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When are Children Tried as Adults in Pennsylvania?

March 18, 2021

By van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim

The story of a man that had been in prison for nearly 70 years after he was convicted as a 15-year-old made headlines throughout Pennsylvania recently. The man was part of a crime spree in 1953 in which he admitted to participating in a robbery and stabbing another person. While he has always claimed he was innocent of the murders he was sent to prison for, he was still sentenced to life imprisonment. After years of legal battles and support from the Defender Association of Philadelphia and other agencies, the man has finally been released from prison 68 years after being sentenced.

Many people think that when a minor commits a crime, they must go through the juvenile criminal justice system. As this recent story shows, that is not always the case. So, when are children tried as adults in the state?

Discretional and Presumptive Waivers

When a juvenile court judge transfers a case involving a minor from the juvenile criminal justice system to adult criminal court, it is known as a waiver. A juvenile court judge will issue a waiver when the alleged offender has a history of criminal offenses or when the alleged crime was of a particularly egregious nature.

Discretional waivers are issued when a child is at least 14 years of age and they are accused of a felony. Juvenile court judges will issue a waiver if the court believes it would better protect the public interest. When determining if a transfer to adult court is in the best interest of the public, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania must present evidence showing that the child is not agreeable to rehabilitation, supervision, or treatment.

A juvenile court judge may also issue a presumptive waiver in certain cases. If a child is 14 years of age and commits a felony while using a deadly weapon, the judge may issue a presumptive waiver. Presumptive waivers presume that the best interest of the public would be better protected if a minor faces criminal prosecution in adult court. The Commonwealth in these cases do not have to prove that fact. Presumptive waivers are also issued when a child is 15 years of age or older and they are accused of serious offenses such as assault or rape.

Statutory Exclusions

There are some criminal offenses that are considered so serious, children are always charged as an adult when they are accused of them. These offenses include murder, voluntary manslaughter if the minor used a weapon or was previously adjudicated for a felony offense, or felonies involving a deadly weapon. Due to the fact that these cases are always immediately moved to adult court, it is crucial that minors are represented by a criminal defense lawyer that can help with the case from the very beginning.

Call Our Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Lawyer Today

If you or your child has been accused of a serious offense, the consequences may be more severe than you think. At van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim, our skilled Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers know how to defend against criminal charges to give you and your family the best chance of a favorable outcome. Call us today at (215) 486-0123 or fill out our online form to schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys.



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