Juvenile Offenses

One of the most upsetting things that can happen to a parent is learning that their child has been arrested and is being held by the police. If this has ever happened to you, you understand how the mix of anger at the situation, worry about your child, and concern about what to do next can make it difficult to know what the best way is to respond. How can you help? What rights do you and your child have in the situation? What can the police and the courts do with your child? And what does all of this mean for your child's future?

A skilled criminal defense attorney with experience representing clients in the Pennsylvania juvenile justice system can help you answer many of these questions. The Criminal Defense Team at the LLF Law Firm has been representing juveniles charged with criminal offenses in Pennsylvania for years. They understand the juvenile justice laws, procedures, and court system and can help guide you and your child through this difficult time.

The Juvenile Justice System in Pennsylvania

A child must be at least ten years old to be considered "delinquent" under Pennsylvania law. Each county in Pennsylvania is responsible for administering Pennsylvania's juvenile justice laws through its Courts of Common Pleas, and many counties have established separate juvenile divisions within those courts. Whenever a Court of Common Please is handling a juvenile matter, however, it's referred to as a "juvenile court."

Each county also has juvenile probation officers who are responsible for many aspects of the juvenile justice process, from initial screening of cases to predisposition investigations to supervising probation to helping juveniles that have been committed to state custody after they leave the detention facility.

The vast majority of juveniles who are charged with crimes are released pending their juvenile proceeding. In some cases, however, they are detained in one of Pennsylvania's 13 juvenile detention facilities. The average length of stay in one of these facilities was 27 days in 2022. They may also be placed in one of these facilities after a court has found them delinquent while they await assignment to a residential facility. The general trend, however, is for juveniles declared delinquent by a court to be allowed to remain at home; assignments to both residential placement and detention facilities decreased by more than 70% between 2011 and 2021.

While the goal of Pennsylvania's juvenile justice system is "Balanced and Restorative Justice," as opposed to a punishment-focused type of justice when your child is the one who has been detained by police and accused of a crime, you can't simply trust that the state will do the right thing. You need the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney who understands the juvenile justice system and can help your child through this critical and difficult experience. The LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team has represented children all over Pennsylvania who have been accused of a wide range of crimes, and they can help you and your child too.

The Juvenile's Right to an Attorney

In Pennsylvania, a juvenile detained by police may be questioned without a lawyer present. They do have a right to an attorney, but unlike in some other states, the police may question them even if they don't have one. If the juvenile's Miranda rights have been read to them first, their statements made without an attorney present can be used against them in court.

When a juvenile refuses to answer questions without their lawyer, the police must stop questioning them until their lawyer is present (except for questions relating to urgent matters, such as the location of a missing person). If your child has been detained by police, it's almost always in their best interest for them to tell the police they want an attorney to be present before they answer any questions.

In most cases, you as a parent have a right to be present when your child is being questioned by police. You can also share information with your child's attorney – though you should keep in mind that the attorney-client relationship is between your child and your attorney, not between you and the attorney.

Juveniles do have a right to an attorney during all court proceedings. Because they are juveniles, they're "presumed indigent" by the courts; in other words, they're presumed not to have the resources to hire their own attorney, so they'll receive a court-appointed attorney. That said, the juvenile – or their family – is free to retain their own lawyer if they prefer.

And while a juvenile aged 14 or older may waive their right to counsel, they can only do so after the judge questions them at length about that waiver. Even then, the judge may appoint "stand-by" counsel to be there to assist the juvenile. And each waiver is only good for the particular hearing or court proceeding where the waiver takes place.

Because the juvenile justice process is so complicated and can have such an effect on your child's future, your child needs the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney who understands the juvenile justice system and process in Pennsylvania. The LLF Law Firm has represented juveniles all across Pennsylvania, and they are ready to help your child get through this difficult stage in their life.

Steps in a Juvenile Justice Case

After a juvenile is arrested in Pennsylvania, their case is referred to a probation officer for a formal assessment. The purpose of this assessment is to develop a Case Plan that both the court and juvenile probation personnel will use as the case moves through the system.

There are four possible outcomes after a juvenile has been detained by police.

  1. Their case may be dismissed, particularly where the charges are minor, or the juvenile probation officer decides that the evidence is weak.
  2. The juvenile probation officer may recommend an "Informal Adjustment." This is a process where the juvenile returns home and must follow the probation officer's instructions for up to a six-month period of time. If all goes well, the charges will be dismissed after that period.
  3. The case may proceed but may be suspended – if the juvenile agrees to the terms of a Probation Plan developed by the probation officer. The probation period can run for up to six months and may be extended in some cases for up to an additional six months. If the juvenile follows the terms of the probation, the case will be closed at the end of the probation period. Both the court and the district attorney need to agree before this type of option can proceed.
  4. The case may proceed to a formal court hearing to decide whether or not the juvenile will be "adjudicated delinquent." To be adjudicated delinquent, a court needs to find both that the juvenile committed the illegal act and that the juvenile is "in need of treatment, supervision, or rehabilitation."

What Happens When a Juvenile is Found Guilty

In Pennsylvania, juveniles are not found guilty; they are "adjudicated delinquent." It's basically the same concept as being found guilty, but the terminology differs because the stated goal of the juvenile justice process in Pennsylvania is to provide "balanced and restorative justice," not simply to punish.

There are a number of possible consequences that can follow a determination that your child is adjudicated delinquent. These can include:

  • Prison time – if charged as an adult
  • Time in a Philadelphia juvenile detention center
  • House arrest
  • Curfew
  • Probation
  • Fines
  • Community service
  • Counseling
  • Substance abuse programs
  • Temporary or permanent revocation of driving privileges or driver's license
  • Random drug testing

If your child is placed on probation, they will be allowed to return home and remain there provided they follow the terms of the probation. If they are assigned to placement, they will be sent to a juvenile residential facility for a specific length of time. Most of these facilities in Pennsylvania are private, non-secure facilities. That said, there are detention facilities in Pennsylvania for juveniles, though only a small percentage of juveniles who are adjudicated delinquent are sent to detention facilities.

There is another option that may be available in some cases where a juvenile is adjudicated delinquent. The parties can enter into a "consent decree" that provides that the juvenile will be allowed to return home but will be kept under supervision while there and will also meet certain other requirements as directed by the probation officer. Obviously, in many cases, it's preferable for the child to return home than to spend time in a detention facility.

Appeals of Juvenile Justice Decisions

Juvenile court verdicts can be appealed in the same way that criminal court verdicts can be appealed. Appeals are made to the Superior Court. The appeal does not retry the case; instead, it focuses on errors that the juvenile court made in the course of the hearing. These can include errors in terms of the evidence that the court admitted or refused to admit or errors in the way the court applied or interpreted the law.

There are specific timelines and other requirements that must be met for an appeal to be heard. The LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team is familiar with appeal requirements in Pennsylvania and are able to advise you and your child in the event you are considering appealing a juvenile court decision.

Other Consequences for Juvenile Convictions in Pennsylvania

While police and court records relating to juvenile arrests and court proceedings in Pennsylvania are generally confidential, there are important exceptions. If the juvenile was 14 or older when they committed the act in question and it would have been a felony if committed by an adult, the records are available to the public. Having a public record of a conviction for a serious crime can make it difficult for an individual to get a job, rent an apartment, start a business, or any number of other things. This is one more reason why it's important to have the help of an experienced attorney if your child has been accused of criminal behavior.

In addition, it is also possible to have many types of juvenile court records expunged. While not all crimes are eligible for expungement, many are. The LLF Law Firm Team can help you evaluate your child's situation and determine whether a prior delinquency determination may be eligible for expungement.

Resources for Juvenile Offenders in Pennsylvania

Juvenile Court Judges' Commission – The Juvenile Court Judges' Commission, or JCJC, advises Pennsylvania juvenile courts about delinquent children and their proper care and maintenance. Additionally, the JCJC gathers statistics about delinquent Pennsylvania juveniles and establishes juvenile court standards. The JCJC publishes a Family Guide to the Pennsylvania Juvenile Justice System that provides some helpful information about the system.

Juvenile Law Center – The JLC is a national nonprofit seeking to protect and advance the rights and well-being of juvenile offenders. This links to the page for the Pennsylvania JCJC branch.

How the LLF Law Firm Can Help

The juvenile justice system in Pennsylvania is complicated, and if your child has been charged with an offense, it makes sense to get the help of an attorney who understands the system and has been there many times before. The LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team has years of experience helping juveniles accused of serious and not-so-serious crimes in Pennsylvania defend their rights and secure the best results for their particular situations. When your child's future is at stake, call 888.535.3686, or use the online link to set up a confidential consultation today.

Contact Us Today!

The LLF Law Firm Team has decades 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 LLF Law Firm today! Our Criminal Defense Team will go above and beyond the needs of any client, and will fight until the final bell rings.

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