Despite the state of Pennsylvania's efforts to minimize the accessibility of illegal drugs, the conviction of their use, sale, and possession has traversed several realms of the criminal justice system. Among the segments affected is the juvenile justice system. The disproportionate rates of drug convictions juxtaposed with other crimes amid minors is a direct consequence of both the young's proneness to exploration and, as indicated above, how easy drugs are to obtain.
Unlike the criminal justice system, drug offenses are mitigated less formally for juveniles. And although some may argue that judges may offer a higher degree of leniency in cases involving minors, the results are varied depending on the circumstances. Since drug cases are still perceived as a serious crime regardless of the age of the alleged perpetrator, a conviction will still warrant significant penalties imposed by the juvenile courts. By consideration of a minor's prior criminal and drug history, nature of the crime, and its degree of severity, the state allows drug cases to be judicially waived to adult courts. A drastic measure for a non-violent offense that dishearteningly, will adversely affect the lives of minors who are involved.
The legal and collateral consequences of a juvenile drug offense are detrimental. If you or your child has been charged with said crime, your first step should be to consult with a criminal defense attorney. A legal professional who is well-versed in the intricacies of the distinguished juvenile criminal system will be able to reduce your sentence, offer alternative solutions, or get you or your child's case dismissed altogether. Your next step would be to gain an all-inclusive understanding of the state's laws and penalties relating to these juvenile charges.
Pennsylvania Juvenile Drug Charges
Similar to adults, there is a wide range of potential actions that may constitute drug crimes. The following crimes are heavily prosecuted amongst minors:
- Possession of illegal drugs: the possession of controlled substance, drugs governed by the government, is against the law. Minors who've been caught with substances like marijuana, cocaine, LSD, opium, methamphetamine, ecstasy, and other drugs will be subject to a possession conviction.
- The illegal possession of a prescription drug: the rates of prescription drug use and possession has skyrocketed for all demographics of users, including those under the age of 18. When prescription drugs such as Xanax, Valium, Percocet, Vicodin, Adderall and more are confiscated from the possession of minors without an authorized prescription, they will be charged with the illegal possession of a prescription drug.
- Possession of drug paraphernalia: Pennsylvania also criminalizes the possession of materials or objects used for, or intended to be used for the purposes of selling, distributing, or using drugs. Being caught with items like needles, packages, weights, multiple cellular devices etc. will likely be subject to drug paraphernalia charges.
- Possession with the intent to deliver (PWID): Possessing drug paraphernalia will supplement PWID charges. The presence of drug paraphernalia among other factors will be assessed by courts to determine if a juvenile intended to deliver or sell the drugs in their possession.
Actual vs. Constructive Possession
Misinformation about what “possession” entails oftentimes tricks juveniles and adults alike into thinking that they can't be convicted of a drug possession offense. Possession takes on several forms that extend outside of merely being arrested for having a gram of marijuana in your pocket. Law enforcement takes into account and enforces both actual and constructive possession.
Actual possession, the most straightforward type of possession, is established when drugs are confiscated from your physical body. The above example of being arrested for having a gram of marijuana in your pocket would constitute as an actual possession. The establishment of a constructive possession, on the other hand, is made when drugs are discovered in a place that a defendant in question has control over. If law enforcement was to find drugs stashed in your mattress, or in your car, this would be considered a constructive possession.
When a minor is charged with a juvenile drug possession violation, they will undoubtedly face potentially serious legal ramifications. However, how this crime is mitigated for juveniles is vastly distinctive from adult criminal processes. The crime, in essence, is the same, but its management will be unrecognizable to that of the adult criminal justice system. Minors are offered a consideration of leniency when in violation, allowing judges to impose a diversified array of penalties.
Similar to adult probation, juveniles subject to this court order will have to abide by specific terms complete their sentence. Juvenile probation orders usually consist of getting more involved in their community or maintaining good attendance at school. If a minor is old enough, the courts may find it necessary to urge them to get a job to help them stay out of trouble. Probation typically lasts a duration of six months, however, depending on the circumstances of a case, this timeframe may be extended.
The juvenile court system's primary function is to attempt to rehabilitate minors from bad behaviors. With that in mind, a popular option in juvenile drug cases is to order minors, and his or hers parents to drug counseling if necessary.
Commonly referred to as informal probation, diversion obliges juvenile offenders to comply with specific regulations. However, its distinction from probation is the missing necessity of going to court. Upon the completion of a diversion program, charges are essentially dismissed.
If all else fails, or in cases with certain circumstances, a juvenile court may impose a detention penalty. Although most people perceive detention as being locked in a dark room resembles a jail cell, there other forms of detention that are less harsh. These variations include home confinement, placement into a juvenile home, placement into a foster home, and more.
Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Attorney
The accompaniment of collateral consequences for a juvenile violation will have a monumental and adverse impact on the life of a minor. Employment opportunities, acceptance into college, and other exciting aspects of life that juveniles should be looking forward to are tarnished by the existence of a criminal record. Young people deserve to get a fair shot at success without a drug offense looming over their heads. Joseph D. Lento has over 15 years of experience advocating for juvenile clients who've acquired drug offenses, and he's helped many of them avoid the daunting and restrictive reality of creating a criminal record. If you or your child has been charged with a drug offense, immediately contact him today for a consultation.