Written by attorney Steven Fisher Fairlie

Juvenile court in Bucks County and Montgomery County, PA

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Juvenile Court in Montgomery County and Bucks County

What is a delinquent act?

A delinquent act is an act that would be considered a crime if committed by an adult. Any person charged with murder, however, no matter how young, will be charged as an adult in Pennsylvania. Summary offenses, such as underage drinking or disorderly conduct, are not heard in juvenile court. They are heard by magisterial district justices or, in Philadelphia, by Municipal Court Judges. The failure to pay a fine after conviction for a summary offense may be considered a delinquent act.

The following crimes are may be heard in adult court if the youth charged was 15 years or older at the time of the offense, and a deadly weapon was used, or if the juvenile was previously adjudicated delinquent for one of these offenses

  • rape
  • involuntary deviate sexual intercourse
  • aggravated assault
  • robbery
  • robbery of a motor vehicle
  • aggravated indecent assault
  • kidnapping
  • voluntary manslaughter
  • attempt, conspiracy, or solicitation to commit the above crimes

What does it mean to be a delinquent child?

A delinquent child is a child 10 years of age or older whom the court has found to have committed a delinquent act and to be in need of treatment, supervision or rehabilitation.

When may a child be taken into police custody?

According to the laws of arrest, which require that arrest warrants are issued only upon a finding of probable cause supported by one or more affidavits or a properly sworn complaint. There are certain exceptions that can allow the police to arrest without a warrant, primarily in cases where there is an exigency. You should consult with a criminal defense attorney familiar with practice in Montgomery County, Bucks County, or other area where the case is.

A child can also be taken into custody for violating probation or a Court Order.

The parent, guardian, or custodian of the minor should be notified “with all reasonable speed" about the whereabouts of the child taken into custody and be given a written statement of the reason for taking the child into custody.

Arrest & Detention

Juvenile cases may be commenced by an arrest or by filing a Petition alleging delinquency. The juvenile probation department may choose to “divert" less serious, first-offender cases from court and have the individuals placed on an informal adjustment or consent decree. These programs are similar to ARD and may result in a period of probation, community service, supervision, etc. but they do not result in an adjudication of delinquency (the juvenile court version of a conviction) if the child successfully completes the program.

If the juvenile is detained, a detention hearing must occur within 72 hours at which the juvenile must be represented by counsel. If the juvenile is not detained, the first meeting with an attorney is often at the initial court appearance. That is not because there is no role for counsel earlier in the process. In fact, early intervention by lawyers, to investigate the charges, provide legal advice, and explore alternatives to secure detention, may have significant impact on the entire course of the case. Getting arrested can be frightening, especially if children are detained. By the time youth meet their attorneys, they may have been questioned by many adults, including police officers, probation officers, or family members. A youth may view additional adult questioning with distrust. Thus, at the start of a case, lawyers must make an extra effort to build a relationship with their clients. Counsel must take the time to explain that their job is to help their clients defend against the charges. In addition to asking for information, it is vital that counsel take the time to discuss with clients what is likely to happen in court.

Detention Hearing

If a youth is detained, counsel’s first opportunity to question removal of the juvenile will be at the detention hearing, where the allegations must be presented by the Commonwealth in juvenile court and proven by probable cause. Effective representation and advocacy at this stage of the proceedings has a

significant influence on the ultimate disposition of the case. Juveniles who are securely detained prior to adjudication-rather than released to parents or placed in community-based program-are much more likely to be incarcerated at disposition than youth who have not been detained, regardless of the charges against them. Thus, it is vital that defense attorneys contest secure detention and explore less restrictive alternatives as early as possible.

May a juvenile be fingerprinted or photographed after arrest?

Yes. Police may fingerprint or photograph a juvenile, age 10 or older, who has been arrested for an offense that would be a misdemeanor or felony if committed by an adult. If the juvenile is found not guilty, the fingerprints or photographs must be destroyed immediately.

May a juvenile be kept in a juvenile detention center until a detention hearing?

Yes, but only if one or more of the following conditions exist:

Confinement is required to protect the person or property of another or the child.

There is reason to believe that the juvenile will run away or be removed from the jurisdiction.

There is no parent, guardian or custodian to care for or supervise the juvenile.

If none of the above conditions exist, the juvenile may not be held.

What happens when a child is detained?

A petition must be presented to the court within 24 hours or on the next court business day after a child has been admitted to a detention center or to shelter care and a detention hearing must be held within 72 hours.

What is decided at the detention hearing?

The detention hearing is an informal hearing at which the court will determine:

If there is probable cause to believe that the child has committed the delinquent act(s) with which he or she is charged, and

Whether the child should remain in detention, shelter care or under some other pretrial supervision until the adjudicatory hearing (trial)

Where may juveniles be detained before trial?

If detained before trial, the child may be placed in a variety of settings, including a secure detention center, a foster home, or any other appropriate placement approved by the court. A shelter placement is usually “unlocked." Children may also be released before trial, subject to certain conditions or restraints, such as electronic monitoring, intense supervision, and in-home detention. The conditions of confinement for a juvenile are limited by the following restrictions:

A juvenile can only be securely detained at a police station for up to six hours after arrest. Being held securely includes confinement in a locked room or cell, or cuffing to a rail or stationary object

A juvenile cannot be held securely in a facility which also houses an adult lockup unless:

The holding is for the purpose of identification, investigation, and transfer, AND

The child is separated “by sight and sound" from incarcerated adult offenders, in which case the child must be under the under the continuous visual supervision of law enforcement officials or staff

A juvenile cannot be held in non-secure custody in a facility which also houses an adult lockup unless all of the following conditions are met:

The area in which the child is held is an unlocked multipurpose room that is not part of a secure detention facility

The child is not physically secured on a cuffing rail or stationary object during the period of custody

The area is designated for the purpose of identification, investigation, or processing

The child is under the continuous visual supervision of a law enforcement officer or employee of the facility

A juvenile cannot be placed in a facility in which he or she is likely to be abused by other children

A juvenile can only be placed in a jail or other adult facility if being tried as an adult

In Philadelphia County only: According to a court decree, no juvenile may be detained in secure detention prior to the detention hearing except for one or more of the reasons for detention listed above. The court must state in writing the specific reason secure detention is permitted and why alternatives to secure detention were rejected. No juvenile who has been committed, voluntarily or involuntarily, under the Mental Health Procedures Act may be held in secure detention.

How is the juvenile court process started?

To start the process, a petition must be filed with the court. A petition can be brought by any person, including a law enforcement officer. The petition must state:

The child’s name, age, and address The names and addresses of the parents, if known When and where the child was taken into custody If the child is still in custody

The petition must clearly say why the child is being brought before the court and state that it is in the best interests of the child and the public that the child receives treatment, supervision, or rehabilitation.

If the child is not released after arrest a petition must be filed with the court within 24 hours or the next business day after the child is brought to detention or shelter care.

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