For parents, the experience of their child being charged with a crime in Pennsylvania juvenile court can be intimidating and perplexing. In the following blog post, I will provide a parent’s guide to PA juvenile court. In addition, I will explain what to expect in juvenile court, including:
- The differences between juvenile and adult courts
- How hiring an experienced juvenile lawyer can ensure the best result in your child’s case
- Understand the different roles of the juvenile probation officers, therapists, counselors, judges, and lawyers within the juvenile justice system
- Examine common legal defenses used by attorneys representing juveniles and alternative resolution methods designed explicitly for juvenile cases
Understanding Juvenile Court vs. Adult Court
The juvenile court system differs significantly from adult criminal courts. The main difference is that juvenile courts emphasize rehabilitation rather than punishment.
Therefore, parents should familiarize themselves with the purpose of the juvenile court and how it operates to better support their child during this challenging time.
I offer an easy-to-understand overview of the Pennsylvania juvenile court system on my PA Juvenile Defense Lawyer page.
Differences in Goals and Procedures Between Juvenile and Adult Courts in PA
Juvenile courts prioritize the best interests of the minor involved, emphasizing rehabilitation and accountability over discipline. Unlike adult courts that focus on punishing offenders, the juvenile court system provides guidance and resources for young individuals who have committed criminal offenses.
In juvenile court, proceedings are typically more relaxed; for example, minors don’t have the right to a jury trial and instead face a juvenile court judge or a local magisterial district judge.
- Confidentiality: Most juvenile proceedings are closed to the public to protect the child’s privacy. In addition, juvenile records may be expunged if the juvenile completes the imposed requirements
- Evidence standards: Although similar rules apply in both systems regarding admissible evidence, some exceptions exist specifically for minors – such as statements made by children without proper legal representation being excluded from consideration
- Disposition options: While adults can face imprisonment or fines as penalties for crimes they commit, judges in juvenile cases have more discretion when determining appropriate interventions like counseling programs or community service projects tailored towards addressing underlying issues causing delinquent behavior
The Pennsylvania Juvenile Justice System is Focused on Rehabilitation
In contrast with punitive measures often employed within adult courts, rehabilitation is the cornerstone of juvenile justice.
This approach recognizes that young people are still developing and have a greater capacity for change than adults. By providing support, education, and treatment services to address underlying issues such as substance abuse or mental health concerns, the system aims to help juveniles avoid future criminal behavior.
Parents play a crucial role in this process by actively participating in their child’s case and working closely with court-appointed professionals like probation officers or counselors.
By engaging with their child’s rehabilitation program, parents can significantly improve the potential for a successful outcome and a more positive future.
What a Parent Should Do if Their Child is Charged with a Crime in Juvenile Court
If your child is charged with a crime in juvenile court, it is vital to take immediate action.
As a parent, you are responsible for ensuring that your child receives the support and guidance they need to navigate the legal system and address any underlying issues that may have contributed to their behavior.
Here are some steps you can take:
- Understand the charges: Learn as much as you can about the charges your child is facing and the potential consequences. In Pennsylvania, the alleged crimes are outlined in a juvenile petition or a “written allegation.” This will help you make informed decisions about how to proceed
- Get legal help: Consult an experienced juvenile defense attorney who can help you understand your child’s legal rights and options. They can also represent your child in court and negotiate with prosecutors. I have over fifteen years of experience defending juveniles in Montgomery, Bucks, Chester, and Delaware Counties. I am available at (215) 752-5282 during business hours and after hours, and weekends
- Attend all court hearings: Make sure you and your child attend all court hearings and meetings with probation officers or counselors. This shows the juvenile court judge that you take parental responsibility seriously and are committed to helping your child
- Support your child: Be there for them emotionally and provide them with the resources to address any underlying issues that may have contributed to their behavior. This may include counseling, substance abuse treatment, or educational support
- Be prepared to pay restitution: If your child committed a crime that resulted in damages or losses to others, your child may be held responsible for paying restitution. Work with your attorney to understand your financial obligations, ensure that the restitution amount is accurate, and develop a repayment plan
Remember, as a parent, you are uniquely positioned to help your child. By taking an active role in their case and supporting their rehabilitation, you can help them avoid future criminal behavior and move forward with their lives.
The Benefits of Hiring a Highly Qualified Juvenile Defense Attorney
- Expertise: A juvenile lawyer has extensive knowledge of Pennsylvania laws and procedures related to cases involving minors. This expertise allows them to build strong legal defenses tailored to your child’s unique situation
- Familiarity with the local juvenile courts: Local attorneys have experience working within the jurisdiction where your child’s case will be heard. They understand how judges, prosecutors, and probation officers operate in these courts, which can be advantageous when negotiating resolutions or advocating for your child
- Negotiation skills: Skilled lawyers know how to deal effectively with prosecutors and other parties involved in the judicial process. Their negotiation abilities may result in reduced charges or alternative resolutions that better serve your child’s interests
- Getting Your Child Approved for a Diversion Program: An experienced juvenile attorney will be aware of any available diversion programs explicitly designed for juveniles facing criminal charges. These programs often focus on rehabilitation rather than punishment, helping young offenders avoid long-term consequences like having a criminal record. Juvenile diversion programs can be a valuable resource for families navigating the juvenile justice system
How an Experienced Attorney Can Guide You Through the Juvenile Court Process
An experienced juvenile criminal lawyer will work closely with you and your child throughout each stage of the legal process. They will:
- Educate you on your child’s charges, potential consequences, and available legal defenses
- Examine all of the elements of the crimes to uncover any facts that may bolster their defense or oppose the prosecutor’s allegations
- Communicate effectively with judges, prosecutors, probation officers, and other parties involved in your child’s case to advocate for fair treatment and an outcome that will not adversely impact your child’s future
- When appropriate, negotiate alternative resolutions such as consent decrees, informal adjustments, or expedited expungements. These options can help prevent long-term consequences like having a criminal record while promoting rehabilitation efforts tailored to your child’s needs
- Represent your child during the intake interview and court hearings to ensure they receive due process under the law at every step of their case
The Roles of the People within the Juvenile Justice System
It is essential to comprehend each individual’s role within the judicial process – including judges, probation officers, prosecutors, and defense lawyers – as they work together toward achieving fair outcomes for juveniles charged with crimes.
In this section, we will discuss the responsibilities of these key players in juvenile court proceedings.
The Role of Judges in Determining Appropriate Dispositions or Interventions
Juvenile court judges play a crucial part in the juvenile justice system by presiding over cases and deciding on appropriate sentences or interventions for young offenders.
Unlike adult criminal courts, where punishment is often prioritized, juvenile court judges focus on rehabilitation and providing support to help minors become productive members of society. Some factors that may influence a judge’s decision include:
- The severity of the offense committed
- The minor’s age at the time of committing the crime
- Prior delinquency history (if any); and
- The likelihood of successful rehabilitation through various programs
Responsibilities of Probation Officers throughout Cases Involving Minors
Probation officers are assigned to cases involving juveniles accused of committing a criminal act as an essential connection between families, the juvenile’s attorney, and the other people involved in juvenile court proceedings. Their primary responsibilities include:
- Evaluating young offenders’ needs by conducting thorough assessments
- Developing individualized case plans that outline specific goals and interventions for rehabilitation
- Monitoring the minor’s progress throughout their probation period, ensuring compliance with court orders and providing support as needed; and,
- Keeping in contact with all those engaged in the situation – including judges, the juvenile’s attorney, social workers, school personnel, and the minor’s family
In addition to these responsibilities, probation officers may testify during court hearings or provide written reports on a juvenile’s progress. Their input is invaluable in helping judges make informed decisions about appropriate sentencing or intervention strategies.
Exploring Legal Defenses & Resolutions
As a parent, it is crucial to actively participate in understanding all available legal defenses when facing charges against your child.
By exploring these options with the assistance of an experienced juvenile lawyer, families can work towards favorable resolutions such as consent decrees or informal adjustments that may prevent long-term consequences like having a criminal record.
Common Legal Defenses Used by Attorneys Representing Juveniles
In juvenile court cases, defense attorneys often employ several common strategies to protect their client’s rights and best interests. Some of the most frequently used legal defenses include:
- Mistaken identity: Arguing that the accused minor was not involved in the alleged crime and has been wrongly identified
- Guilt by association: Your child was merely present at the location where the alleged crime occurred
- Lack of evidence: Challenging the prosecution’s case by highlighting insufficient proof or unreliable witnesses
- Affirmative defenses: Present evidence supporting an alternative explanation for the alleged offense, such as self-defense or necessity
- Juvenile-specific defenses: Asserting factors unique to minors – like immaturity or vulnerability – which may have influenced their actions during the incident in question
Alternative Resolution Methods Designed Specifically for Young Offenders
Beyond traditional legal defenses, alternative resolution methods are tailored specifically for young offenders within the juvenile justice system.
These programs aim to rehabilitate rather than punish minors while minimizing potential damage to their futures. Examples of such alternatives include:
- Youth Aid Panel: The juvenile must appear before a panel comprised of local community members. In addition, the minor must admit to the offense. The group will recommend that the juvenile complete tasks focused on rehabilitation and accountability. Examples include community service, a letter of apology, payment of restitution, or counseling. The court will dismiss the charge if the juvenile completes all of the conditions required by the panel
- Consent Decree: This pre-adjudication program allows eligible juveniles charged with certain offenses to avoid formal adjudication if they comply with specific conditions set by the court. Completing a consent decree may bring about the termination and elimination of any allegations
- Informal Adjustment: An informal adjustment is an agreement between the juvenile, their parents, and a probation officer to resolve minor offenses without formal adjudication. This option typically involves counseling, community service, or other rehabilitative measures
It is crucial to consult with an experienced juvenile defense attorney to ensure your child has the strongest advocate on their side. I have extensive experience defending juveniles in every suburban county juvenile Court.
When the police petition your child to juvenile court, parents must be aware of the legal defenses available and seek counsel who can help explore options such as consent decrees or informal adjustments.
Experienced counsel can help explore options and work towards favorable resolutions such as youth aid panels, consent decrees, or informal adjustments that may prevent long-term consequences like having a criminal record.
Common legal defenses include mistaken identity, lack of evidence, self-defense, and guilt by association.
In contrast, alternative resolution methods explicitly tailored for young offenders within the juvenile justice system include the Youth Aid Panel, Consent Decree, and Informal Adjustment programs.
What is the Role of Parents in Juvenile Court Proceedings?
Parents play a crucial role in preventing and addressing juvenile offending.
They are responsible for providing their children guidance, supervision, and support. In addition, parents should actively participate in the legal process by attending court hearings and working closely with an experienced juvenile lawyer when a child is charged with a crime.
Do parents get punished for their children’s crimes?
No. In Pennsylvania, parents do not typically face direct punishment for their child’s crimes unless they contributed to the offense (e.g., provided alcohol).
What five possible intake decisions might be made in the juvenile justice process?
- No further action: The case is closed without any formal intervention
- Counseling or diversion programs: Informal resolution through community-based services aimed at rehabilitation (Youth Aid Panel)
- Petition filed: Formal charges were initiated against the minor, leading to a court hearing
- Transfer to adult court: In severe cases (aggravated assault, robbery with a firearm, homicide), the juvenile may be tried as an adult
- Detention: The child is held in custody pending further legal proceedings or placement in a treatment facility
PA Defense Attorney for Juveniles
Have the police filed charges against your child? You are searching for the best juvenile criminal defense attorney near me. I can help you. My juvenile defense practice area covers Montgomery County, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, and the nearby Pennsylvania Counties.
Contact me at (215) 752-5282 for a free consultation or fill out the confidential contact form for a quick response.