Juvenile Delinquency Court operates much differently than adult court. If a juvenile is less than 18 years of age at the time of the offense they will receive a Delinquency Petition from Juvenile Court Services. In certain limited circumstances, it is possible for a juvenile to be charged as an adult. If a case is filed in juvenile court an attorney from the Public Defenders office will automatically be assigned to the juvenile's case. We do not require juveniles to apply for our service. The juvenile and parents are always free to hire a private attorney of their choice. We handle delinquency cases but not CYS dependency cases or summary offenses filed at Magisterial District Court.
Juvenile Is the Client
Understand that the juvenile is the client in delinquency matters, not the parents. The attorney will try to answer parent questions and include them in the case only where it is to the benefit of the child and where the child's interests and the parent's interests do not conflict.
An attorney from the Public Defenders office will be present at all of the following hearings unless a private attorney is retained.
If a child is taken into custody when charges are filed then the first Court hearing is a Detention hearing. This hearing is to be held within 72 hours of when the child is taken into custody. At this hearing the Court will decide if the child will remain in custody or be released.
Pre Adjudication Hearing
If a child is not taken into custody then the first Court hearing is a Pre Adjudication hearing. This is similar to a status conference in adult court. At this hearing the child's attorney will meet with the attorney for the Commonwealth, the prosecutor, to discuss the case. The prosecutor may make an offer to resolve the case.
Options include proceeding to trial or adjudication where the child could be found guilty or adjudicated delinquent of some, all or none of the charges. Other options may be a diversionary program such as a consent decree or a negotiated plea agreement. The attorney will discuss these options with the child. While it is not necessary to speak with the attorney prior to the Pre-Adjudication hearing you may do so if you choose. Depending on the nature of the case the attorney may contact you prior to the Pre-Adjudication hearing.
If a case is not resolved at the Pre-Adjudication hearing then it may proceed to an Adjudication hearing. This is the term used for a trial in the juvenile system. A child has the same rights guaranteed under the Constitutions of the United States and Pennsylvania as an adult. A juvenile has the right to remain silent, the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, the right to confront and cross examine witnesses against him and the right to counsel. The case must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt but the adjudication hearing is held before a judge not a jury.
The lack of a jury trial is a major difference between adult and juvenile court.
If the court finds that the Commonwealth has proven any of the charges beyond a reasonable doubt then the case will proceed to a Disposition hearing. This would be similar to a sentencing hearing in adult court where the court must then determine if the child is in need of treatment, rehabilitation or supervision. If so the juvenile is adjudicated delinquent and it will determine the terms of supervision which could include, among other things, probation, community service, counseling or an out of home placement if deemed necessary.