Juvenile Criminal Defense — Montgomery County, PA
Obviously, it is extremely upsetting to any family when a juvenile is chared with a crime. The immediate concerns are (1) what sort of punishment is the juvenile facing and (2) will this stay on his or her permanent criminal record.
I am a fierce advocate for my juvenile clients charged with a crime. When a child is criminally charged, parents worry that the system – judges, prosecutors and police – will not recognize the juvenile as the child that he or she really is. A juvenile’s criminal defense attorney must prevent this from happening. A juvenile conviction can cripple a child’s future. It is critically important to investigate all possible angles and alternative sentencing dispositions to ensure the best possible result for youthful clients.
The Pennsylvania Juvenile Justice System
The Pennsylvania Juvenile Act sets forth what constitutes a juvenile crime (delinquent acts) and the process by which the courts punish or rehabilitate juveniles who are charged. The PA Juvenile Act provides for a wide range of possible sanctions that a judge can impose.
A juvenile defendant is usually someone who has made an unfortunate, youthful mistake. The juvenile system was originally created to rehabilitate (and not punish) youthful offenders, but tougher laws and more aggressive enforcement have undermined this mission.
It is essential to hire a juvenile law criminal defense lawyer who has the experience and ability to make sure a juvenile’s future is not compromised by a poor result in juvenile court. The criminal defense attorney must know all the options available to ensure the child ultimately keeps a clean criminal record and that the records of the arrest may one day be expunged.
The Pennsylvania Juvenile Act governs criminal matters involving juvenile offenders. This means that if a juvenile (child) is charged with committing a crime (juvenile act), all proceedings will be held in Juvenile Court as opposed to Adult Court. A “juvenile” is defined as a child under the age of 18 years.
The juvenile justice system has its own set of rules that differs significantly from the adult system. Even the language used in juvenile court is unique and different from Adult Court:
Adult Term Vs. Juvenile Term
Crime Delinquent Act
Guilty Plea Admission
Not Guilty Plea Denial
One reason for the different nomenclature is the concept that the justice system should not subject our youngsters to “convictions” and “sentencing” proceedings. With the different language in the Juvenile Act, people who have been through the juvenile system can later honestly assert that they have never been entered a “guilt plea” or been “convicted” of a “crime”.
Transfer (Certification) Between Adult Court and Juvenile Court in Pennsylvania
Criminal / delinquency matters may be transferred between Adult Court and Juvenile Court.
If a child is charged in Juvenile Court, the District Attorney’s Office may petition to have the matter transferred to Adult Court. The Juvenile Court judge will then preside over a hearing to decide whether the child should stay in Juvenile Court or be prosecuted (or certified) as an adult.
A Juvenile Court judge may only transfer a case to Adult Court if the judge finds that:
- There is at least probable cause to believe that the child committed the charged delinquent act;
- The delinquent act would be considered a felony in adult court; and
- There are reasonable grounds to believe that the public interest is served by prosecuting the child as an adult.
In presiding over a transfer proceeding, the Juvenile Court judge must consider numerous specific factors designed to help the judge decide whether the child should face adult prosecution.
Certainly, in matters involving the transfer of matters into and out of Juvenile Court, it is important to have a juvenile criminal defense lawyer who understands the juvenile justice system and can ensure the best possible result.
Contact Montgomery County Defense Lawyer Erik Petersen to discuss your rights and how to protect them.
Direct Filing – Charging Juveniles in Adult Court
A child facing certain serious offenses may be charged directly in Adult Court. The theory with “direct filing” is that certain crimes are serious enough that a child should face punishment of the adult system as opposed to rehabilitation which is the focus of Juvenile Court.
The “direct file” charges that subject a child to Direct Filing include:
- Rape and other serious sex offenses
- Voluntary Manslaughter
Even if a juvenile is charged in Adult Court, his or her lawyer may file a petition to decertify the Juvenile as an adult. This filing is a request to have the case removed from Adult Court and transferred (decertified) to Juvenile Court. When such a petition is filed, an Adult Court judge would preside over a Decertification Hearing to determine whether the child should be sent to Juvenile Court.
Juvenile Crimes in PA — Do I Need a Lawyer?
Families should not presume that a young person will be treated gently by the system because of his or her age. Rather, the presumption should be that police and prosecutors will seek convictions of juveniles as aggressively as they do adult suspects. A juvenile and his or her parents need an aggressive juvenile criminal defense lawyer to serve as an advocate to guide them through the system and make sure the juvenile gets an acceptable result.
If your child is accused of a delinquent act in Montgomery County, PA or surrounding counties, you need an attorney who knows his way around the juvenile system. At the Law Office of Erik Petersen in Harleysville, PA, I have defended boys and girls charged with all sorts of juvenile crimes and pride myself on developing a good rapport with juveniles and their parents. With my experience as a prosecutor in the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office — and as a criminal defense attorney — I am qualified to represent any juvenile charged with a crime.
Juvenile Criminal Defendants
The PA Juvenile Act provides for different terms for the juvenile criminal justice system as opposed to the adult system. For example, crimes are referred to as “delinquent acts”, convictions are referred to as “adjudications” and sentences are referred to as ““dispositions”. It is important to hire a PA juvenile crime lawyer who thoroughly understands the PA Juvenile Act and can navigate the system to make sure your child gets the best possible result.
Even though juvenile crimes in Pennsylvania are called delinquent acts, juveniles can be charge with almost every type of felony or misdemeanor with which an adult could be charged. There are exceptions, however; homicide is always prosecuted as an adult crime as are other some other violent crimes (such as some robbery and rape charges).
Can Juvenile Charges in PA be Expunged?
Compared to adult court, the juvenile criminal justice system in PA allows for more dispositions that can be expunged. It is obviously very important to understand whether the final result (disposition) can be expunged ahead of time.
The types of results that can be expunged include the following
- Informal Adjustments
- Consent Decrees
- Expungement List Dispositions
- Cases where the charges are dismissed or withdrawn
Contact A Montgomery County, PA Juvenile Court Lawyer
As a former prosecutor, I work to maintain good working relationships with judges, prosecutors and court personnel. I am proud of my ability to negotiate positive results for my juvenile clients so that the juvenile can one day get their criminal record expunged. And, if the matter needs to proceed to trial, I am certainly ready and able to fight on behalf of my juvenile client.
If your child has been accused of a crime in Montgomery County, PA, please feel free to contact me to discuss your rights and options.