The juvenile justice system in Pennsylvania is focused more on the rehabilitative needs of the juvenile than on punishment for the offense. Because of this difference from “adult” court, the words used in the juvenile system may not be familiar to those who watch Law and Order and see trials with defendants.
Below is a list of the terms that are used in the system and what they mean:
- A “juvenile” is a person who is between 10 and 21 years old.
- A “delinquent act” is any act that would be a crime if committed by an adult. However, certain offenses, if committed by someone at least 15 years of age, do not fall under this definition and may be filed in “adult” court. In those cases, the juvenile would be treated the same as any other adult who was charged with those offenses.
- A “written allegation” is a document filed by law enforcement alleging that a juvenile has committed a delinquent act.
- A “Petition” is a document filed by the Commonwealth or a juvenile probation officer which alleges that a juvenile is “delinquent”
- A “delinquent child” is juvenile who had been found to have committed a delinquent act AND is in need of treatment, supervision or rehabilitation.
- An “adjudication hearing” is a proceeding where the Court determines if a delinquent act has been committed and whether the juvenile is in need of treatment, supervision, or rehabilitation. A juvenile is not entitled to a jury in these proceedings and will always appear before a Judge sitting without a jury.
- A “disposition hearing” is a proceeding in which the court issues its final decisions in the case. Possible dispositions include supervision by the probation department and placement in treatment facilities.
- A “detention facility” is a facility that is approved by the Court to temporarily detain a juvenile.
- If a Juvenile is “detained” a hearing, generally referred to as a detention hearing, must be held by the Court within 72 hours to determine if the detention is proper and whether the detention should continue.
What to expect if your child is alleged to have committed a delinquent act
The first issue you may encounter is if your child is detained. A child may be placed in detention, prior to a formal adjudication of delinquency, where the detention is required “to protect the person or property of others or of the child or because the child may abscond or be removed from the jurisdiction of the court or because he has no parent, guardian or custodian or other person able to provide supervision and care for him and return him to the court when required or an order for his detention…. has been made by the court…” In essence, a child may be detained prior to a finding of delinquency when the child is a danger to himself or others, where the child may run away from home, or where there is not a suitable adult to supervise the child while the delinquency process proceeds.
If a child is detained, the court must hold a detention hearing within 72 hours to determine if the detention is proper and whether the detention should continue. During the detention hearing, the court will also determine if there is probable cause to believe that the child committed a delinquent act. In some jurisdiction this hearing may be held before a “master” rather than before a juvenile court Judge. A “master” is an attorney who is assigned to hear certain matters in lieu of a Judge. A party may object to a matter being heard by a master and request a hearing before a Judge. However, that may delay the proceedings. At the conclusion of the detention hearing, the court may order that the detention continue pending an adjudication hearing or may release the child to the custody of a parent or guardian pending the adjudication hearing.
The next step in the process is an adjudication hearing. The timing for scheduling an adjudication hearing depends on whether the child is detained. If the child is detained an adjudication hearing is to be scheduled within 10 days of the filing of the petition. If the child is not detained the adjudication hearing is to be scheduled within a reasonable time. As a practical matter, most courts attempt to schedule an adjudication hearing as soon as possible regardless of whether the child is detained or not. Counsel for either side may request a continuance if they are not ready to proceed to a full adjudication hearing on the scheduled date. At the adjudication hearing the burden is on the Commonwealth to prove to the court, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the child committed a delinquent act and that the child is in need of treatment, supervision, or rehabilitation. A child may elect to forgo a full adjudication hearing and enter an admission to all or some of the allegations. Following an adjudication hearing or an admission, the court will enter an order formally finding the child to be delinquent or not delinquent.
If the child is found delinquent the next step in the process is a dispositional hearing. The purpose of this hearing is to determine how to provide balanced attention to the protection of the community, the imposition of accountability for offenses committed and the development of competencies to enable the child to become a responsible and productive member of the community. In order to aid the court in fashioning an appropriate order the court may order a social case study to be prepared or may order the child to undergo a health, psychological, psychiatric, drug and alcohol, or any other examination it deems appropriate to aid the court. A dispositional hearing is to be held within 20 days of the finding of delinquency if the child is detained. If the child is not detained the dispositional hearing is to be held within 60 days of the finding of delinquency. Possible dispositions include supervision by the probation department and placement in treatment facilities.
Each situation is unique to their set of facts. It is important that you hire an experienced team to join you in the fight against the Government. The team at Manchester and Associates has decades of experience and training infighting these types of cases. Should you find yourself in a situation where you need legal representation you need to contact criminal defense attorneys who know the law inside and out. To discuss your specific situation, contact our team for a free consultation at our toll free number (800)-243-4878 or through the contact tab at the top of the page.