Philadelphia Juvenile Crimes Lawyer
It usually begins with a knock at the door or a phone call. Your child has been arrested for a crime. Like most parents in that situation, you feel shocked, confused, and anxious.
According to a 2017 report on juvenile court statistics, juvenile courts handled an estimated 818,900 delinquency cases nationwide. More than 31 million young people were under juvenile court jurisdiction. Of these, 79 percent were between the ages of 10 and 15. The courts processed 25.8 delinquency cases for every 1,000 juveniles age 10 or older who were under the jurisdiction of a juvenile court.
Juvenile delinquency means that a minor (someone younger than 18) has committed an act that would be a criminal offense if it had been committed by an adult. Juvenile statistics vary from state to state because of differences in juvenile behavior, law enforcement behavior, and community standards. However, in Pennsylvania, there were 24,800 delinquency-related allegations during 2017. There were 2,950 such allegations in Philadelphia County.
Pennsylvania’s juvenile justice system can be confusing for minors and their parents. In some cases, minors may be subject to adult penalties. If you or your child are facing juvenile charges in the Philadelphia area, you need to consult a Philadelphia juvenile crimes lawyer. It is important to seek legal advice right away so that your attorney can begin working on your defense without delay.
Pennsylvania’s Juvenile Justice System
Under Pennsylvania law, the juvenile court has jurisdiction over individuals who have been accused of a delinquent act on or after their tenth birthday and before they reach eighteen years of age. If an individual is currently under court supervision, juvenile court supervision may extend until the individual is twenty-one years of age.
The criminal justice system is different for youth than for adults. Special courts take charge of Pennsylvania juvenile justice proceedings. Except for some of the most violent offenses, these courts process the cases of all children accused of delinquent acts.
Law enforcement officers may arrest a minor for a suspected delinquent act or an outstanding warrant for arrest. Once the authorities have arrested a juvenile, the law requires a different process than that used for adults. After the arrest, the authorities can detain a youth if they pose a threat, a flight risk, or if they do not have a parent or guardian to take charge of them.
The process varies slightly from one jurisdiction to another; however, after the arrest, the police decide whether to release the child or take him or her to either the police station or a juvenile processing center. If the child is not released, the authorities will take photographs, fingerprints and enter information into the computer. The authorities must notify the child’s parents or guardians. If locked up, youth must be held separately from the adults.
After an arrest, a petition alleging a delinquent act must be filed with the court by a probation officer or the attorney for the county. The petition must state the charges and details about the incident. The petition must also say that you need treatment, supervision, or rehabilitation.
The juvenile appears before the judge, who hears the evidence. They may have a lawyer for juvenile court, who will present the evidence in their favor. After hearing the evidence, the judge will decide whether the juvenile committed the illegal act. There is no jury trial in the Pennsylvania juvenile court system. Most hearings are not open to the public. The language used in juvenile court is different. For example, juveniles are “adjudicated delinquent,” rather than “found guilty.”
In some cases, the accused can avoid the court process. Before the petition to start the court process is filed, an officer of the court may decide to have an informal adjustment of the charges. The court may order an informal adjustment when “an adjudication would not be in the best interest of the public and the juvenile, the juvenile and the juvenile’s guardian consent to informal adjustment with knowledge that consent is not obligatory; and the admitted facts bring the case within the jurisdiction of the court.”
If the juvenile successfully completes the terms of the agreement, (usually over a six month period), the petition and charges are withdrawn, so there is no finding of guilt and no juvenile record.
After the filing of a delinquency petition, a consent decree can suspend the court process. Either the defendant’s attorney or the district attorney can request a consent decree. A consent decree is an agreement by all the parties to continue to keep the juvenile at home, under supervision and subject to conditions set by the probation officer. Basically, it’s an opportunity for a second chance. The agreement usually contains such conditions as:
- Attend school regularly
- Abstain from drinking or taking drugs
- Obey a curfew
- Hold a job
- Stay away from certain people
- Get some counseling
A court must adjudicate a juvenile as delinquent to obtain a consent decree. After the juvenile completes all the conditions and the set time has passed, the court can expunge an adjudication.
Juvenile Hearings and Penalties in Pennsylvania
After the court has declared a juvenile delinquent, the next step is a disposition hearing, in which the court will determine the penalties. There is a wide range of penalties in juvenile cases. Children and teens who commit illegal acts are often sentenced to probation.
There are always conditions attached to probation, such as attending school, submitting to drug testing, paying restitution to the victims of the crime, and completing assigned community service. Incarceration in prison or the county jail is rare. Older teens who have committed violent acts, are repeat offenders, or have no parental support will probably spend time in a juvenile detention facility.
However, an adjudication of delinquency can have long-term collateral consequences, such as:
- Employment or ability to acquire licenses for some professions
- Access to public housing
- Educational opportunities. Schools may expel students for certain offenses. An adjudication of delinquency may need to be reported on some college applications but does not bar access to federal financial aid for higher education
- Potentially limited ability to enlist in the military
- In certain cases, juveniles may be subject to lifetime sex offender registration.
- A delinquency adjudication can affect a child’s immigration status.
- A delinquency adjudication for certain drug, alcohol, and driving offenses may result in driver’s license suspension.
- Minors adjudicated delinquent of some serious offenses may be prevented from carrying a firearm
- Individuals who are adjudicated delinquent may be required to pay fines, court costs, and restitution.
- A juvenile’s record of delinquency adjudications for certain offenses may have an impact on sentencing for an adult criminal offense.
In most cases, it is possible to have juvenile records expunged five years after the offender is discharged from court supervision. Certain sexual offenses are ineligible for expungement.
Can Pennsylvania Try Juveniles as Adults?
Depending on the nature of the criminal charges, your minor child may face adult charges in Pennsylvania. Under state law, the district attorney may choose to charge an older teen as an adult, provided the judge approves. This situation only applies to teens over the age of 14 who commit serious, violent felonies such as rape, robbery, kidnapping, and voluntary manslaughter.
However, in some cases, the juvenile court system may still handle cases of older teens who commit violent felonies. For a young person over the age of 16, certain motor vehicle offenses fall within the adult legal system, and a conviction will carry the same penalties as those applied to adults.
In some circumstances, the defendant’s attorney may file a petition for decertification. This petition is a request to the juvenile court to decertify the case because the juvenile would benefit from the juvenile justice system. At the decertification hearing, the judge will consider the age, maturity, and mental capacity of the offender, the nature of the charge, the types of sentencing and treatment available in both systems, the impact of the crime on the victim and the community, and whether the child is able to rehabilitate in the juvenile system.
Examples of Juvenile Criminal Offenses
Both the adult and juvenile criminal system deal with many of the same crimes. Young people may face arrest and criminal charges for:
- Theft, Burglary, or Trespassing
- Simple Assault
- Drug Charges
- Disorderly Conduct
- Underage Drinking
- Gang Activity
- Sex Crimes such as Rape or “Sexting”
- Car Theft
- Computer Crimes
- Assault with a Deadly Weapon or Other Gun Charges
More serious crimes carry more severe penalties, including fines and possible jail time.
What Are Status Offenses?
On average, about 205 of all juvenile cases involve status offenses. These are acts that are illegal only because they are committed by a juvenile. Examples include underage drinking, truancy, violations of local curfew laws, and other offenses which would not be illegal if committed by an adult. Studies show links between status offenses and later delinquency.
Legal Protections in Juvenile Cases
Even though the court system is different for juveniles than for adults, many of the legal protections are the same. Juvenile offenders have the right to a trial, including filing pre-trial motions. They have the right to an attorney. The most important exception is that juveniles do not have the right to a jury trial. Therefore, a case within the juvenile court system will be heard by a judge.
Privacy of Juvenile Criminal Records in Pennsylvania
In general, juvenile arrests and adjudications are not public matters. With a few exceptions, most juvenile cases, whether they were adjudicated, dismissed or deferred, can all be expunged. However, even though they are not public, adjudications still have consequences.
For example, the court may order someone who has been adjudicated delinquent to be placed in a facility. He or she may have a permanent record if the case involves particular sex offenses such as rape. In addition, a criminal record which can be used against the defendant if the defendant is later arrested as an adult and may affect sentencing in adult criminal court. Legal counsel can help minimize the consequences of an arrest.
What to Do if Your Child Was Arrested
You may think that a juvenile charge is harmless, but an adjudication of delinquency can damage your child’s future. Once you learn your child has been arrested, the first (and possibly the most difficult thing) to do is to remain calm. Remember that the purpose of the juvenile system is to restore and rehabilitate young offenders. While it strives to protect the community safe from delinquency, it also works to promote responsibility and accountability in young offenders.
Try to see your child immediately. Keep a list of the names, dates, titles, and phone numbers of the people you meet. In all of the stress, you may forget. Take notes on your conversations and any meetings. It is tempting to urge your child to “just tell the truth” to anyone and everyone. However, in an attempt to please a parent, a child or teen may say something false or incriminating and damage his or her case.
Contact a criminal defense attorney for your child. The lawyer should be present during questioning and all subsequent stages of the proceedings. If the young person requests an attorney before or during questioning, all questioning must stop until an attorney can be present. If you do not hire an attorney, the court will appoint an attorney before beginning a hearing. However, the juvenile justice process is different and complex, so it is best to have an experienced juvenile criminal defense attorney. Explain that your child should be honest with the attorney.
Call a Philadelphia Criminal Defense Attorney Now
A juvenile charge affects the child and his or her entire family. If you or your child has been arrested or charged with a juvenile crime, you should obtain legal advice as soon as possible. At The Zeiger Firm, we will defend your case, protect your rights, and guide you through the juvenile justice system. For more information, or to schedule a consultation, contact us at (215) 546-0340.