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Criminal Law

Juvenile Matters

Pennsylvania Juvenile Delinquency Attorneys

juvenile

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania places paramount importance upon the care, protection, safety and wholesome mental and physical development of children.

What is the Juvenile Act?

In the Juvenile Act (42 Pa.C.S. §6301  et. seq.)  the Pennsylvania legislature has enacted legislation intended to preserve the unity of the family whenever possible or to provide another alternative permanent family when the unity of the family cannot be maintained.

Consistent with the protection of the public interest, the Juvenile Act is intended to provide for children committing delinquent acts programs of supervision, care and rehabilitation which provide balanced attention to the protection of the community, the imposition of accountability for offenses committed and the development of competencies to enable children to become responsible and productive members of the community. 42 Pa.C.S. §6301.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania attempts to achieve the foregoing purposes in a family environment whenever possible, separating the child from parents only when necessary for his welfare, safety or health or in the interests of public safety.

In the case of a delinquent child, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania uses the least restrictive intervention that is consistent with the protection of the community, the imposition of accountability for offenses committed, and the rehabilitation, supervision and treatment needs of the child. On those occasions when confinement is necessary, the Commonwealth imposes confinement only for the minimum amount of time that is consistent with the above-described purposes. 42 Pa.C.S. §6301.

Trust the Skillful and Experienced Trial Attorneys at Charles Law Offices to help you with your family member’s Juvenile Case!

If your family member is a juvenile who has been arrested and charged with a criminal offense, it is vitally important that you secure trained and experienced trial counsel as soon as possible so that all of  the juvenile’s  federal and state constitutional and legal rights are protected, and his or her chances for achieving a favorable outcome are maximized.

Since the 1970’s, Attorneys  Fredrick E. Charles and Dennis G. Charles of the Charles Law Offices have zealously and effectively guarded the legal rights and interests of juveniles  arrested and charged with serious criminal offenses. Their excellent legal training,  pretrial investigation, preparation, trial and appellate skills, coupled with their access to, and use of, the finest forensic experts in the field, have enabled them for almost 40 years to achieve successful outcomes in juvenile matters, including multiple cases involving charges of murder and attempted criminal homicide.

Some Common Questions and an Overview of the Juvenile Justice System

What is a “Delinquent Act” under the Juvenile Act?

The term “delinquent act” means an act designated a crime under the law of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania or of another state if the act occurred in that state, or under Federal law, or under local ordinances, or an act which constitutes indirect criminal contempt relating to protection from abuse.

The term “delinquent act” does NOT include (a) the crime of murder and (b) the following  adult-classified offenses committed by a child 15 years of age or older at the time of the alleged conduct if  (1) a deadly weapon was used during the commission of the offense, or (2) the child has been previously adjudicated delinquent of any of the following adult-classified offenses:

Rape

Involuntary Deviate Sexual Intercourse

Aggravated Assault

Robbery

Robbery of Motor Vehicle

Aggravated Indecent Assault

Kidnapping

Voluntary Manslaughter

An attempt, conspiracy or solicitation to commit murder or any of these crimes

The term “delinquent act” also does not include “summary offenses,”  unless the child fails to comply with a lawful sentence imposed thereunder; or a crime committed by a child who is been found guilty in a criminal proceeding for other than a summary offense. 42 Pa.C.S. §6302

What is a “Delinquent Child” under the Juvenile Act?

A “Delinquent Child” is a child 10 years of age or older whom the court has found to have committed a delinquent act and is in need of treatment, supervision or rehabilitation. 42 Pa.C.S. §6302

Are law enforcement records and files concerning a child available for public inspection?

In general, law enforcement records and files concerning a child shall be kept separate from the records and files of arrests of adults. The records and files of a child shall NOT be open to public inspection or their contents disclosed to the public. Exceptions to this rule exist, however.

For example, the contents of law enforcement records and files concerning a child may be disclosed to the public if the child has been adjudicated delinquent by a court as a result of an act or acts committed when the child was 14 years of age or older and the conduct would be considered a felony if committed by an adult.

Another exception is if the child was 12 or 13 years of age and committed one or more the following adult-classified offenses: Murder; Voluntary Manslaughter; Aggravated Assault; Arson; Involuntary Deviate Sexual Intercourse; Kidnapping; Rape; Robbery; Robbery of Motor Vehicle; or attempt or conspiracy to commit any of these adult-classified offenses.  If the conduct of the child meets these requirements for disclosure, then the law enforcement agency shall disclose the name, age and address of the child, the offenses charged and the disposition of the case. 42 Pa.C.S. §6308

What procedures and safeguards are followed in juvenile matters?

If a child is brought before the court or delivered to a detention or shelter care facility designated by the court, an intake or other officer designated by the court makes an immediate investigation and releases the child,  unless it appears that his detention or shelter care is warranted or required. If he is not so released, a petition must be promptly presented to the court within 24 hours or the next court business day of the admission of the child to detention or shelter care. 42 Pa.C.S. §6331

Informal Hearing

An informal hearing must be held promptly by the court or juvenile hearing master not later than 72 hours after the child is placed in detention or shelter care. The court or juvenile hearing master must determine whether the child’s detention or shelter care is required and whether probable cause exists that the child has committed a delinquent act.

Reasonable notice of the informal hearing, either oral or written, stating the time, place, and purpose of the hearing must be given to the child and, if they can be found, to his parents, guardian or other custodian.  Prior to the commencement of the hearing, the court or master must inform the parties of certain legal rights including, without limitation, the right to counsel and  the right to remain silent with respect to any allegations of delinquency. 42 Pa.C.S. §6332.

place of detention

A child alleged to be delinquent may be detained only in:
(1) a licensed foster home or a home approved by the court;

(2) a facility operated by a licensed child welfare agency or one approved by the court;

(3) a detention home, camp, center or other facility for delinquent children which is under the direction or supervision of the court or other public authority or private agency, and is approved by the Department of Public Welfare; or

(4) any other suitable place or facility, designated or operated by the court and approved by the Department of Public Welfare. Under no circumstances shall a child be detained in any facility with adults, or where the child is apt to be abused by other children.  42 Pa.C.S. §6327

Release or Holding of Hearing

In general, after the petition has been filed alleging the child to be delinquent, the court must fix a time for a hearing on the petition. If the child is in detention or shelter care, the hearing must take place not later  than 10 days after the filing of the petition. If the hearing is not held within such time, the child must be immediately released from detention or shelter care, unless certain enumerated exceptions to release can be established. For example, the child shall not be released from detention or shelter care if the failure to hold a hearing within 10 days after the filing of the petition is the result of delay caused by the child; evidence material to the case is unavailable, despite due diligence, and there are reasonable grounds to believe that such evidence will be available at a later date; the life of the child would be in danger; the community would be exposed to a specific danger; or the child will abscond or be removed from the jurisdiction of the court. 42 Pa.C.S. 6335

Conduct of Delinquency Hearings

What is an ``In Camera`` Juvenile Hearing?

Juvenile adjudication hearings are conducted by the court without a jury, in an informal but orderly manner. Upon the request of the court, the district attorney presents the evidence in support of the petition and otherwise conducts the proceedings on behalf of the Commonwealth.

If requested by the party or  ordered by the court,  the proceedings are recorded by appropriate means. Usually the general public is excluded from the juvenile hearing and only (a) the parties; (b) their counsel; (c) witnesses; (d) the victim and counsel for the victim; (e) other persons accompanying a party or a victim for his or her assistance; and (f) any other persons as the court finds have a proper interest in the proceeding or in the work of the court are admitted by the court. The court may temporarily exclude the child from the hearing except while allegations of his delinquency are being heard. 42 Pa.C.S. §6336

When is a Juvenile hearing open to the general public?

The court does NOT exclude the general public from delinquency hearings  if: (1) the child was 14 years of age or older at the time of the alleged conduct and the alleged conduct would be considered a felony if committed by an adult; or (2) the child was 12 years of age or older at the time of the alleged conduct and where the alleged conduct,  if committed by an adult, would constitute murder; voluntary manslaughter; aggravated assault; arson; involuntary deviate sexual intercourse; kidnapping; rape; robbery; robbery of motor vehicle; or attempt or conspiracy to commit any of these offenses. 42 Pa.C.S. §6336

Basic Rights in Delinquency Proceedings, Consent Decree, and Adjudication

What are the Juvenile's basic rights in Delinquency Proceedings?

A juvenile’s basic legal rights are protected in delinquency proceedings including, without limitation, the following:

Right to Counsel: A party is entitled to representation by legal counsel at all stages of any delinquency proceedings. 42 Pa.C.S. §6337

General Rule: A party is entitled to the opportunity to introduce evidence and otherwise be heard in his own behalf and to cross-examine witnesses. 42 Pa.C.S. §6338

Right Against Self-Incrimination: A child charged with a delinquent act need not be a witness against, or otherwise incriminate,  himself. Evidence illegally seized or obtained shall not be received over objection to establish the allegations made against him. A confession validly made by a child out-of-court at a time when the child is under 18 years of age shall be insufficient to support an adjudication of delinquency unless it is corroborated by other evidence. An extrajudicial statement, if obtained in violation of the Juvenile Act or which could be constitutionally inadmissible in a criminal proceeding, shall not be used against him.  42 Pa.C.S. §6338

Statements and Information Obtained During Screening or Assessment: No statements, admissions or confessions made by, or incriminating information obtained from, a child in the course of a screening or assessment that is undertaken in conjunction with any proceedings under the Juvenile Act, including, but not limited to, that which is court ordered, shall be admitted into evidence against the child on the issue of whether the child committed a delinquent act, or on the issue of guilt in any criminal proceeding. 42 Pa.C.S. §6338

Physical and Mental Examinations and Treatment: During the pendency of any delinquency proceeding, the court may order the child to be examined at a suitable place by a physician or psychologist, and may also order medical or surgical treatment of the child who is suffering from a serious physical condition or illness requiring prompt treatment.  The court may order examination and treatment of the child  even if the parent, guardian, or other custodian of the child has not been given notice of the hearing, is not available, or without good cause informs the court of his refusal to consent to the treatment. 42 Pa.C.S. §6339

What is a “Consent Decree?”

At any time after the filing of the petition and before the entry of an adjudication order, the court may, on motion of the district attorney or of counsel for the child, suspend the proceedings, and continue the child under supervision in his own home, under terms and conditions negotiated with the probation services and agreed to by all parties affected. The order of the court continuing the child under supervision is known as a “consent decree.” 42 Pa.C.S. §6340

A consent decree shall remain in force for six months unless the child is discharged sooner by probation services with the approval of the court. A consent decree may be extended by the court for an additional six months if a timely application for such relief is made. The effect of a consent decree is that a child who is discharged by the probation services, or who completes a period of supervision without reinstatement of the original petition, shall not be proceeded against in any court for the same offense alleged in the petition or an offense based upon the same conduct. 42 Pa.C.S. §6340

What is an ``Adjudication`` Hearing?

General Rule: Within seven days of hearing the evidence on the petition alleging delinquent acts, the court shall make and file its findings whether the acts ascribed to the child were committed by him. If the court finds that the allegations of delinquency have not been established,  it shall dismiss the petition and order the child discharged from any detention or other restriction previously ordered in the proceeding, and any fingerprints or photographs taken by a law enforcement agency to be immediately destroyed. 42 Pa.C.S. §6341(a)

Finding of Delinquency:  If the court finds on proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the child committed the delinquent acts charged, it shall enter such finding on the record and shall specify the particular offenses, including the grading and counts thereof,  which the child is found to have committed.  The court shall then proceed immediately or at a postponed hearing to hear evidence as to whether the child is in need of treatment, supervision or rehabilitation and to make and file its findings thereon. The postponed hearing shall occur not later than 20 days after such finding if the child is in detention, or not more than 60 days after such finding it the child is not in detention.  This time limitation may only be extended pursuant to the agreement of the child and the attorney for the Commonwealth. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, evidence of the commission of acts which constitute a felony shall be sufficient to sustain a finding that the child is in need of treatment, supervision or rehabilitation. If the court finds that the child is not in need of treatment, supervision or rehabilitation it shall dismiss the proceeding and discharge the child from any detention or other restriction previously ordered. 42 Pa.C.S. §6341(b)

School Notification:  Upon finding a child to be a delinquent child, the court shall, through the juvenile probation department, notify  the principal of any public, private or parochial school in which the child is enrolled of (i) the name and address of the child; (ii) the delinquent act or acts which the child was found to have committed; (iii) a brief description of the delinquent act or acts; and (iv) the disposition of the case. In cases of felony-type offenses, additional relevant information contained in the juvenile probation or treatment reports pertaining to the adjudication, prior delinquent history and the supervision plan of the delinquent child shall be provided to the principal or the principal’s designee. This information is for the limited purposes of protecting school personnel and students from danger from the delinquent child and of arranging appropriate counseling and education for the delinquent child. 42 Pa.C.S. §6341(b.1)

An Adjudication of Delinquency or an Order of Disposition is NOT a “Conviction” of Crime.

An adjudication of delinquency or an order of disposition in a juvenile matter is NOT a conviction of crime and does not impose any civil disability ordinarily resulting from a criminal conviction  or operate to disqualify the child in any civil service application or appointment. 42 Pa.C.S. §6354(a)

Disposition

If the child is found to be a delinquent child the court may make any of the following orders of disposition determined to be consistent with the protection of the public interest and best suited to the child’s treatment, supervision, rehabilitation and welfare:

Disposition

A juvenile’s basic legal rights are protected in delinquency proceedings including, without limitation, the following:

  1. Any order authorized for,  and related to,  the disposition of a dependent child;
  2. Placing the child on probation under supervision of the probation officer of the court, or the court of another state, under conditions and limitations the court prescribes.
  3. Committing the child to an institution, youth development center, camp, or other facility for delinquent children operated under the direction or supervision of the court or other public authority and approved by the Department of Public Welfare.
  4. If the child is 12 years of age or older, committing the child to an institution operated by the Department of Public Welfare.
  5. Ordering payment by the child of reasonable amounts of money as fines, costs, fees or restitution as deemed appropriate as part of the plan of rehabilitation considering the nature of the acts committed and the earning capacity of the child, including a contribution to a restitution fund.  The court shall retain jurisdiction until there has been full compliance with the order or until the delinquent child attains 21 years of age.
  6. An appropriate fine  considering the nature of the act committed,  or restitution not in excess of actual damages caused by the child, which shall be paid from the earnings of the child received from participation in a constructive program of service or education acceptable to the victim and the court. 42 Pa.C.S. §6352

A child shall not be committed or transferred to a penal institution or other facility used primarily for the execution of sentences of adults convicted of a crime. 42 Pa.C.S. §6352(b). The order of disposition is intended to provide balanced attention to the protection of the community, the imposition of accountability for offenses committed, and the development of competencies to enable the child to become a responsible and productive member of the community.  42 Pa.C.S. §6352(a).

How long may a child be committed to an institution?

The Juvenile Act places time limitations on the commitment of a child to an institution. In general, no child shall initially be committed to an institution for a period longer than four (4)  years or a period longer than he could have been sentenced by the court if he had been convicted of the same offense as an adult, whichever is less.  The initial commitment may be extended for a similar period of time, or modified, if the court finds after hearing that the extension or modification will effectuate the original purpose for which the order was entered. 42 Pa.C.S. §6353.

How long does the child remain subject to the juvenile court’s jurisdiction?

The juvenile court lawfully may retain jurisdiction over a juvenile only  until he or she reaches the age of 21 years. The reason for this limitation on the court’s jurisdiction is that a “child,” for purposes of the Juvenile Act, is defined as an individual who (1) is under the age of 18 years; or (2) is under the age of 21 years who committed an act of delinquency before reaching the age of 18 years. 42 Pa.C.S. §6302.  The “act of delinquency” referenced in this definition is to an act that occurred prior to the person’s 18th birthday. Otherwise, the “act” would have led not to delinquency proceedings, but to criminal charges as an adult. (See In re  J.M., a Juvenile, 42 A.3d 348 (Super.Ct. 2012)).

May the court transfer the juvenile case to adult criminal court before hearing the merits of the juvenile petition?

Yes.  After a juvenile petition has been filed alleging delinquency based on conduct which is designated a crime or public offense under the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, including local ordinances, the court before hearing the juvenile petition on its merits may rule that the matter is not appropriate for juvenile court, and transfer the offense, where appropriate, to the division or a judge of the court assigned to conduct adult criminal proceedings, for prosecution of the offense. Before doing so, the court must find that all the requirements of section 6355 (relating to Transfer to Criminal Proceedings) exist. The transfer terminates the applicability of the relevant chapter  of the Juvenile Act to the delinquent acts alleged in the petition. 42 Pa.C.S. §6355

May a juvenile convicted of 1st Degree Murder be Sentenced to Mandatory Life Imprisonment Without Parole?

No.  In Miller v. Alabama , 132 S.Ct. 2455 (2012), the United States Supreme Court held that sentencing a juvenile to mandatory life imprisonment without parole is unconstitutional.  Recently, in Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S.Ct. 718 (2016), the United States Supreme Court held that the holding in Miller v. Alabama  applies retroactively.

If your family member or friend is a juvenile who has been arrested and charged with a criminal offense, Charles Law Offices can help!

The lawyers at Charles Law Offices  will protect all of his or her  federal and state constitutional and  legal rights throughout all stages of the criminal prosecution. Give Charles Law Offices a call at 610-437-7064, or fill out the questionnaire on the right side of the screen. Our staff of highly trained, knowledgeable and experienced attorneys is here 24/7  to guide you through this troubled time, and help you with all of your juvenile law questions and issues.

Trust the  legal knowledge, training, trial skills and unsurpassed experience of Attorneys  Fredrick E. Charles and Dennis G. Charles of the  Charles Law Offices to carefully analyze the case and zealously represent and defend  the juvenile’s legal interests  at the highest level.

 

Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with a lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the attorneys at Charles Law Offices.

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"Attorney Dennis Charles does not give up on his clients with difficult problems. His exemplary and successful defense of an unfortunate teenager charged with double criminal homicide impressed me the most. Attorney Charles has excellent trial skills, a tremendous work ethic and very high moral values."

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A Family History of Devotion to
Law and Public Service

The Charles Brothers’ devotion to the law is derived from a family history in the legal system and of service to others. Their father, Charles “Chink” Charles (depicted in the lower left-hand corner of the photograph) held a 35 year career in law enforcement, and was selected to serve as the personal bodyguard for former United States Presidents John F. Kennedy, Richard M. Nixon and Lyndon B. Johnson during their campaign visits to Allentown.

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