Having a child or loved one facing charges in the Pennsylvania 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 their future. Understandably, you may worry about the effect the juvenile charges will have on your child’s future. With so much at stake, it is crucial to hire an experienced PA juvenile defense lawyer.
Unfortunately, a juvenile record can permanently damage a teenager’s financial, educational, personal, and professional opportunities for a lifetime. I will guide you and your child through the complex juvenile court process while working to achieve a result that protects your child’s future. Furthermore, I have a thorough understanding of the Pennsylvania Juvenile Act and all Pennsylvania Juvenile Court Procedures.
Get Help From an Experienced PA Juvenile Lawyer
I have a proven record of successfully defending individuals in the juvenile courts in Bucks County, Montgomery County, and the neighboring Pennsylvania 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 during business hours, after business hours, and on weekends.
What is the Juvenile Court 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.
In Pennsylvania, the juvenile court system addresses offenses committed by children and young adults between the ages of 10 and 18. However, in some instances, a juvenile can be required to remain under juvenile supervision until they reach the age of 21.
What is the Main Purpose of Juvenile Court?
Unlike the adult criminal court system, the Pennsylvania juvenile courts focus primarily on rehabilitating the juvenile offender. For this reason, the juvenile court officers can provide a variety of valuable services to youthful offenders, including:
- Specialized mental health treatment
- Drug and alcohol counseling
- After-school programs
- Youthful Offender Wilderness Program (Bucks County Juvenile Probation)
- Life skills training
- Conflict resolution counseling
What are the Consequences of a Juvenile Record?
Unfortunately, many serious consequences can result if a juvenile court judge determines that your child committed a delinquent act. Depending on the circumstances of the case, these consequences may include:
- Difficulty getting hired for certain jobs
- Placement on a law enforcement DNA database
- Loss of driving privileges
- Mandatory disclosure of a juvenile record on college applications
In most cases, a skilled juvenile court lawyer can help your child avoid these results.
How Does a Pennsylvania Juvenile Case Begin?
A Pennsylvania juvenile case is typically initiated under the following circumstances:
- The police arrest a child for a delinquent act or:
- The Juvenile Probation Department receives a referral from the police
After an arrest or referral, the juvenile probation officer or prosecutor will file a Petition for Delinquency with the juvenile court. The juvenile petition will list the date and time of the alleged offense, as well as a certification by the probation officer or district attorney that the juvenile needs treatment, supervision, or rehabilitation.
What is a Juvenile Detention Hearing?
In Pennsylvania, the detention hearing is the first court hearing in a juvenile case. A detention hearing only occurs in cases where the child has been placed in custody after the charges have been filed. Under the PA Juvenile Act, the detention hearing must occur within 72 hours after the juvenile is detained.
What Does the Judge Decide at the Detention Hearing?
At the detention hearing, the juvenile court judge decides whether the child is released from custody and if so, under what conditions. A judge will consider the following factors in deciding whether a child will be released from a juvenile detention facility:
- How serious are the charges filed against the juvenile
- Is the juvenile a danger to the community
- Is home detention with electronic monitoring an option for release?
- Are family members willing to supervise the child if released?
What is the Role of the Juvenile Defense Attorney at the Detention Hearing?
The detention of a child in a juvenile center for even a few days can result in severe stress and other psychological trauma. Prolonged placement in a juvenile facility can also interfere with a child’s ability to successfully continue with schooling, employment and other critical outside activities.
As a result, it is essential to have knowledgeable juvenile defense lawyer present to advocate for your child at the detention hearing. I will ensure that the juvenile court judge is aware of your child’s good character, community support, alternatives to detention, and other important mitigating evidence.
What is the Juvenile Intake Process?
In most Pennsylvania Counties, the intake procedure begins after the police arrest a juvenile or after the police file a formal allegation against the child. A juvenile probation officer will conduct an intake interview to gather background information about the minor and the circumstances of the case. In most situations, a lawyer should be present during the intake interview if the child is discussing the charges.
After the intake process, the probation officer will decide whether to place the juvenile’s case into a first-offender diversion program or if the case proceeds to an adjudicatory hearing.
What Types of First-Offender Programs are Available for Juveniles?
Many juvenile cases will qualify for admission into a first-offender program. When completed, these programs will give a child the opportunity to have the charges dismissed and expunged from their record. I can explain the eligibility requirements for juvenile diversion in Pennsylvania.
The informal adjustment juvenile diversion program is offered to juveniles charged with certain lower level offenses. Most juvenile probation departments will offer an informal adjustment diversion in cases involving possession of marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia and retail theft. The district attorney must approve a juvenile’s placement in the informal adjustment diversionary program.
What are the Conditions a Juvenile Informal Adjustment
The conditions of a juvenile informal adjustment diversion may vary depending on the facts of the case. The most common conditions include:
- 6 months probation
- Completion of community service
- Payment of court costs
- Night time curfew
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.