Juvenile Justice – Will a Philadelphia teen be prosecuted as an adult for alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction? Who decides and what is the evidentiary standard?
What happened in Philadelphia?
Recently, Philadelphia police and federal authorities arrested a teen following an investigation. This Philadelphia teen is now charged with possessing weapons of mass destruction, conspiracy, arson, and causing or risking a catastrophe. These are felonies crimes within the Commonwealth and the lead charge carries with it a maximum 20 year state prison sentence. At the time of his arrest, the youth had collected explosive equipment including tactical gear, wiring, chemicals, and even detonators
Right now, however, this teen remains in juvenile custody and in the juvenile justice system within Philadelphia. The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office has indicated that it will attempt to prosecute him as an adult. This would substantially change the severity of the charges against this youth.
Our criminal defense law firm is often retained to represent minor in a criminal proceeding. While many of these young clients and their parents believe that the juvenile criminal system will adjudicate these matters, we frequently must advise them that a juvenile disposition is not an automatic right.
Why is the juvenile justice system a better alternative than adult criminal court?
A disposition in the juvenile system is advantageous and obviously preferred for a variety of reasons. Most importantly, juvenile adjudications, even those which result in a conviction, are not considered criminal convictions for the purposes of the accused’s permanent record. A juvenile conviction therefore does not impose the same stigma of a conviction in the adult system which can sometimes prevent a person from seeking certain types of employment or other academic or professional opportunities.
What factors will determine whether a juvenile is prosecuted as an adult in Pennsylvania?
When the prosecution makes the decision to charge a juvenile as an adult, a judge must make a determination as to whether the public’s interest is served by this type of disposition.
A judge will use the following factor in its determination:
(1) the impact of the offense on the victim or victims;
(2) the impact of the offense on the community;
(3) the threat to the safety of the public or any individual posed by the minor;
(4) the nature and circumstances of the offense allegedly committed by the minor;
(5) the degree of the child’s culpability;
(6) the adequacy and duration of dispositional alternatives and in the adult criminal justice system; and
(7) whether the minor is amenable to treatment, supervision or rehabilitation as a juvenile.
A minor’s amenability toward treatment requires that a psychologist or psychiatrist examine the accused and make a finding of amenability based on the following
(2) mental capacity;
(4) the degree of criminal sophistication;
(5) previous records, if any;
(6) the nature and extent of any prior delinquent history, including the success or failure of any previous attempts by the juvenile court to rehabilitate the minor;
(7) whether the minor can be rehabilitated prior to the expiration of the juvenile court jurisdiction.
In many cases, the burden of establishing that a juvenile is not amenable toward treatment rests with the Commonwealth through the prosecution. The standard of proof that the court will apply to this burden is preponderance of the evidence which is a much lower standard than guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
While the prosecution does bear the burden in many cases, there are cases in which the defense bears this burden of proof; these are cases which involve a deadly weapon or cases in which the minor was previously adjudicated delinquent of a crime that would be considered a felony if committed by an adult. Such crimes would include rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, aggravated assault, robbery, aggravated indecent assault, kidnapping, murder, voluntary manslaughter, an attempt, conspiracy or solicitation to commit any of these aforementioned crimes.
Juvenile Justice is not a right!
In conclusion, disposition is the juvenile system is not a right based one age. The prosecution is permitted to charge a juvenile as an adult. Disposition in the adult system carries with it the same consequences faced of any accused in that system regardless of age. The parents of minor’s with crime should be mindful of the prosecution’s discretion and retain counsel who can shepherd them through this process to minimize its effect on their child’s lifetime opportunities.
Contact Our Criminal Defense Lawyers in PA & NJ
Please click here to contact our Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers. We offer free case reviews and serve the following areas in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Atlantic City, Camden, Cherry Hill, Chester, Conshohocken, Doylestown, Media, Norristown, Philadelphia, Pottstown, Salem, Upper Darby, Upper Merion, Upper Providence, Vineland & Woodbury areas.