The police arrested your child for a crime. Now what? As a parent, a juvenile crime can quickly flip your world upside down. Juvenile crimes carry a wide range of consequences that can follow children well into adulthood. In Pennsylvania, the stakes are especially high for minors charged with violating the law. Juvenile offenders face probation, fines, and time in juvenile detention centers or residential treatment facilities. Even worse, the court can charge minors under 18 with criminal charges and sentence them to prison.
If the police charge your child with committing a crime, you likely have many questions about the legal process. Many parents are unfamiliar with the juvenile court system and their constitutional rights. An experienced attorney can help you fight for your child's freedom and get their life back on track. Here's what you need to know about juvenile crimes in Pennsylvania and how an attorney can assist you.
What Are the Most Common Juvenile Crimes?
Although there are many types of juvenile crimes, some offenses are much more common than others. Statistics gathered by the United States Department of Justice determined the top crimes and violations referred to youth court. The most common juvenile crimes are as follows:
- Alcohol Offenses
- Disorderly Conduct
- Simple Assault or Battery
- Marijuana Possession
- Tobacco Offenses
- Curfew Violations
- School Disciplinary Offenses
- Traffic Violations
- Criminal Trespassing
- Criminal Nuisance/Mischief
- Drug Paraphernalia Possession
- False Reporting
- Possession of Stolen Property
- Possession of a Weapon
- Reckless Endangerment
- Resisting an Officer without Violence
- Unauthorized use of a Motor Vehicle
Pennsylvania experienced 22,724 delinquency-related allegations in 2019. The most common youth crimes in the state were non-payment of fines, theft-related offenses, simple assault, and possession of drugs. Many of these offenses resulted in minor punishments. However, the consequences are more severe for violent or sexual crimes.
How Is Pennsylvania's Juvenile Court System Different From the Adult System?
The juvenile and adult court systems follow very different protocols in Pennsylvania. Adults in the criminal court system typically face much more serious consequences than children. Teenagers do not usually face a criminal conviction for a first-time offense. Minors enter the court system through a delinquency petition rather than through criminal charges.
When an officer arrests a minor, they typically take them to a juvenile probation office for intake. The officer will determine whether your child will face a judge for review. Minors are not usually detained in a detention center unless they are arrested for a violent offense or have previous charges. There is also no bail for minors in the Pennsylvania juvenile court system.
Pennsylvania Code Title 237 establishes the guidelines for juvenile court. A law enforcement officer begins proceedings by bringing a written allegation of juvenile delinquency to the court. Once the document is submitted, a judge will review the evidence in court. Minors can either go to trial or enter an admission of guilt, which is similar to a plea agreement. If the judge determines they are guilty, they will name the child delinquent and move them to a disposition hearing. A disposition hearing determines the consequences for children adjudicated guilty of a criminal offense.
In Pennsylvania, minors 10 years of age or older may be adjudicated guilty of a delinquent act. Children and teens will not typically receive jail time or a mark on their permanent record for misdemeanor offenses. However, it's still important to take juvenile delinquency seriously. The court may place teenagers in diversionary programs, and they will strictly enforce these rules. The court can also charge teenagers as adults for some felonies.
What Are the Consequences of a Juvenile Conviction?
There are many different consequences for minors that violate the law. Since juvenile courts have such a wide range of punishments, it can be hard to know what to expect for your child.
The disposition order will outline the punishment for children adjudicated as delinquent. These punishments fall into two major categories: incarceration and non-incarceration. Incarceration orders mean that your child must spend time in a juvenile detention center.
Although the prospect of incarceration is intimidating, it is not a common penalty for juvenile delinquency. A more common result is the judge placing your child in a juvenile diversion program. A diversion program offers children the chance to have their criminal record expunged. To remove the charge from their criminal record, your child must meet all requirements set forth by the court.
Common penalties include:
- Counseling sessions
- Community service
- Drug tests
- Loss of driving privileges
- Electronic monitoring
Incarceration is a more severe punishment. If a judge mandates incarceration, it doesn't mean that they must go to prison. Here are some of the different incarceration methods for juveniles in Pennsylvania:
- House arrest
- Juvenile detention centers
- Secured juvenile facilities such as a residential treatment facility where juvenile offenders would go to school and would be otherwise attended (these programs are often utilized by the Courts to address more serious concerns involving juveniles either at the time of the case disposition or if the juvenile's adjustment while on probation is unsatisfactory)
- County jail
- State prison
The length and method of incarceration depend on the crime and the facts of the case.
What is Probation?
Probation represents the majority of outcomes in the juvenile justice system. Approximately 57 percent of adjudicated youth in the U.S. are on probation. Probation is a form of supervision that requires juveniles to comply with court orders. Probation helps hold minors accountable for their actions without the need for incarceration.
Pennsylvania minors can serve probation in many ways. The court might require them to attend community service, go to counseling sessions, abide by curfew orders, meet school attendance requirements, and more. Juveniles on probation must carry out the conditions imposed by the judge. Failing to meet probation requirements can lead to harsher penalties, such as incarceration.
If a judge puts your child on probation, there are a few things you can do to help. For one, it's important to facilitate meetings with the probation officer. You can discuss the probation terms with the officer to make sure your child is meeting the guidelines. You are also encouraged to attend probation meetings. By attending these meetings, you can help your child fulfill the conditions of their probation. You can also alert the probation officer of any troubling behavior before it becomes a larger issue.
Can My Child Be Charged as an Adult?
Although many juvenile convictions get expunged, others carry more serious consequences. Minors can still face criminal charges in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania statute Title 42 outlines the ways the court can prosecute minors as adults.
The court can issue a discretional or presumptive waiver that tries children as adults. This waiver may only be issued after a hearing that finds there is “reasonable grounds to believe the public interest is served by the transfer of the case for criminal prosecution.” The delinquent child must be 14 or more years of age, accused of a felony, and the court must find the public interest is better protected by moving the case to the adult court system.
The court can also issue a statutory exclusion to charge a minor as an adult for serious crimes, such as murder. Any child already found guilty in criminal proceedings cannot have a case transferred back to juvenile court. If the court previously charged your child as an adult, they will charge them as an adult in the future. This rule applies even if they are under 18.
Teenagers that receive felony convictions face collateral consequences for the rest of their lives. A felony criminal record can make it hard to gain acceptance to college, find employment, rent or buy a home, and obtain professional licenses. If your child faces criminal charges, it's imperative to speak with a defense attorney right away. An attorney can prepare a defense and fight back against these charges.
What Are My Child's Rights in Pennsylvania?
Many parents fail to recognize their rights and the rights of their children in juvenile court. By understanding your rights, you can identify any issues in your child's case. You can also push back against any infringement of rights that might impact the outcome. An attorney will help you understand the ins and outs of Pennsylvania's juvenile court system.
Pennsylvania provides minors in juvenile court the right to counsel at all stages of the proceedings. The youth must be informed of their right counsel to prepare for disposition hearings. According to statute Title 42, the court must appoint counsel for the juvenile before the hearing if they are without counsel. An attorney must represent a minor until the court makes a final judgment. The judgment also includes any potential appeals or reviews that occur after the initial outcome.
Although Pennsylvania law reserves juvenile court for minors under the age of 18, there is an exception. An adult up to age 21 can still use a juvenile court for offenses that allegedly occurred before they turned 18.
What Rights Do Parents Have in Juvenile Arrests?
There's no denying that juvenile arrests can be a tumultuous experience. The hours, days, and weeks following your child's arrest can be a very uncertain time.
Thankfully, the United States Department of Justice requires officers to notify a minor's parents, guardian, or custodian of their arrest. The arresting officers must disclose the nature of the alleged offense as well as the rights of the child. The officer must notify the parents after they place the juvenile in custody. If police detain your child, there are some key things you should know. A judge must hold a hearing within three days. The court must notify you, your child, and your attorney about the details and purpose of the hearing.
There is also no law the requires parents to be present during formal questioning. During police questioning, minors do have the right to an attorney. It's crucial to get an attorney involved right away. Many teenagers accidentally incriminate themselves during interviews. Revealing too much information to police can have negative ramifications for your child. You don't want to fight an uphill legal battle. An attorney can help facilitate conversations between police and prevent any damaging information from coming to light.
How Can an Attorney Help?
Unfortunately, many parents make devastating mistakes when their children enter the juvenile court system. They may push their children to submit to police questioning or to admit guilt in court. As a parent of a child charged with juvenile crimes, it's critical to seek out an attorney. An experienced attorney can guide you through this process and advocate on your child's behalf.
Attorneys have specialized legal knowledge. Their experience and insights can help you navigate the often confusing nature of the juvenile court system. Juvenile delinquency laws are complex. A lawyer will use specialized knowledge to advocate on your child's behalf. Their experience can prove valuable and may help your child avoid a life-changing conviction.
An attorney can review the evidence and prepare a defense for your child. Not only can they represent minors in court, but they can also negotiate with the prosecution to reduce the charges. They may be able to help your child avoid incarceration or adult criminal charges. By working with an attorney, you can get the best opportunity for a charge reduction or placement into a diversion program.
During each stage of the case, a defense attorney will represent your child's best interests. A defense attorney will advise your child and help them make informed decisions during their case. They can guide your child every step of the way during this confusing and tumultuous time.
Don't let a teenage mistake be a black mark on your child's record. By using an attorney, you will get the representation necessary to fight for your child's rights. An attorney can help you create a bright future for your child.
Joseph D. Lento - Among the Most Experienced Juvenile Defense Attorneys in the Nation
Joseph D. Lento is here to help. Joseph Lento has many years of experience fighting on behalf of teenagers and young adults. He has the legal know-how to defend against criminal charges and unfair outcomes. He also worked as a juvenile probation officer in one of the nation's highest-stakes court systems while going to law school at night so he has unparalleled experience and understanding of the Pennsylvania juvenile justice system.
If your child faces juvenile delinquency charges, contact the attorneys at the Lento Law Firm. Joseph D. Lento and his team of attorneys will work tirelessly to represent your child. Call 888-535-3686 to get schedule a consultation and get started today.