The Philadelphia juvenile criminal defense attorneys at the Zeiger Firm understand how the juvenile criminal justice system affects families and children emotionally, relationally, and financially. The lawyers at the Zeiger Firm also understand that different families have different goals when interacting with the juvenile justice system. Most families hire Philadelphia Criminal Defense Attorney Brian J. Zeiger to fight the case, but some parents simply want to ensure that their child’s punishment is no more than necessary to deter future criminal conduct and get him the help he needs. Because it is understood that juvenile offenders are young, likely did not comprehend the full consequences of their actions, and can generally be rehabilitated, the Pennsylvania juvenile justice system differs from traditional criminal trial proceedings.
Only a defense attorney with substantial experience and training working in Pennsylvania juvenile court, such as attorney Brian J. Zeiger, should handle your child’s case, as even some of the constitutional rights we are used to as adults are not available in the juvenile system. On the other hand, juvenile adjudications can also result in specialized “deferred adjudication” verdicts as well as expungement, which are not generally available in the traditional criminal justice system. If you work with the lawyers at the Zeiger Firm, you may be able to get your child the help he or she needs without worrying about how a potential criminal record will affect his or her future.
Understanding the Purpose of the Pennsylvania Juvenile Justice System
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 delinquents, it ultimately seeks to redeem, educate, and rehabilitate Pennsylvania’s youth offenders so that they will avoid engaging in future criminal behavior. Although most juvenile offenders (offenders under the age of 18) have their cases filed in juvenile court, 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,” which your Philadelphia juvenile defense attorney can fight. There are a lot of benefits when it comes to prosecuting a case in juvenile court in that a juvenile will not be required to serve prison time. For this reason, juveniles adjudicated in Pennsylvania’s juvenile justice system are not entitled to a trial by jury. Even if the juvenile is transferred to a delinquency center, this is a much different experience than prison, as 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.
Direct File Juvenile Cases
In the below 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 following matters must be brought as 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 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 the 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. 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 must 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
Upon having a hearing where your attorney will argue on your child’s behalf, the judge may decide to remove the case to juvenile court. Whether your child’s case was a direct file or was filed directly in juvenile court, attorney Brian Zeiger can ensure that every factor is taken into consideration so that your child is given the best chance possible to either defeat the charges against him or get the help he needs through the juvenile system.
Overview of the Pennsylvania Juvenile Justice System
In juvenile court, when someone is found guilty or admits to her conduct, she is not sentenced, but instead adjudicated “delinquent.” The judge determines the amount of accountability, rehabilitation, treatment, and supervision needed for the juvenile and plans accordingly. Sometimes, this includes placement. The attorneys at the Zeiger Firm work hard with the parents and guardians of the children to ensure their child is in the proper setting. Mr. Zeiger understands some parents do not want their children placed, and he works hard to get the child home.
However, Mr. Zeiger also understands some parents think their children will do better and be safe at a juvenile placement, so he can also help the family work with the court as far as which placements are available for the juvenile. The Pennsylvania juvenile justice system is primarily governed by local authorities in the area where the crime occurred. Accordingly, if you or your child has been charged as a juvenile in Philadelphia, it is important to contact a Philadelphia juvenile defense attorney who understands local rules and policies. Each county does things slightly differently, but whenever a judge in Pennsylvania hears a juvenile matter, it is generally considered juvenile court unless the child is being tried as an adult, such as in a direct file case. In Philadelphia, the head of the juvenile court is an administrative judge appointed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and there is also a juvenile probation officer. The probation officer assists with intake and monitoring of the juvenile offender, and he or she generally does the following:
- Initial screening
- Probation supervision
- Victim services
If the juvenile chooses to plead guilty or no contest to the charges on the advice of her parents and defense attorney, she may be sentenced to probation or have to spend time in one of Pennsylvania’s 22 juvenile detention facilities. However, juveniles typically do not spend a significant amount of time in such facilities, and sometimes there are programs available for those struggling with their education or are in need of psychological services. There are also programs within state-operated facilities the specialize in aiding the following types of juvenile offenders:
- Sex offenders
- Substance abuse
- Emotionally disturbed individuals
- Those with developmental delays
- Those struggling with multiple issues
The Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare advises the juvenile judge when it comes to placement decisions, and attorney Brian Zeiger can work with the department representative, the juvenile, and the judge to ensure that your child is being placed in a program that best suits his or her needs.
Your Options in Juvenile Court
If your son or daughter is not guilty of the crime for which he or she is being charged or you believe the charge and potential punishment far exceeds the crime, Mr. Zeiger understands that just because the person who is the subject of the arrest is a minor, doesn’t mean that you cannot fight the case. While you do not have a right to a jury trial as a juvenile, you can still fight the case through a motion to suppress and a trial by judge, often referred to as a “bench trial.” Mr. Zeiger is an experienced trial lawyer in the juvenile court system in Pennsylvania. Once you get to juvenile court, there are two important terms to remember: “Consent Decree” and “Deferred Adjudication.”
A consent decree is very similar to Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD). Generally, if you are offered a consent decree and complete the program, there is no conviction. Further, at the hearing where the juvenile is given the consent decree, there is no plea. The juvenile does not stand up and plead guilty or not guilty, so no constitutional rights are forfeited. This also has strong emotional connotations for juveniles both during the proceedings and in the future, because she can say that she did not plead guilty to a crime. When it comes to a consent decree, the juvenile is not adjudicated guilty of the crime, but rather he is permitted to remain in his home under certain terms and conditions that can be negotiated by your defense attorney, such as a curfew and attendance at counseling sessions. The terms, conditions, and length of the consent decree will be set forth in the juvenile court order, and if the juvenile violates the terms, there is a risk that the decree will be stripped. Even if a consent decree has already been entered and you are seeking an attorney to represent your child for the violation, attorney Brian Zeiger can fight for the juvenile’s right to remain at home under the consent decree.
A “deferred adjudication” is where the juvenile is found guilty or pleads guilty, but the judgment of guilty is not entered and the juvenile is not adjudicated delinquent. Obviously, this is not as good as a consent decree because you have a guilty finding, and if the finding is not expunged, it can affect the juvenile for years to come. However, in the case of a deferred adjudication, the judge is deferring her final judgment until the end of the period of deferred supervision. In this example, the judge often gives the juvenile assignments or tasks to complete. After the time of the supervision and completed assignments, if the juvenile has stayed out of trouble, the judge will dismiss the case. The juvenile will have no criminal record because he or she would have never legally been “found” guilty by a court of law.
Often, the Philadelphia criminal defense attorneys at the Zeiger Firm work to get a deferred adjudication when it seems like all hope is gone. This is because most juvenile judges believe that the child has the ability to change or to prove themselves with the right amount of encouragement, opportunity, and supervision. The judge is more likely to give the juvenile a chance to at least show he or she can improve, which is seldom an option for adult offenders. When it comes to a deferred adjudication, the juvenile will generally still meet with the juvenile probation officer and may be required to complete certain programs or do community service. If you’ve applied for and been denied a consent decree because of the nature of the crime, the juvenile’s age, or the juvenile’s previous record, then your next best option may be to work with the prosecuting attorney to come up with a deferred action plan acceptable to both parties that can be presented to the judge. This plan can include promised community service, counseling, rehabilitation, after-school programs, and even a required GPA.
This is one of the reasons it is so helpful to have a Philadelphia juvenile defense attorney such as Brian Zeiger represent your child. He knows what is and is not important to the local juvenile judges as well as what has worked in getting a deferred adjudication in the past. For example, one judge may be amiable to deferring a guilty finding if the offender agrees to maintain a 3.0 GPA and volunteer each week. This is difficult to know if you are not practicing before that judge because most juvenile records are sealed and cannot be reviewed for what worked before the judge in the past.
Juvenile Adjudications and Your Child’s Future
One of the primary concerns expressed by parents who contact attorney Brian Zeiger is how a juvenile conviction is going to affect their child’s future. Unfortunately, if your child is adjudicated delinquent, this may have an impact on where he is able to go to school, what activities he can participate in, and his ability to go to the college of his choice. Such adjudication may even result in a college rescinding an acceptance or financial aid offer. This is the reason looking at every option and the steps listed above during the juvenile justice process is important, and it is further essential because a juvenile still accrues prior record score points for purposes of sentencing as an adult offender when he or she has been previously adjudicated delinquent. Most prior record score points lapse when the juvenile turns 27 years old, however, some remain for life. Therefore, it’s important to understand all of the ramifications of a juvenile adjudication of delinquency in this matter.
Pennsylvania law states that juvenile adjudications are counted towards an adult offender’s criminal history score if the offense occurred after the juvenile’s 14th birthday and there was an express finding by the court that the crime committed was a felony or a class 1 misdemeanor. As you can see, only the most serious offenses are counted towards a juvenile’s score. Other offenses may remain on the juvenile’s records unless the adult offense was committed after the offender turned 28 and the offender was crime free from ages 18-28. However, it should be noted that Pennsylvania law states that nothing in the code prevents a future judge from considered a lapsed prior juvenile adjudication in a future sentencing, which is another reason why it is essential to explore all of the options juvenile courts provide before a juvenile is adjudicated as delinquent.
Juvenile Life Without Parole
Did you know that the State of Pennsylvania has the largest amount of juvenile offenders sentenced to life without parole in the country? In the United States, however, the decisions of the United States Supreme Court are binding in all matters, and two such decisions, Miller v. Alabama and Montgomery v. Louisiana, changed the fabric of sentencing for juvenile offenders. This means that your child is no longer subject to a life sentence without the possibility of parole if he or she committed a serious criminal offense. The Supreme Court decided Miller v. Alabama in 2012, and it addressed a case in which two 14-year-old boys were convicted of murder and the trial judge was required to sentence them to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The question presented to the Court was whether such a sentence violates the Eight Amendment to the United States Constitution that prohibits “cruel and unusual punishment.” The court answered in the affirmative and held that it was actually unconstitutional to mandatorily sentence a juvenile, someone under the age of 18, to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Although parole is not guaranteed, the court found that a juvenile’s diminished capacity has to be considered in sentencing and that the judge and jury should at least have the opportunity to sentence an offender to life with the possibility of parole. In Montgomery v. Louisiana, the Supreme Court addressed the application of Miller to juvenile offenders whose sentences had been finalized before Miller was decided. The Court held that because Miller actually created a new rule of law under the Constitution, it was required to be retroactively applied to those who were serving a sentence that they may not have served under the new rule. Accordingly, if you were a juvenile and the law at the time required you to be sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, you may be entitled to have your sentence overturned. For those who qualify for potential relief under this new rule of law, it is important to enlist the aid of a qualified Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney Brian Zeiger.
Pennsylvania Underage Drinking Laws
As you can imagine, some of the most common crimes committed by juvenile offenders in Philadelphia involve the use of alcohol. Under Pennsylvania law, it is illegal for a person under the age of 21 (with some exceptions) to do any of the following in relation to alcoholic beverages:
- Attempt to purchase
- Knowingly transport
If your child did any of the above while she was under the age of 18, then she can generally proceed through the juvenile system. Because underage drinking is a non-traffic summary offense in Pennsylvania, and it is possible to expunge such a conviction after you comply with the court’s sentencing order, it will not always appear on your criminal background check, especially if it is a juvenile conviction. Further, most juveniles who are convicted of underage drinking in a situation where the life and health of another are not endangered are only fined or sentenced to community service. However, underage drinking and driving is still a DUI, which can be a felony in Pennsylvania, and Pennsylvania takes a serious stance when it comes to preventing future generations from driving under the influence.
If you are convicted of underage drinking or possession of alcohol, you will have your license suspended anywhere from 90 days to two years depending on your past conduct. This can have a serious impact on your ability to get to work and class, which can put you in a financial or educational bind. A criminal defense attorney can discuss with the judge getting you a provisional license so that you can still attend class or go to work, but it is important to understand that some of the most severe consequences of your actions are the ones that seem less harmful to begin with.
Exceptions to A Pennsylvania Underage Drinking Conviction
In order to promote safety, especially in the face of alcohol poisoning, which is potentially fatal, there is an exception to prosecution under Pennsylvania’s underage drinking statute if the police discovered the violation under the following conditions:
- The underage person called 911 with a reasonable belief that another was in need of serious, immediate medical help;
- The underage person reasonably believed he or she was the first person to call 911;
- He or she gave the police (or campus security) his or her real name; and
- He or she remained with the person in need of medical attention until such arrived.
Accordingly, if the police discovered the violation only because your child called 911 in service to another in need, he or she cannot be prosecuted for underage possession of alcohol. Your child should not be prosecuted for his bravery, and if you believe this exception applies to his case, contact a Brian Zeiger immediately.
Expungement of a Juvenile Record
One of the main benefits offered by the juvenile system, even if the juvenile does not qualify for a Consent Decree or a Deferred Adjudication, is the ability to apply to get a juvenile conviction expunged, i.e., off of your criminal records. How long you will have to wait to apply for expungement in Pennsylvania depends on the type and nature of your criminal record. Certain serious offenses, such as murder, rape, or similar sex crimes, cannot be expunged, even if you were a juvenile when they were committed. However, if your conviction was finalized before you turned 18 and you were convicted in juvenile and not adult court, a Pennsylvania attorney can petition the court to erase your entire juvenile, and accordingly criminal, record under one or more of the following circumstances:
- You were never convicted of the offense because there was no evidence against you or it was dismissed
- It has been six months since final discharge from supervision, you have the consent of the prosecutor, and no criminal charges are pending
- Five years have passed since final discharge and no further charges have been filed or are pending
- You are over 18, the prosecutor has agreed to expungement, and the court has considered the following factors
- Type of offense
- Employment history
- Drug and alcohol abuse
- The burden of your record
- Public safety
If the petition is granted, the judge will order that your entire juvenile criminal record be erased, but it helps to have the permission and support of the prosecuting attorney, which can drastically cut down on the time you will have to wait to expunge the conviction. With a prosecutor’s support, you may only have to wait for six months after completing your supervision to apply for expungement, but without it, you may have to wait five years to do so. Attorney Brian Zeiger has experience applying for expungement of juvenile records, so if you have questions regarding a previous juvenile offense, he is ready to represent you.
Contact Philadelphia Juvenile Criminal Defense Attorney Brian Zeiger to Protect your Child
Contact the Philadelphia Juvenile Criminal Defense Attorneys at the Zeiger Firm now for a free consultation at 215-546-0340 to learn more about:
Even if your child has not officially been changed but he or she is under investigation, hiring an attorney early on in the adjudication process can make all the difference. Even though juvenile offenders are not entitled to a trial by jury during juvenile proceedings, they do still have the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney.
When you need a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney to represent a person in a juvenile matter, contact The Zeiger Firm, who represents every client zealously in order to obtain the best results possible in each case. To arrange a consultation, please give us a call at 215-546-0340 or send us an email via the form to the left.