The juvenile justice system in Pennsylvania is in many ways similar to the adult criminal justice system. There are, however, several key differences that the parents or guardians of a child accused of a crime should be aware of.
The Pennsylvania Juvenile Act mandates that every county’s juvenile justice system provide balanced attention to the protection of the community, the imposition of accountability for offenses committed and the development of competencies to enable children to become responsible and productive members of the community. Several county agencies including the court, the district attorney’s office, children and youth services and juvenile probation work collaboratively to achieve these goals. As a former juvenile prosecutor I would often explain this principle as, “We want to help the child now, so they don’t become frequent customers of the district attorney’s office as an adult.” However, this process is still fundamentally adversarial and it is critical that your child be represented by an experienced attorney who will safeguard their liberty and their criminal record.
Many people operate on the incorrect assumption that any charges that a minor is adjudicated of will magically disappear once the child turns 18. This is far from the case. In particular, any felony adjudications which occur from age 14 on will follow the child into their adult life. In addition, there are categories of serious crimes according to the Juvenile Act that will be “direct-filed” by the police charging the child as an adult rather than a juvenile. Further, if your child is over 14, has been charged with a felony and the court finds that it is in the public interest to do so, the case may be “transferred” to the adult system. Under either circumstance, if the child is subsequently convicted as an adult, those charges will remain on their record.
The Juvenile Act provides for programs such as “Informal Adjustment” and “Consent Decree Probation” which generally would require the child to be supervised for a time, pay fines costs and any restitution and complete some amount of community service. If a child is deemed eligible for one of these programs, and successfully completes it, the case is closed without and adjudication on their record.
Children who are accused of a crime enjoy more robust procedural protections than adults. For example when in custody and subject to questioning by the police, not only does the child enjoy the same right to remain silent but the child also has a right to “quiet time” to discuss whether or not to waive their right to remain silent with their parents, attorney or other interested adult prior to such a waiver. In addition, to further protect the interest of the child, the juvenile justice system moves MUCH faster than the adult system. It is therefore imperative to move quickly to find an attorney to protect your child’s liberty and their criminal record.
Whether your child has been charged with shoplifting a candy bar, a fight in school or something much more serious, having an experienced attorney on your side is critical to your ability to defend your child against the government’s allegations. I have the knowledge and experience to help you achieve the best possible results. Call 412-238-4050 or click here to schedule a free consultation and we can discuss the specific circumstances of your case. I offer flexible office hours, including evenings to work around your schedule. I look forward to meeting you and discussing with you how I can help.