A delinquent act is an act that would be considered a crime if committed by an adult. When a child is found guilty of committing a delinquent act, he or she is adjudicated delinquent, which is not the same thing as being convicted of a crime. If a juvenile is accused of a delinquent act, he or she will be involved in juvenile court proceedings.
Detention Hearing – In many instances, a juvenile remains in the Youth Center to complete his or her court process. Once a juvenile is in custody, he or she normally has a detention hearing within 72 hours. At this hearing, the judge decides whether or not there is sufficient probable cause for the alleged crime and whether or not the child is a danger to the community. If this is determined to be the case the court then officially detains the juvenile, pending his or her adjudication hearing that must be held within the next 10 days.
Adjudication Hearing – At the adjudication hearing, the judge decides whether or not the child did in fact commit a delinquent or dependent act (based on the evidence and proof) beyond a reasonable doubt. Most residents are then continued in detention until the disposition hearing that must be held within the next 20 days. The court then uses assessments by the psychiatrist and/or psychologist and reports by the Juvenile Probation Department, the school, and the Youth Center as an aid in determining whether the child can return home under the supervision of the court or whether the child should be committed to a residential placement, group home, or foster care.
When a Juvenile is Charged as an Adult – Any person charged with murder, no matter how young, will be charged as an adult in Pennsylvania.
A youth who was 15 years or older at the time of the offense will be charged as an adult if the youth used a deadly weapon or has been previously adjudicated delinquent of one of these offenses:
- Involuntary deviate sexual intercourse
- Aggravated assault
- Robbery of a motor vehicle
- Aggravated indecent assault
- Voluntary manslaughter
- Attempt, conspiracy or solicitation to commit one of the above offenses
In order for these cases to be heard in juvenile court, the attorney for the child must request a decertification hearing for the case to be transferred down to juvenile court. During this hearing, the judge will look at how old the youth was at the time of the offense, what type of crime he or she is being charged with, the types of sentencing and treatment available in both systems, the impact of the crime on the victim and the community, and whether the child is able to be rehabilitated in the juvenile system.
If the case remains in adult court, the case will go to trial and the youth will have the same rights as any adult defendant in court, including the right to an attorney and the right to a jury trial. If the juvenile is convicted of an adult offense, he or she will receive an adult sentence and the records of the proceedings will be available to the public, just like all adult criminal records. This can pose challenges to the youth, such as being barred from receiving certain public benefits or public housing and being prohibited from entering certain professions. In addition, the right to an education is greatly limited for juveniles who are still of school age but have been tried and convicted as adults.
Representation – A juvenile has the right to be represented by an attorney at each phase of the court process. In most situations, parents of detention residents do not have access to their child prior to court. If you or a loved one has a juvenile child that is charged with a delinquent act, do not hesitate to contact my office for a free initial consultation.