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How Does the Juvenile Criminal System Work in Pennsylvania?

July 01, 2019

By Van Der Veen, Hartshorn, and Levin

In late May, three juveniles were arrested after they allegedly assaulted a man and tried to rob him along Pennsylvania Avenue. They were between the ages of 12 to 14. Due to the fact that these were children and not adults, they will likely be tried in juvenile court. So, how does the juvenile criminal system work in Pennsylvania? What constitutes a delinquent act, and what are the penalties if a minor is found committing one?

Common Types of Delinquent Acts

When juveniles are charged with a crime, it’s considered a delinquent act. Just like adults, any type of crime is considered a delinquent act, as long as the perpetrator is a child. However, there are some types of delinquent acts that are more common than others. These include:

  • Truancy
  • Possession of drugs, including marijuana
  • Underage drinking
  • Drunk driving
  • Retail theft
  • Hacking and other computer crimes
  • Reckless driving
  • Property damage, such as vandalism
  • Disorderly conduct
  • Sex crimes

When a juvenile is charged with any of these delinquent acts, most often they will move into the juvenile court system, although there are some exceptions.

How the Juvenile Criminal Justice System Works

In Pennsylvania, the courts generally try to avoid giving minors a permanent criminal record. This is why juveniles found committing wrongs do not usually face criminal charges. Instead, they will have a delinquency petition filed against them by the courts. They then face charges of committing a delinquent act.

Even if a juvenile is found guilty of the delinquent act, they will not have a permanent criminal record. Instead, they are considered a delinquent child. After being declared a delinquent child, they will have a disposition hearing with a judge. The judge at that hearing will then determine the sentence they face.

While this is the way the juvenile system works in most cases involving a minor, there is one exception. This is when an older minor, typically above the age of 14, commits a felony or a major crime. When this is the case, the prosecution will likely charge them as an adult and move them into the criminal justice system. Typically, this only occurs when the child is accused of crimes such as rape, murder, armed robbery, or other similar offenses.

Penalties for Committing a Delinquent Act

The juvenile justice system does not focus on punishing a child. Generally speaking, it will instead aim at rehabilitating that child. When a child is found guilty of a delinquent act, they are not convicted but rather, adjudicated. Penalties for this usually only involve probation. The juvenile court may also order the minor to pay restitution to the victim or to undergo regular drug testing.

However, this isn’t always the case. When the courts believe the delinquent act was severe enough to warrant it, they may sentence the minor to confinement in a juvenile detention center. In the worst of cases, they may also remove the child from their home, or prevent them from graduating high school.

A Philadelphia Criminal Defense Attorney can Give Your Child the Best Chance of Success

Too many parents believe that because Pennsylvania views juveniles so differently, they don’t need a Philadelphia criminal defense attorney. This is not true. Without proper representation, your child may face harsh consequences such as being charged as an adult, which can leave your child with a permanent criminal record.

At van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim, we know that children shouldn’t have to pay for one mistake for the rest of their lives. If your child has been charged with a delinquent act, contact us at (215) 486-0123. We’ll build a solid defense for them, and give them the best chance of remaining in the juvenile court system, or having their charges dropped altogether. Don’t try to go through this system alone. Call us today or contact us online so we can begin discussing your child’s case.



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