Having a child or loved one facing charges in the juvenile court system is one of the most stressful situations a family can go through. Understandably, you may worry about the effect juvenile charges will have on your son or daughter’s future. Unfortunately, a juvenile record can severely impact a child’s financial, educational, personal and professional opportunities.
With so much at stake, it is important that your child be represented by a juvenile defense attorney with a thorough understanding of Pennsylvania’s juvenile laws and juvenile court system. I can guide you and your child through the juvenile court process while working to achieve a resolution of the case that protects your child’s future.
I have over a decade of experience providing skilled and aggressive representation to individuals facing charges in the juvenile court systems in Bucks County, Montgomery County and the surrounding counties. Contact me at (215) 752-5282 for a free initial consultation or fill out the contact form for an immediate response. Appointments are available after business hours and on weekends.
The Juvenile Justice System in Pennsylvania
In Pennsylvania, the juvenile justice system addresses offenses committed by children and teenagers between the ages of 10 and 18, although supervision of the juvenile can continue until he or she reaches the age of 21. Under certain circumstances, a juvenile’s case may be transferred to the adult court system, exposing the juvenile to far more serious penalties.
Unlike the adult criminal courts, the juvenile court system is focused primarily on rehabilitation of the juvenile offender. The juvenile court system can provide a wide variety of valuable services to juveniles, including drug and alcohol treatment, mental health treatment as well as programs related to education, life skills, conflict management and vocational training.
Adverse Consequences of a Juvenile Record
Many adverse long-term consequences can result from your child being found delinquent in a juvenile court proceeding. Depending on the circumstances of the case, those consequences may include:
- Restriction on employment in certain professions
- Mandatory disclosure of juvenile record on college admissions applications
- Loss of driving privileges
- Entry into DNA database after adjudication for certain offenses
- Potential adverse effect on immigration status for non-citizen juveniles
Entry into the Juvenile Court System
A juvenile’s entry into the juvenile justice system usually occurs when a child is arrested or when a referral or written allegation of delinquency has been received by the juvenile probation department in the county where the alleged delinquent act occurred. In the next stage, the juvenile probation officer or prosecutor will file a petition for delinquency with the juvenile court. The petition will list, in part, the date and type of offense that the juvenile allegedly committed as well as a certification by the probation officer or prosecutor that the child requires treatment, supervision or rehabilitation.
Direct File of Juvenile Charges
Most offenses committed by juveniles will be resolved through the juvenile court system. However, certain severe crimes, when alleged to have been committed by a juvenile, are automatically charged as adult crimes and, at least initially, proceed through the adult criminal court system. For example, charges for the crime of murder, when committed by a child 10 years of age or older, will be initially filed in the adult criminal court system.
These crimes are referred to as “direct file” offenses. There are many circumstances when a direct file case can be transferred from the adult criminal court system to the juvenile court system. I am thoroughly knowledgeable in the legal requirements for a direct file offense under the Pennsylvania Juvenile Act. Many direct file cases are more properly addressed in the juvenile court system. I can determine whether your child’s case can be transferred back to the juvenile court system through the filing of a Petition for Decertification.
The Prosecutor’s Burden of Proof in a Direct File Case
In a direct file hearing, the prosecutor bears the burden of establishing by a preponderance of evidence that the public interest is served by the transfer of the juvenile’s case to the adult court system and that the juvenile is not amenable to treatment, supervision or rehabilitation in the juvenile system. The preponderance of evidence standard is met if the prosecutor establishes that it is more likely than not that an event or fact will occur. To meet the legal standard required for a direct file, the prosecution must also present presumptive evidence that the juvenile committed the offenses alleged in the juvenile petition.
Factors Considered by the Court in a Decertification Hearing
In determining whether the public interest is served by transferring a juvenile case to the adult criminal court system, the juvenile court judge is required to consider the following factors:
- The juvenile’s age
- The juvenile’s mental capacity
- The juvenile’s maturity level
- The juvenile’s previous record of delinquency
- The juvenile’s rehabilitation history
- The degree of criminal sophistication involved in the offense
- The juvenile’s level of culpability in the offense
- The nature and circumstances of the offense
- Any potential threat to community safety posed by the juvenile
- Adequacy of juvenile court dispositional alternatives
- The juvenile’s potential for rehabilitation in the juvenile system
- Victim impact evidence
- The impact of the offense on the community
- The juvenile’s previous probation records
Juvenile’s Burden of Proof in a Decertification Hearing
In certain cases, the juvenile carries the burden of proof to convince the juvenile court judge that the charges should be resolved in the juvenile court system. The juvenile will bear the burden of proof for transfer of the case to the juvenile court system if the child is charged with committing any of the following enumerated felony offenses:
- Attempted murder
- Voluntary manslaughter
- Involuntary deviate sexual intercourse
- Aggravated assault graded as a 1st degree felony
- Aggravated indecent assault
- Robbery graded as a 1st degree felony
- Robbery of a motor vehicle (carjacking)
- Any conspiracy, attempt or solicitation to commit any of these offenses;
- 14 years of age and used a deadly weapon during the offense; or
- Was 15 years of age and had previously been adjudicated for any offense graded as a felony
Filing the Decertification Petition
In some cases, it may be possible to divert a juvenile direct file case back into the juvenile court system through the filing of a Decertification Petition. At the decertification hearing, evidence will be presented by both the prosecutor and the juvenile’s attorney. The role of the juvenile defense attorney is to present enough evidence to persuade the judge that the juvenile will be receptive or “amenable” to treatment in the juvenile court system.
It is almost always in a juvenile’s best interests to have his or her charges resolved through the juvenile court system. The adult criminal court system is much more focused on punishment, while the juvenile court system has many more specific resources available to assist with a juvenile’s rehabilitation. Juveniles prosecuted through the adult criminal court system may face incarceration in a county jail or state prison instead of placement in a juvenile facility with other juveniles closer to his or her own age.
Use of a Defense Expert in Juvenile Decertification Hearings
Evidence supporting the decertification of the case may include information about the juvenile’s background, character, education, family background and family support. In certain cases, a psychiatric or psychological evaluation can be prepared on behalf of the juvenile, indicating that the juvenile court system will provide the best structure for the child’s treatment, supervision or rehabilitation.
The psychological report will also identify alternative programs and services available through the juvenile court system that will assist with the juvenile’s rehabilitation. I have extensive experience with the juvenile decertification process and procedure. I can develop the most effective defense for your child if he or she is facing a direct file case.
The juvenile court process usually begins when the juvenile is taken into custody after an arrest or after the filing of a petition of delinquency or dependency. In some cases, the juvenile is released to the custody of a family member or guardian. In other cases, the juvenile remains in custody at the county juvenile detention center.
First Appearance in Juvenile Court
A detention hearing must be held within 72 hours after the juvenile has been taken into custody. The juvenile has a right to be represented by a lawyer at the detention hearing. At the detention hearing, the juvenile court judge will decide whether probable cause exists to believe that the juvenile committed a delinquent act. The judge will also determine whether the juvenile should remain in custody or be released to a family member or guardian pending resolution of the case.
The Role of the Juvenile Defense Lawyer at the Detention Hearing
It is important for a child or young adult to have the representation of an experienced juvenile defense attorney during the detention hearing. I can review the legal sufficiency of the charges and make the strongest possible argument for the release of your child from detention to a family member or guardian. The detention of a child at a juvenile facility for even a few days will often have a detrimental impact on his or her educational, medical and psychological needs.
I will fight to prevent your child from facing a prolonged and harmful detention in the juvenile facility. As a skilled juvenile defense attorney, I can advise the court of the court of any important mitigating information in your child’s background relevant to the detention hearing. I can also inform the court of any adverse impact that the detention will have on your child’s educational, psychological or medical needs.
The intake process occurs after a juvenile has been arrested or after the juvenile probation department has received a formal written allegation against the juvenile. In most counties, the juvenile probation officer will conduct an intake interview with the juvenile at the juvenile detention facility if the juvenile remains in custody after an arrest or formal allegation.
Juvenile Intake Procedure in Pennsylvania
The intake process for juveniles who have not been placed in custody often begins with an informal interview of the juvenile by the juvenile probation officer assigned to the case. The child’s parents, guardians and attorney are also usually present for the intake interview. As part of the interview, the juvenile probation officer will gather background information about the juvenile and the juvenile’s family. The juvenile probation officer will also interview the child regarding the circumstances of the allegation. The juvenile probation officer will also interview the juvenile regarding the circumstances of the pending charges.
Preparing for the Intake Interview
I can meet with you and your child to prepare to make the most effective presentation of your child’s background to the probation officer at the intake hearing. Providing the probation officer with positive information about your child’s background and character can often result in more successful resolution of the case. I can also ensure that your child is fully prepared to address any questions that may come up in the interview. At the conclusion of the intake process, the juvenile probation officer will speak to the police, prosecutor and any alleged victims in the case.
Diversionary Programs for Juvenile Cases
The juvenile probation officer will then decide whether the case will be dismissed, diverted to a diversionary program or formally petitioned through juvenile court. At this stage of the proceedings, it is crucial that your child have a strong advocate to present the strongest case against the filing of a delinquency petition by the probation department or prosecutor. I can help guide you and your child through the intake hearing process to ensure the best resolution of the case.
In certain cases, the juvenile probation department, in consultation with the prosecutor, may allow a juvenile to avoid facing the filing of a formal petition for delinquency in court and instead be placed on an informal adjustment. Cases approved for the informal adjustment program will not be referred to the juvenile court system. Under an informal adjustment agreement, the juvenile will be under the supervision of the juvenile probation department for 6 months unless the juvenile court judge extends the length of this supervision.
Conditions of the Informal Adjustment
A juvenile offered who is offered placement on an informal adjustment will often be required to complete community service, abide by curfew regulations, pay court costs, maintain school grades and participate in any mandated substance abuse or psychological counseling. Successful completion of the informal adjustment will result in dismissal of the case. The juvenile probation department’s decision to offer a juvenile an informal adjustment diversion program is made on a case-by-case basis and involves many factors. I am highly experienced in the admission procedures for the informal adjustment program in Bucks County, Montgomery County and the surrounding counties. I can help put your child in the best position for acceptance into the program.
Juveniles who are not eligible to have their cases resolved through the informal adjustment program may be eligible for diversion of their charges through a consent decree. Unlike the informal adjustment program, a consent decree results in the referral of the case to the juvenile court system. The prosecutor and the juvenile court judge must approve a juvenile’s placement on a consent decree.
Consent Decree Conditions
A juvenile approved for placement on a consent decree will have his or her case suspended for 6 months. The juvenile will be placed under the supervision of the probation department for up to 6 months. The probationary period for the consent decree program may be extended for an additional 6 months by the juvenile court. A juvenile accepted into the consent decree program will often be required to complete community service, abide by curfew restrictions, maintain school grades, participate in after-school programs and comply with any mandated substance abuse or psychological treatment programs.
Benefits of Admission into a Consent Decree
A juvenile who successfully completes the requirements of the consent decree program will have the charges related to his or her petition for delinquency dismissed and no further action may be taken related to those charges. The juvenile is eligible to petition the court for the expungement of the records of the case.
Receiving approval for a consent decree diversion in a juvenile case can be a difficult process, even for juveniles who have had no prior contact with the court system. I can help your child or loved one navigate the juvenile court process to ensure that he or she is in the best position to receive approval for placement on a consent decree.
Adjudicatory Hearing in a Juvenile Case
Juvenile cases that do not resolve through an informal adjustment, consent decree or through a formal admission to the charges will proceed to an adjudicatory hearing. An adjudicatory hearing must be scheduled within 10 days of the filing of the delinquency petition unless a continuance is granted by the juvenile court judge for an appropriate legal reason. A juvenile adjudicatory hearing is overseen by a juvenile court judge who determines, after the presentation of evidence, whether the juvenile has committed a delinquent act, which is an act that would be considered a crime if it were committed by an adult.
Prosecutor’s Burden of Proof in a Juvenile Adjudication Hearing
The prosecutor must prove the elements of each alleged crime beyond a reasonable doubt. The Pennsylvania appellate courts have defined a reasonable doubt as doubt that would cause a reasonable person to hesitate in acting on an important matter in his or her own affairs. Children who are found to have committed a delinquent act are not found guilty of a crime but instead are determined to have committed a delinquent act. After a finding of delinquency, a juvenile court judge must make a separate determination as to whether the juvenile is need of treatment, supervision or rehabilitation.
The Importance of a Skilled Juvenile Defense Attorney
It is important that a juvenile be represented by an experienced juvenile defense attorney for the adjudication stage of the case. Having a skilled attorney at your child’s side is especially important in cases where your child has been falsely accused of a crime or in cases where the prosecutor pursues charges without sufficient evidence that a crime has occurred.
Motion to Suppress Evidence in Juvenile Cases
A comprehensive juvenile defense will include a review of whether your child’s constitutional rights were violated at any stage in the case. When necessary, I will file a Motion to Suppress Physical Evidence, a Motion to Suppress Identification or a Motion to Suppress Statements. A juvenile court judge may exclude any evidence obtained by the police in violation of your child’s constitutional rights.
Common Defenses in Juvenile Cases
Depending on the facts of the case, other defenses that may be available to a juvenile include self-defense, defense of others, alibi, mistake of fact or insufficient evidence of criminal conduct. I will fully investigate the facts and circumstances of the case to whether any of these defenses can be established in court to prove that your child did not commit the offenses alleged in the juvenile petition.
Negotiating a Reduction in the Charges
In cases in which a viable defense may not be available, the most beneficial result may be the resolution of the case through a negotiated adjudication and disposition of the charges. A negotiated settlement of the juvenile charges can include a reduction in the number and grading of the charges, an agreement to release the juvenile from custody or an agreement for specified disposition of the case. I can help your child or loved one determine the best strategy to resolve the case and protect his or her future.
A disposition hearing will be scheduled by the juvenile court if the juvenile admits to the offenses in a court hearing or if the juvenile court makes a finding that the juvenile is delinquent after an adjudicatory hearing. The disposition hearing will be held within 20 days of a finding of delinquency by a juvenile court judge if the juvenile is in custody at a juvenile facility or within 60 days if the juvenile is out of custody.
Juvenile Probation Department Disposition Recommendations
After a finding of delinquency by the court, the juvenile probation officer will prepare a background report on your child for the juvenile court judge. The report will include recommendations for any treatment, supervision and rehabilitative services. Some common recommendations for disposition by the juvenile probation department include placement outside the home at a juvenile facility, participation in mental health or drug and alcohol treatment, supervised probation with conditions, community service, payment of court costs and restitution, and participation in after-school educational programs.
Independent Disposition Recommendation
It is extremely important to have any dispositional recommendations reviewed by an experienced juvenile defense attorney. The juvenile court judge is not required to accept the probation department’s dispositional recommendation and more effective, less restrictive alternatives can often be recommended to the court to better serve your child’s needs.
Identifying the Least Restrictive Disposition Alternative
In some cases, it may be in your child’s best interests to consult with a forensic psychologist to review your child’s family and educational background and to conduct an assessment of any existing mental health or substance abuse issues. These experts can often identify local programs and services that serve as alternatives to the probation department’s disposition recommendation.
The forensic psychological expert can prepare a dispositional report on behalf of your child and testify, if necessary, to rebut the dispositional recommendation of the juvenile probation officer. I am very familiar with state and local treatment programs for juveniles facing mental health, substance abuse and other childhood challenges. I can help find the least restrictive and most effective programs for your child.
Juvenile Review Hearings
The juvenile court judge is required to hold dispositional review hearings every 6 months to ensure that the juvenile is receiving the necessary treatment and services and to confirm that the objectives of the disposition are being achieved. The juvenile court may schedule the dispositional review hearings more frequently if the circumstances warrant it. Many issues may arise after a dispositional hearing that can adversely affect a child’s ability to successfully complete a residential placement or supervised probation.
Protecting your Child’s Rights at the Review Hearing
It is important to have a knowledgeable juvenile defense attorney on your child’s side to independently assess your child’s progress after the disposition of the case and to determine whether any less restrictive alternatives to successful completion of the dispositional goals exist. The probation department will often recommend a more severe dispositional alternative to the juvenile court judge at the review hearing if is alleged that the juvenile has violated the conditions of probation or been discharged from a treatment or placement facility for misconduct.
Challenging the Juvenile Probation Department’s Recommendation
Unfortunately, the juvenile court judge will often only hear one side of the story when the probation officer alleges that the juvenile violated his or her probation or other conditions of the disposition. It is important that you have an experienced juvenile defense attorney acting on your child’s behalf to thoroughly investigate the allegations, and when necessary, contest the circumstances of any probation violation, misconduct or other adverse information presented to the juvenile court judge at the review hearing.
The existence of a juvenile record can negatively affect a juvenile’s educational and employment prospects even after the juvenile is no longer under supervision and the juvenile probation department has closed the case. It is important to determine whether your child is eligible for a juvenile expungement of his or her charges. A juvenile expungement, if granted by the court, will result in the destruction of the records of your child’s apprehension, arrest, detention and disposition of the juvenile case.
Juvenile Expungement Eligibility
Certain juvenile offenses are eligible for expungement if the charges were withdrawn or dismissed or if the juvenile was found not delinquent of the charge after and adjudicatory hearing. A juvenile may be eligible for expungement if 6 months have passed since the successful completion of a consent decree and no criminal or juvenile charges are pending. The law also allows for the expungement of certain juvenile records if 5 years have passed since the juvenile has been discharged from placement or probation and the juvenile has not been arrested, convicted or adjudicated of any new offenses.
The Juvenile Expungement Process in Pennsylvania
The juvenile expungement process begins with the filing of the expungement petition, which must include specific information related to the juvenile petitioner and the juvenile case for which the juvenile is seeking expungement. An evidentiary hearing may be required in cases in which the prosecutor objects to the expungement of the juvenile records.
The Role of the Juvenile Defense Lawyer in the Expungement Process
In cases involving a contested expungement request, it is important to have an experienced juvenile defense attorney to present the strongest evidence and argument on behalf of your child. I have often been able to convince the court to grant the expungement request by establishing the detrimental effect the existence of the juvenile record will have on your child’s personal and professional prospects. I am highly knowledgeable in Pennsylvania’s juvenile expungement law. I can guide you and your child through the expungement application process.
Start with a Strong Defense
If your child or loved one is facing juvenile charges in Bucks County, Montgomery County or the surrounding counties, it is critical that you act quickly to protect his or her future and build the strongest possible defense against the charges. Phone lines are open 24 hours a day at (215) 752-5282. Call today for a free initial consultation or fill out the confidential contact form for an immediate response.