Some laws are applied differently to those under the "age of majority," which in Pennsylvania is 18 years old. When it has been reported to the police that a minor has committed a crime and the police arrest the juvenile, the police are left with several options.
The police can release the minor to his parent or guardian. This largely depends on the seriousness of the offense and the circumstances surrounding the case. If they do decide to release the minor to a parent or guardian, then the written allegation is sent to the juvenile probation department or District Attorney for processing.
Another possible option is diversion by the police, which is typically only used for first-time offenders of less serious crimes. With this option, the police would not continue the case into the juvenile justice system, but would instead refer the minor to a social service agency or other community-based service that exists for this purpose. However, a diversion program is considered to be a privilege that can be taken away if the juvenile fails to cooperate with the conditions of the program. If the juvenile does not abide by the conditions then his case can be forwarded to the juvenile probation department for formal processing.
If the crime is more serious, or if the circumstances do not allow for release to a parent or diversion, then the third option is detention of the juvenile. Secure detention is temporarily holding the juvenile in a secure facility pending action by the court. The police will contact the juvenile probation department to request approval for the juvenile to be admitted to detention. If less restrictive alternatives would not guarantee the minor's presence in court or would not adequately protect the community, then secure detention may be imposed by juvenile probation. If the probation department approves this option, then a detention hearing must be held within 72 hours of the juvenile's admission to secure detention. This hearing's purpose is to determine if there is adequate probable cause and whether the juvenile will remain in secure detention until the adjudication hearing.
Next, the juvenile probation officer conducts an intake conference with the minor and the minor's parents to determine what course of action should be taken. Some times the correct course of action is to take no action at all. The probation officer must determine what is best for the juvenile offender, the victim, and the community at large. The probation officer then must provide the District Attorney with notice of the intake conference decision.
There are many possible outcomes that result from the intake conference. The minor may just be warned and the case closed. They may refer the juvenile to a social service agency and divert him from further court processing. The juvenile may be ordered to participate in a informal adjustment for up to six months, and if this is completed successfully then the case is dismissed, but if it is not completed successfully, then a petition will be filed. Another option is to suspend the proceeding and have the juvenile supervised in his own home under a consent decree for up to six months. If the conditions are violated, then the petition may be reinstated and the juvenile will be held accountable as if the consent decree had never been entered. If the case does go on to an adjudication hearing, then the hearing must be held within 10 days if the juvenile is detained. During this type of hearing, evidence is introduced to the court that alleges that the juvenile committed a delinquent act. Juveniles do not have the right to a jury trial. Within seven days of the adjudication hearing, the court then enters a finding that specifies what offenses the juvenile committed, if any. After the ruling on the offenses, a dispositional hearing must be held. The court may order the juvenile offender to undergo examinations to aid in the disposition decision; these can include psychological tests, psychiatric tests, and drug or alcohol tests. The court may order the juvenile to be put on probation, to perform community service, to pay a fine, or to be placed in residential care.
In some circumstances, a juvenile offender, who is fourteen years or older and has been charged with a felony offense, can be transferred to criminal court. In Pennsylvania, those extreme circumstances are typically: murder, violent felonies committed with a deadly weapon when a juvenile was 15 years or older, or violent felonies committed when a juvenile was 15 years or older when the juvenile has previously been adjudicated delinquent for another violent felony (even without a deadly weapon).
It is important to remember that juveniles have important rights that need to be protected in every courtroom across the country. If you (or your minor child) have been charged with a juvenile crime, Chester County attorney John P. Winicov can help you. We will provide aggressive representation and we will handle your case with the care it deserves.