If you need to consult with an attorney or would like more information on juvenile delinquency, please contact the Erie County Bar Association's Lawyer Referral & Information Service.
In Pennsylvania, a delinquent act is a crime other than murder and summary offenses, committed by a person under eighteen (18) years of age. In addition, the Juvenile Act gives Juvenile Court jurisdiction over those persons between the age of eighteen (18) and twenty-one (21) who are alleged to have committed a delinquent act before their eighteenth birthday.
When a juvenile is charged with a delinquent act, the case is administered by the Juvenile Probation Department. All juveniles in Erie County are considered indigent and will be assigned an attorney free of charge. If the allegations of delinquency are misdemeanors only, an adjudication hearing or admission hearing is set before a Juvenile Court Hearing Officer, although a juvenile has the right to have his or her case heard by a Judge. If the allegations of delinquency include felony offenses, those hearings are heard by a Court of Common Pleas Judge. At an adjudication hearing, the District Attorney presents the Commonwealth's evidence upon which the allegation of delinquency is based. The juvenile is given an opportunity to present a case although he or she does not have to do so as the Commonwealth has the burden of proof. The juvenile may also admit some or all of the offenses for which s/he is charged. An admission is equivalent to a guilty plea in Criminal Court.
Any recommendation made by the Hearing Officer following an adjudication or admission hearing is subject to approval by the Court. If, following the adjudication hearing, the recommendation is for dismissal, the allegation of delinquency is dismissed and the case closed. However, if the allegation of delinquency is either admitted by the juvenile or sustained by the Hearing Officer after a hearing, a second hearing is scheduled. This proceeding, called a dispositional hearing, is held before a Court of Common Pleas Judge.
At this hearing, the Judge talks with the juvenile, the juvenile’s parents, the assigned probation officer, and others who can shed light on the juvenile's situation at home, school and in the community. The Judge may also speak with any victims present to learn the impact of the delinquent act upon the victim and their family. At the conclusion of the hearing the Judge enters an Order that may range from placing the child on probation at home, to an indefinite placement at a secure institution. After such an Order is entered and enacted, the case is subject to regular judicial review hearings in order to determine the juvenile’s progress. When the Court determines that sufficient cause exists, the case is ordered closed and the juvenile court relinquishes its jurisdiction over the child.
Though most criminal matters involving acts committed by juveniles follow the steps outlined above, some juveniles, due to their age, the use of firearms and other weapons, the offense, and the juvenile’s prior history with the Juvenile Probation Department, can be charged as an adult or have his or her case transferred to Criminal Court. In either case, juveniles in Criminal Court are treated as and subject to the same restrictions and punishment as adult defendants. Though this makes up a small percentage of juvenile offenders, the number is on the rise.
In Pennsylvania, a juvenile enjoys most of the same rights guaranteed to an adult by the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions. Likewise, it is hoped and expected that he/she will comply with the law which is enacted to ensure the safety and security of all.
Information is current as of 2/2019.