Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Lawyers

What to Do If Your Child Is Arrested in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, a juvenile is anyone who is under the age of 18. If your son or daughter has been charged with a misdemeanor or felony offense, it’s important to know the procedural hearings he or she will undergo in juvenile court. The Allentown juvenile defense lawyers at Young, Marr, Mallis & Associates invites you to read on about the types of juvenile hearings in Pennsylvania and an explanation of how each hearing works.

Types of Hearings in Juvenile Court in Pennsylvania

Intake Hearing

The “Intake Hearing” accomplishes two things: first, the juvenile will be brought before a judge or master to see whether or not the prosecution has enough evidence to hold the charges over for an adjudication hearing; second, the judge will decide whether the juvenile should be held in a detention center or be released to the parents pending his or her adjudication hearing. In deciding whether or not to release the juvenile to his or her parents pending an adjudication hearing, the judge or master will look to whether or not there exists “reasonable alternatives” to detention. For example, the judge will look to whether or not the juvenile has a home to stay in, and if so, whether or not electronic monitoring of the juvenile is a viable option pending further court proceedings. The judge or master will also look to certain factors such as the needs of the juvenile, the nature of the offense involved, whether this is the juvenile’s first arrest, and whether the juvenile poses a risk to people in the community. If the juvenile is placed in a detention facility pending his or her adjudication hearing, the law requires an adjudication hearing to be held within 10 days thereafter.

Adjudication Hearing

The “Adjudication Hearing” is just like a trial for adults. The juvenile will have an opportunity to “admit” or “deny” the charges against him or her. If the juvenile denies the charges, the prosecution will bear the burden of proving that the juvenile committed the crime(s) charged. The adjudication hearing is just like a trial for adults. However, there is no jury in juvenile court; instead, the hearing is conducted before a judge or a master. Just like in adult court, if the prosecutor is able to meet his or her burden of proof – beyond a reasonable doubt – the judge or master will adjudicate the juvenile accordingly and then proceed to what’s known as a “disposition hearing.”

Disposition Hearing

The “Disposition Hearing” is just like a sentencing hearing for adults. This is the stage where the judge or master will determine what happens to the juvenile now that he or she has been adjudicated of the crime. The sole focus at the disposition hearing is on the treatment, rehabilitation and supervision of the juvenile. In determining what services the juvenile needs, the judge or master may order certain evaluations to be done on the juvenile. For example, the judge or master may order a psychological evaluation, or a mental health evaluation, or even a drug and alcohol evaluation. The question will then become whether or not the juvenile’s needs would be better served in a placement facility or in the community while under juvenile court supervision. It is important to note that at this stage of the juvenile court proceedings, the focus will strictly be on the needs of the individual juvenile in order to achieve rehabilitation.

Following the disposition hearing, the juvenile may remain under juvenile court supervision until the age of 21. The length of the juvenile’s supervision will wholly depend on how the juvenile is doing while under supervision. In determining such, the law requires the juvenile court to impose “review hearings” at least every six months; however, the court may schedule a review hearing at any time. During the review hearings, the judge or master must make certain that the juvenile is receiving necessary treatment and services and that all of the terms and conditions of the juvenile’s probation are being met.

First-Time Juvenile Offenders: Consent Decree vs. Informal Adjustment

If the juvenile has never been in trouble with the law before and this is truly his or her first offense, they may be eligible for a first-time offender’s program. Two of the main types of first-time offender’s programs are “informal adjustments” and “consent decrees.” While they may operate very similarly, there is one major distinction: with informal adjustments, the criminal charges are never filed with the juvenile court system; however, with consent decrees, the criminal charges will be filed, and the juvenile will be subject to all of the hearings described above.

An “informal adjustment” occurs BEFORE criminal charges are ever filed with the juvenile court. After the arrest, the juvenile probation department will be notified that an arrest has been made. Prior to filing a “petition” – a formal list of criminal charges – the juvenile probation department may decide to simply offer counsel and advice to the juvenile. With informal adjustments, there will be a period of supervision of the juvenile in which the juvenile will need to comply. The probationary period will not extend beyond six months, however. If the juvenile is compliant with the terms and conditions of probation, the case will be over and the criminal charges will have NEVER been filed.

A “consent decree” occurs AFTER criminal charges are filed with the juvenile court. Just like an informal adjustment, a consent decree is a period of supervision of the juvenile in which the juvenile will need to comply with certain terms and conditions. Typically, the probationary period will last anywhere between six and twelve months. If the juvenile is successful on probation, then the charges will be dismissed entirely and the juvenile can petition the court to have the case expunged from his or her record.

Regardless of whether or not the juvenile is placed on an informal adjustment or a consent decree, the terms and conditions of the juvenile’s probation will vary and be specific to each juvenile, but in general, the terms will include attending school regularly, abstaining from illegal drugs and alcohol, obeying a curfew, staying away from bad influences, etc.

Juvenile Criminal Record Expungement

Prosecutors have the ability to agree at the outset to expunge a juvenile’s record even if this is not the first offense the juvenile has committed. For example, let’s say that this is not the juvenile’s first offense and therefore they do not qualify for a first-time offender’s program, such as an informal adjustment or a consent decree. The prosecutor then has the discretion to make an agreement to EXPUNGE – or ERASE – the juvenile’s criminal record after the case is over. Oftentimes, this agreement will be made in exchange for the juvenile admitting to the charges and agreeing to be placed on juvenile court supervision. If the juvenile successfully completes all of the terms and conditions of probation and does not incur any new arrests, the prosecutor may then agree that the juvenile can have all of the criminal charges expunged – or erased – from his or her record.

Call Our Pennsylvania Juvenile Crimes Defense Attorneys Today

The West Chester criminal defense lawyers at Young, Marr, Mallis & Associates can help you and your child through the juvenile court process. For a free consultation with one of our Bucks County juvenile crime lawyers, call our Pennsylvania law offices today at (215) 372-8667.