When Can Minors Be Charged as Adults Under Pennsylvania Law?

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Nov 20, 2021 | 0 Comments

In September 2021, four Pennsylvania teens were arrested and face criminal charges after police discovered they were plotting an attack on their school to mark the 25th anniversary of the Massacre at Columbine High School. The group, calling themselves “Natural Born Killers,” planned to attack Dunmore High School with guns and bombs. They also called “dibs” on targeting specific people, including the principal.

Police charged two teens as juveniles but charged the other two as adults. The two teens charged as adults, a 15-year-old boy and girl, were brought up on multiple charges, including aggravated assault, possession of explosive material charges, and weapons of mass destruction. In addition, the girl was charged with “risking catastrophe” because the explosive devices she housed posed a threat to family members and neighbors.

Let's take a look at why this teen received these particular charges.

What is Risking Catastrophe?

Under Pennsylvania law 3302, “risking catastrophe” occurs when a person “recklessly creates a risk of catastrophe in the employment of fire, explosives or other dangerous means.” It is a third-degree felony, carrying a penalty of up to seven years in prison and $15,000 in fines.

A judge or jury can only convict a person of risking catastrophe if the prosecution proves the defendant's intent, knowledge, or recklessness. If there is no evidence that the defendant intended or was aware that their actions were creating a risk of a catastrophe, or did not act recklessly, then they should not be convicted.

For example, a person who accidentally causes a major fire when cooking over an outdoor fire pit in their yard is unlikely to be found guilty of risking a catastrophe if they took reasonable precautions against the fire escaping and spreading. However, if the person behaves recklessly by, let's say, pouring gasoline on the fire pit, they may be found guilty of this crime, even if an actual catastrophe never occurred.

Why Can Teens Be Charged as Adults?

In Pennsylvania, a minor's criminal charge may be transferred to adult criminal court if it believes the public interest would be better served. Courts may use either a Discretionary or Presumptive Waiver to transfer the case.

Prosecutors may seek a Discretionary Waiver if the child is at least 14 years old and is charged with a felony. However, the transfer will only be successful if they first prove that the child cannot benefit from treatment or supervision and is not able to be rehabilitated.

The court can transfer the youth to adult court via a Presumptive Waiver if they are over 14 years old and use a deadly weapon while committing a felony. If the child is at least 15 years old and commits a serious offense such as rape or assault or already has a felony on their record, the court presumes that charging them as an adult would best serve the public interest.

If a child age ten or older is charged with murder, they will automatically be charged as an adult.

Help for Your Minor Child Fight a Criminal Charge

If your child has been charged with “risking catastrophe” or is being charged as an adult for any criminal offense, you must find an experienced defense lawyer who will fiercely fight for your child's rights. Reach out to attorney Joseph D. Lento and his team at the Lento Law Firm to learn more about how they can help your child. Schedule a case consultation by calling 888-535-3686 or by reaching out via the Firm's online form.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento passionately fights for the futures of his clients in criminal courtrooms in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania as well as in New Jersey and nationwide. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. With unparalleled experience occupying several roles in the criminal justice system outside of being an attorney, Joseph D. Lento can give you valuable behind-the-scenes insight as to what is happening during all phases of the legal process. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide. In the courtroom and in life, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands up when the bell rings!


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Attorney Joseph D. Lento has more than a decade of experience successfully resolving clients' criminal charges in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania counties. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you or a loved one, contact the Lento Law Firm today! Criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento will go above and beyond the needs of any client, and will fight until the final bell rings.

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