The outcome of criminal charges matter to anyone, but when the defendant is your child, the stakes are even higher. Pennsylvania’s juvenile justice system can be confusing, and in some cases minors may be subject to adult penalties. All this makes it even more important to ensure your child has an experienced juvenile defense attorney.
If you are facing charges as a juvenile in the Pennsylvania area, call Brian Manchester, an experienced juvenile crimes defense attorney in Pennsylvania. Call today. It is important to start working on your defense right away.
Pennsylvania’s Juvenile Justice System in Pennsylvania
Juvenile justice proceedings in Pennsylvania are handled by special courts. These courts process all children accused of so-called “delinquent acts” — all crimes aside from a few of the most violent offenses on the books. A delinquency case may start in one of several ways:
First, Pennsylvania juveniles may be arrested, though once that has happened they must be treated differently than arrested adults: They can only be detained post-arrest if they pose a threat, if they are likely to flee, or if there are no parents or guardians to watch them.
Once a child is arrested, a petition alleging a delinquent act must be filed; this is similar to the criminal charges filed in adult court, except it is a civil process. Or the petition may be filed without an arrest.
Alternatively, a juvenile might make his first appearance in adult court. In that case, he must automatically be transferred to juvenile court and a petition must be filed. This transfer is not automatic, however, if he is older than 16 and is charged with a motor vehicle offense, or if he is charged with certain violent crimes or has already been convicted of a crime in adult court.
Juvenile Hearings and Penalties in Pennsylvania
Within 72 hours of arrest, an informal hearing will be held to determine whether the juvenile should be released and whether there is enough evidence of a delinquent act to continue. The formal hearing process, similar to a criminal trial, usually starts within a short period of time later.
As in an adult criminal trial, a district attorney presents evidence and a defense attorney represents the child. But there is no jury, only a judge. Generally speaking, juvenile proceedings are closed to the public.
How Juveniles are Punished
Children found to have committed crimes are not technically considered “guilty.” They are also not “sentenced” in the traditional sense. Rather they are held to have committed delinquent acts and are “adjudicated” accordingly. For a delinquent act, adjudication may include probation, confinement to a juvenile detention facility, commitment to a child welfare facility, or fines. In any case, no punishment can last beyond the child’s 21st birthday.
Juveniles Tried as Adults in Pennsylvania
Children accused of committing serious violent offenses, motor vehicle offenses and minor offenses are tried as adults in Pennsylvania. Minor crimes such as underage drinking are punishable in adult court as summary offenses, similar to serious traffic violations. These typically come with probation and fines.
Major violent offenses, including murder or attempted murder committed by any child and rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, aggravated assault, robbery, kidnapping, aggravated indecent assault, voluntary manslaughter, or an attempt at any of these crimes committed by a child older than 14 are tried in adult court unless the child’s attorney can prove moving the case to juvenile court would be in the public interest. Children older than 16 accused of certain motor vehicle offenses are also tried as adults. A conviction on any of these crimes carries the same penalties applied to adults.
If you or a loved one are in the Pennsylvania area and have been charged as a juvenile, call Brian Manchester, an experienced juvenile crimes defense lawyer in Pennsylvania. He can help you build the defense you need today.