The State of Pennsylvania takes domestic violence crimes seriously, and a criminal conviction can result in significant penalties. But what if the person accused is a minor? For example, what happens if a teenager gets in a fight with a boyfriend/girlfriend or allegedly assaults a parent or relative? How does the justice process work when the defendant is a juvenile?
If you're a minor (between the ages of 10-18) and you're charged with domestic violence--or if you're the parent of a minor who is so accused--you may be filled with apprehension about what to expect. What disciplinary action is possible? What will this do to your/their future?
Juvenile Domestic Violence Defense Attorney in Pennsylvania
The juvenile justice system in Pennsylvania works differently than the criminal justice system for adults, and to achieve the best outcome for your child, you need an experienced Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney to help you navigate the process and ensure your child's rights are protected. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has extensive experience both with domestic violence cases and criminal charges against juveniles, and he will work to achieve the best possible resolution for these charges. To schedule a consultation, call 888-535-3686.
Overview of Pennsylvania's Juvenile Justice System
The juvenile process of justice in Pennsylvania is different than the adult one. The focus of the juvenile court system is on rehabilitation, while in the adult court system, it's primarily about punishment. Even the terminology is different between juvenile and adult courts. For example:
- Violations of the law are called "delinquent acts" rather than "crimes"
- Accused juveniles don't go to "trial" but rather to an "adjudication hearing"
- Juveniles aren't "found guilty" but rather "adjudicated delinquent"
- "Sentences" are called "dispositions," and penalties are determined at a "disposition hearing" rather than a "sentencing"
In addition, juveniles are not tried by a jury--instead, the judge hears the evidence and determines whether to adjudicate the defendant as delinquent and, if so, what the appropriate penalty should be. In most cases, juveniles are not sent to jail--they are placed on some sort of juvenile probation. They are only sent to a juvenile detention facility if the judge deems it absolutely necessary.
Juvenile Domestic Violence Cases
In Pennsylvania, domestic violence is not identified as a specific crime, but rather it is defined by the relationship of the offender to the accuser (e.g., spouse, dating partner, co-habitant, live-in family member). The same is true in juvenile cases. So, if a juvenile commits an assault against a family member (the most common type of domestic violence), they will be charged with assault. The main differentiator in a domestic violence case is that the judge will take into consideration the future safety of the victim when determining the penalty, including possible Stay Away Orders that prohibit the defendant from making contact with the victim.
Penalties for Juvenile Domestic Violence
In most cases, when a juvenile defendant is adjudicated delinquent for domestic violence, the judge will prescribe juvenile probation, avoiding juvenile detention whenever possible. The conditions of probation will vary depending on the severity of the offense and the offender's criminal history, but they may include:
- Required counseling or therapy
- Prohibited contact with the victim (including a Stay Away Order)
- Community service
- Random drug testing
- Restrictions on driver's license
- Regular check-ins with a probation officer
- Restitution to the victim
In more severe cases, the judge may impose house arrest on a juvenile, possibly including a GPS ankle bracelet. The judge may also opt to send the defendant to juvenile detention for a time.
Alternative Remedies for Juveniles
Juveniles who are facing domestic violence charges may have other alternatives in Pennsylvania that may help them avoid being adjudicated delinquent and/or going to a juvenile detention facility. These may include:
- Pre-Trial Diversionary Programs. If a juvenile qualifies for one of these programs and fulfills the conditions required (typically including counseling and community service), they may have a deferred adjudication and avoid generating a criminal record. Eligibility may be limited in domestic violence cases because preference is made for non-violent offenders, but it is an option worth exploring with an attorney.
- Consent Decree. If a juvenile is adjudicated delinquent for a more serious offense, the juvenile may be able to avoid going to a juvenile detention center via a consent decree--an agreement among all parties involved that the child will be sent home under strict supervision and fulfill certain requirements prescribed by the probation officer.
Can a Juvenile Be Tried as an Adult for Domestic Violence Crimes?
Yes. If the juvenile is charged with a serious felony offense (for example, inflicting severe injury, aggravated assault, or use of a deadly weapon), the prosecutor may file a motion to have the case transferred to adult criminal court. The judge will hold a hearing to determine whether there are grounds for the transfer and, if so, whether it is in the best interest of society. If the judge grants the transfer, then the juvenile will be tried as an adult and will face the same penalties as an adult offender if convicted.
Having a juvenile tried as an adult is an outcome that both the defendant and the parents wish to avoid if at all possible. Adult sentencing for violent crimes can involve lengthy prison sentences. In Pennsylvania, a life sentence does not include the possibility of parole, and while there have been conflicting court decisions at both the federal and state levels as to whether it is constitutional to sentence a juvenile to life without the possibility of parole, at the time of this writing, there are no safeguards in Pennsylvania to prevent this outcome. In cases like these, the juvenile's best defense against life imprisonment is to have an experienced attorney fighting for their rights in court.
Experienced Domestic Violence Defense Attorney for Juveniles
A juvenile facing charges related to domestic violence in Pennsylvania faces an uncertain future. The best hope for leniency and a favorable outcome is to hire an attorney like Joseph D. Lento, one who has experience with the juvenile justice system and domestic violence cases. Call the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686 to schedule a consultation.