Our criminal defense law firm represents individuals in Pennsylvania and New Jersey charged with crimes and offenses ranging from simple possession of drugs and narcotics to violent felony crimes such as aggravated assault, robbery and homicide. While the majority of these cases involve representation of adults, our law firm has also represented minors in the juvenile justice system.
Juvenile Justice – Overview
The juvenile justice system isn’t the same as the adult criminal justice system and is often considered a less formal criminal court system. The goal of the juvenile system is supervision, care, and rehabilitation to ensure that the community in general is kept safe from harm, the perpetrator takes responsibility for his or her actions, and finally, to teach skills to allow the youth to become a productive member of society. While the system itself does focus on rehabilitation, it is important to understand that your son or daughter could end up in a detention facility away from your home in some situations. It is also important to understand that a juvenile record may make it difficult for your son or daughter to obtain future employment, attend college, receive financial aid, or even enter military service.
Generally, minors between the ages of 10-17 enter the juvenile justice system and not the adult criminal justice system. There are situations however where a child is accused of committing a serious criminal act, he or she may directly enter the adult criminal system or may be transferred by a judge to an adult criminal court. Read my article on decertification hearings
Following a child’s arrest, he or she is either detained or released to a guardian. If detained, there will be a hearing to determine whether he or she will remain in detention or be released. The court will schedule a hearing within 72 hours of detention and you should receive notice of that hearing in writing, over the phone, or in person. If you do not receive notice of the hearing you can provide an affidavit to your child’s probation officer stating that you were not notified. The court must then hold another hearing within 72 hours of receiving that affidavit.
The purpose of the detention hearing is to determine if your child should remain in custody. At these hearings the court must first decide if there is a reasonable basis that your child committed the crime and 2nd, whether your child must remain in detention to protect people or property in the community or to ensure their appearance at future hearings. The judge will also consider if less restrictive alternatives, such as electronic monitoring, are appropriate.
Detention Hearing Preparation
Prior to a detention hearing I always advise clients to consider other family members who would be willing to care for your child especially if you believe that there are reasons that the court may not allow them to return home. Next, make sure your child’s attorney is aware of any disabilities which may hinder your child’s ability to understand or communicate. Finally, make sure your attorney understands if your child receives any special education services. Provide a list of medications for medical conditions which may require treatment or monitoring if your child is detained.
If your child is detained, a delinquency petition must be filed within 24 hours or the next business day in court and an adjudication hearing must be held within 10 days of that petition. If a hearing isn’t held within 10 days, the court may release your child unless one of the following occurs:
- The prosecution needs more time to gather evidence so the court may allow no more than 10 additional days in detention.
- The child or his or her attorney requests more time (continuance) so the court will continue the case for 10 days at a time until the youth is ready for the hearing.
A delinquency petition states what your child has been charged with. Once the petition is filed it is important to keep in mind that your child may be eligible for a consent decree which is similar to an informal adjustment. An informal adjustment, unlike a delinquency petition does not require a formal hearing before a judge, it simply requires that your child complies with certain conditions such as attending school, staying away from certain friends, and checking in with the probation officer.
Alternative to Detention & Delinquency – The Role of Probation Officer
It is also important to understand that if your child is not detained and meets with a probation officer instead, that officer can also dismiss the matter. The probation officer can also require your child to attend diversion programs which are especially appropriate if your son or daughter has special needs. Finally a probation officer can file a delinquency petition which will put the case on the same track as if your child had been detained.
At an adjudication hearing the court will determine if your son or daughter committed the offense they are charged with. It is very similar to a trial as the burden is on the Commonwealth to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. At an adjudication hearing, unlike a trial, the court does not determine guilt but whether or not your child should be adjudicated delinquent. Following this hearing the judge can find that the prosecution has either not met its burden at which point your child will return home. If, however, the judge finds your son or daughter delinquent, the court will schedule a disposition hearing to determine if your child is in need of treatment, rehabilitation, and supervision.
For more information on juvenile justice and our criminal defense law firm please keep reading this blog.