Juvenile Justice System – Part 2: Child Delinquent Acts

August 16, 2018By Brian Manchester

This week we will discuss 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…”[1]

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.[2]  During the detention hearing, the court will also determine if there is probable cause to believe that the child committed a delinquent act.[3]

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.[4]  A party may object to a matter being heard by a master and request a hearing before a Judge.[5]  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.[6]  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.[7]  A child may elect to forgo a full adjudication hearing and enter an admission to all or some of the allegations.[8]    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. [9]  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.[10]  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. [11]  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.[12]

Next week I will discuss the possible dispositions that a child may face if they have been adjudicated delinquent.

*Information contained in this blog does not constitute legal advice and does not create an attorney client relationship.  You should always obtain counsel to address the specific circumstances in your case.


[1] 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 6325

[2] Pa.R.J.C.P. 240

[3] 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 6332

[4] 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 6305

[5] 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 6305

[6] Pa.R.J.C.P. 404

[7] In the Interest of N.C., 171 A.3d 275 (Pa.Super. 2017)

[8] Pa.R.J.C.P. 407

[9] Pa.R.J.C.P. 512

[10] 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 6352

[11] Pa.R.J.C.P. 513

[12] Pa.R.J.C.P. 510

Posted in: Criminal Defense , Juvenile

Tags: Child Delinquent, Dispositional Hearing, Juvenile Justice System,

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About the Author

Brian Manchester is the owner of Manchester and Associates in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. His law firm practices DUI and Criminal Defense exclusively throughout the entire state of Pennsylvania in both state and federal court. He has a team of two other lawyers with a combined 50 years of trial and courtroom experience are also trained in science and many other skills that are relevant to criminal defense to include the psychology of persuasion as well. One of his associates is a former District Attorney (chief prosecutor) in central Pennsylvania.   Mr. Manchester and his team routinely handle serious felony cases including murder, manslaughter, sex crimes, complex financial crimes, and serious assaults. A large part of Mr. Manchester’s practice is the defense of alcohol and drug-based DUI offenses as well as drug cases using science and analytical chemistry. Mr. Manchester has training as a Standardized Field Sobriety Testing Instructor. He is one of a handful of Certified Lawyer-Scientists as recognized by the American Chemical Society in the United States. He is a member of NCDD and is a Founding Member of DUIDLA. He is also a member of the American Chemical Society with over 170,000 members across the world. To date, he is the only practicing criminal defense lawyer to belong to the Society of Forensic Toxicologist where he is an Associate Member. Mr. Manchester speaks nationally on the topic of blood and drug testing for alcohol as well as the metrological (measurement uncertainty) in forensic testing.

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