealed or erased. But in fact, the record created when your child is arrested could potentially be viewed by the public and can have very serious consequences for your child. A juvenile record could impact your child’s ability to:
- Find a job
- Attend college
- Obtain financial aid
- Serve in the military
- Get a driver’s license
The process for removing or destroying your child’s record is called expungement. In order for your child’s record to be expunged, your child’s lawyer or juvenile probation must file a motion for expungement.
For this reason and many others, it is critical that an experienced criminal defense attorney represents your child.
Your child’s rights
Your child is entitled to be represented by an attorney during these proceedings. In fact, having an experienced juvenile defense attorney can increase the chances of a favorable outcome for your child.
Brian Zeiger is an experienced criminal defense attorney who will vigorously defend your child. Contact The Zeiger Firm today at (215) 546-0340 for a consultation, and let us help you.