Philadelphia Criminal Lawyers
Juvenile Crimes Require Heightened Attention
An arrest is cause for alarm at any age, but juveniles face serious consequences from an early brush with the criminal justice system. Although a juvenile criminal record can often later be sealed or expunged, in some states and with some crimes a conviction must be disclosed to potential employers, landlords, and creditors for years to come. For that reason, it is imperative that parents act swiftly to obtain legal representation when their child is even suspected of participating in a crime. By being proactive and advocating a strong defense from the outset, the long-term damage of juvenile crimes can often be mitigated.
Juvenile Defendants Face Multiple Hearings
In Pennsylvania, with the exception of murder and certain summary offenses, all misdemeanors committed by an individual under the age of 18 are adjudicated in Juvenile Court and administered by the Juvenile Probation Department. Juvenile Court Masters preside over misdemeanor cases and will determine whether an allegation made against a minor has merit. If the case presented by prosecutors is deemed insufficient the matter is dismissed.
However, if the Court Master concludes otherwise, a defendant will face a dispositional hearing before a Court of Common Pleas judge – a pivotal moment in the juvenile criminal justice process. The dispositional hearing will often require testimony from parents, victims, probationary officers, and even teachers. Moreover, the Court of Common Pleas judge will assess not only the impact on the community of the crime committed, but also the defendant’s remorse and the likelihood that he or she will violate the law in the future.
Juvenile defendants and their families must take the dispositional hearing seriously. The Court of Common Pleas, which also presides over all felony charges levied against juveniles, has wide latitude to fashion a sentence befitting a crime. To that end, for lesser offenses a juvenile defendant can be released to their parents or a caregiver to serve probation at home. When a crime is more serious – or if a juvenile appears indifferent or unconcerned about their crime – indefinite placement in a juvenile detention center is a real possibility.
Juveniles Convicted of Murder Face Adult Court, Lengthy Sentences
Some crimes are so serious they bypass the juvenile justice system entirely. When a minor is charged with murder they are tried as an adult in Pennsylvania criminal court, regardless of their age. Additionally, any juvenile older than 15 at the time of their crime can be charged as an adult if their crime involved the use of a deadly weapon, or if the juvenile was previously charged with a felony offense such as rape, kidnapping, or robbery.
Until recently, a juvenile convicted of first or second degree murder in Pennsylvania was guaranteed a life sentence without the possibility of parole. The state in 2012 changed the law in response to a decision by the United States Supreme Court which rendered such compulsory sentences unconstitutional for juveniles. In January 2016, the Supreme Court indicated its ruling should be applied retroactively. Accordingly, while life in prison without parole remains available as a sentence for juveniles accused of first or second degree murder, they may receive a shorter sentence when warranted.
Philadelphia Criminal Lawyers at the Law Offices of Patrick G. Geckle LLC Defend Juveniles
Philadelphia criminal lawyers at the Law Offices of Patrick G. Geckle LLC understand the intense anxiety that all parents feel when their child has been charged with a crime. Contact us today at 215-735-3326 or toll-free at 800-555-7780, or complete our online contact form to schedule a free consultation. At our offices in Philadelphia, we defend juvenile clients throughout Delaware County, Montgomery County, Bucks County, and Chester County.