The juvenile justice system is an intricate and misunderstood sector of the criminal justice system. Its goal to rehabilitate and restore minors from delinquency leaves room for a broad range of repercussions to be imposed upon juveniles in the accomplishment of this goal. Despite the contrasting objectives both the adult system and the juvenile system have set, they still bear some resemblances. Among these similarities is the imposition of a probation sentence.
Probation is imposed upon juveniles, between the ages of 10-17 years old, who are referred by law enforcement, agencies, or private citizens as a consequence of committing a misdemeanor of felony crimes. The supervision of a probation officer is commonly ordered for a juvenile who commits a crime, rather than a sentence entailing some form of confinement - group home, a detention center, ranch etc. Although probation is perceived as a “grace” sentence in the eyes of the courts, it has proven to difficult for some minors to complete.
For many juveniles, committing a violation is not farfetched. Many children fail on probation because the court-ordered conditions that are required to abide by for success are oftentimes reported to be too burdensome or onerous to fulfill. This failure to complete probation will expose kids to stricter conditions or lead to the revocation of their sentence and the reinstatement of an alternative (harsher) sentence.
If you or your child have been accused of a probation violation, your first step would be to retain a criminal defense attorney. A skilled legal professional can negotiate with authorities, and help determine the most suitable course of action for you. Your next step would be to gain an understanding of how the juvenile court system functions, and the potential repercussions that could be imposed if this violation is authorized. For the purposes of this article, I will provide an overview of the (1) juvenile probation terms commonly imposed upon the youth, (2) the process for determining a violation and the (3) consequences of a violation.
Juvenile Probation Conditions
Much like adult probation, juveniles are ordered by the court to consistently adhere to a number of conditions to complete their sentence. However, contrary to the adult probation regulations, there is no set minimum or maximum amount of time that a child can be on formal probation. A child may only be released at the discretion of a judge. During a child's indefinite period, he or she will be assigned to a probation officer, whose primary duty is to ensure the child abides by these terms, receives additional court-ordered services, and is active in their employment and in the community. Here are a few general examples of terms minors are expected to follow while on probation:
- Attend periodic meetings with a probation officer
- Obey curfew
- Submit substance or alcohol tests
- Avoid breaking the law
- Maintain employment or attendance at school
- Attend recommended court ordered and probation programs
- Avoid certain acquaintances and friends (in cases involving gang activity)
- Avoid wearing certain colors ( in cases involving gang activity), etc.
The terms of probation will vary for minors in relation to the nature of their cases that brought them before court and individualized circumstances. A minor arrested for the possession of a controlled substance and has a history of drug abuse, for example, may be required to attend substance abuse classes or be subject to drug testing. A minor who admitting to committing assault, on the other hand, may be required to attend an anger management class.
Process for Determining a Probation Violation
If a probation officer believes that a juvenile has violated probation, he or she will file said violation with the court. Upon receipt of this filing, the court will schedule and hold a violation of probation (VOP) meeting. In this meeting, the judge will make a decision of whether or not there was an actual violation, and whether to validate the inclination of a probation officer to change a child's probation status to a release to juvenile hall, a ranch camp program, and any other form of confinement.
An evidence standard, known as the “preponderance of evidence” will be used to establish this determination - a much lower standard than “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which is used during an initial adjudication. When using the preponderance of evidence standard, a judge must only find that the minor more likely than not violated probation. In other words, if a judge believes that there is at least a 51% likelihood a minor did violate their probation, there will be repercussions.
Consequences for Violating Probation
Violation of probation orders can have a detrimental impact on youth tied up in the delinquency system. The list of standard probation terms and the stern requirements to attend a plethora of meetings and programs aren't varied enough to properly meet the needs and challenges of many children. The reality is, the majority of children on probation are not fully cognitively developed, meaning that they don't have a sense of accountability, or don't understand the gravity of such a sentence. The court's expectations may be exceeding some children's capabilities. As a result of a probation violation, a minor may face the following consequences:
- Community service
- Order to attend additional court-ordered programs
- Drug and alcohol treatment
- A warning from a probation officer
- Electronic monitoring program (ankle bracelet)
- Juvenile delinquency center confinement
- Order to attend a ranch/camp program
- Order to a group home etc.
The severity of a consequence for a violation of probation will depend on how a minor's probation was violated. If a minor fails to attend a few meetings with a probation officer, he or she may just be subject to extra community service hours. However, if the minor acquires new charges, he or she might have to do time in confinement.
Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Attorney
An alleged probation violation exposes your child to harsh penalties that will go on his or her record. With the help of a skilled attorney, the evidence used to validate a violation can be negated by challenging every allegation and by pointing out probation failures that occurred in the context of your individual child's circumstances. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has over 15 years of experience advocating for juvenile probationers across the state. For more information, or for solid representation, contact him today at 215-535-5353.