By: Robert B. George, Esquire
Your family’s introduction to the juvenile justice system may be the result of a knock on the door or a phone call from the police notifying you that your child has been arrested. Other times, however, it may be the result of an incident of some kind involving your child that has occurred at school, followed by notice in the mail from the Juvenile Court that your child is the subject of a Delinquency Petition.
The juvenile justice system established for youths in Pennsylvania is different from the criminal system in place for adults in a number of important respects, including the following:
- The juvenile justice system deals with children whose offenses occur between the ages of 10-18. However, supervision of a child under the juvenile justice system can continue until the age of 21;
- There is no right to a jury trial in Juvenile Court. Rather, most hearings under the juvenile justice system are presided over by a Judge or Hearing Master;
- Most hearings under the juvenile justice system are not open to the public;
- Offenses under the juvenile justice system are considered and characterized as “delinquent acts” rather than as “crimes” under the criminal system for adults;
- Children are “adjudicated delinquent” under the juvenile justice system as opposed to being “found guilty” under the criminal system in place for adults; and
- Most importantly, the juvenile justice system is intended to focus on treatment, rehabilitation and supervision, as opposed to punishment.
In 1995, the Pennsylvania Legislature redefined the purpose of the juvenile justice system based on the principles of Balanced and Restorative Justice, sometimes referred to as “BARJ’. BARJ is really a philosophy, not a program.
Pennsylvania’s approach to juvenile justice strives to be balanced and restorative, and all activities your child encounters are intended to focus on (i) Community Protection – a recognition of the fact that the community has the right to safe and secure homed and communities; (ii) Accountability – recognition of the fact that when a crime is committed, the child is responsible for the harm caused and should take action to repair the harm and restore any victims as well as the community; and (iii) Competency Development – that children should leave the juvenile justice system more capable of living as a responsible and productive member of the community. In this regard, the juvenile justice system recognizes that children are not as developmentally mature as adults, and that they should be given the opportunity to learn from their mistakes in order to become a responsible and competent adult.
Nevertheless, the juvenile justice system may be confusing to parents of a child that becomes involved with the process. Each child’s experience may be different depending upon a number of factors, including, but not necessarily limited to: (i) the needs of the child; (ii) the nature of the offense(s); (iii) whether injury to a person(s) and/or damage to property is involved; (iv) whether this is the child’s first arrest and/or contact with authorities/court system; (v) whether there is the potential for continuing risk to other people in the community and/or property.
As the parent and/or guardian of the child involved with the juvenile justice system, it is important that you stay involved throughout the entire process and that you understand that decisions concerning your child are made by different people throughout as well as at different points in the process. In some instances, your child’s case may be resolved at a preliminary level by way of an “Informal Adjudication”, as a result of which he/she may never need to actually go before a Judge or Master for a Hearing. In other instances, however, your child’s case may be referred directly to a Judge or Master for a Hearing and possible adjudication of delinquency.
If your child becomes involved with the juvenile justice system, it is highly recommended that you consider consulting with an experienced attorney in this field, in order to ensure that his/her rights and interests are properly protected.
The attorneys at the Law Firm of DiOrio & Sereni, LLP are experienced and available to help you. Contact Robert B. George, Esquire at 610-565-5700, or send him an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.