Can Juveniles Be Charged as Adults in PA?

The law in Pennsylvania does permit juveniles to be tried as adults in certain circumstances, typically when the charges involve serious offenses. However, the decision to transfer a case from juvenile court to adult court is not automatic. It is contingent upon various factors including the nature of the offense, the age of the accused, and their prior criminal history.

Understanding the Juvenile Justice System in Pennsylvania

The juvenile justice system in Pennsylvania is structured fundamentally different from the adult criminal system. Its underlying philosophy is primarily rehabilitative rather than punitive, aiming to help juvenile offenders correct their behavior and reintegrate into society. It is a system that strongly considers the potential for change and growth in juveniles, bearing in mind their emotional, mental, and psychological development.

However, despite the rehabilitative orientation, there are instances where the severity of the crime might necessitate trial in adult court. This is usually the case when it's believed that the juvenile court's resources might not be sufficient for the juvenile's rehabilitation or the protection of the public.

Criteria for Transferring Juvenile Cases to Adult Court

In Pennsylvania, a transfer of a juvenile's case to adult court can occur under different circumstances, as defined by the Pennsylvania Juvenile Act.

These include:

  • Discretionary waiver: The prosecutor in a case can request that a juvenile case be transferred to adult court. The judge then considers various factors such as the nature of the offense, impact on the victim, and the juvenile's age, maturity, mental state, and prior history before making a decision.
  • Presumptive waiver: This applies to juveniles aged 14 or older charged with felonies, and they have been previously adjudicated delinquent. The court presumes that it's in the best interest of the public for the case to be tried in adult court unless the defense can prove otherwise.
  • Direct file: Under this provision, certain serious offenses such as murder, robbery, and other violent felonies would automatically place a juvenile aged 15 or older into the adult court system. This is subject to a decertification hearing where the defense can argue that the case should be moved back to juvenile court.

The implications of having a juvenile case transferred to adult court are profound, often leading to harsher punishments and a permanent criminal record. Advocates of the juvenile justice system stress the importance of considering the juvenile's age, maturity, psychological development, and potential for rehabilitation before making such a significant decision. It is a matter of balancing the interests of the juvenile against the safety and welfare of the public.

Serious Offenses That Lead to Juveniles Being Charged as Adults

In Pennsylvania, certain serious offenses are more likely to lead to juveniles being charged as adults. These offenses typically involve crimes that pose a significant threat to the public safety and are indicative of the individual's inability to be rehabilitated within the juvenile system.

These serious offenses include but are not limited to:

  • Homicide: This is one of the most serious crimes a juvenile can commit. If a juvenile is charged with homicide, they are almost always tried as an adult.
  • Robbery: Particularly, if the robbery involves a deadly weapon, it is seen as a severe offense that may warrant a trial in adult court.
  • Sexual assault: Depending on the severity of the assault, the juvenile could be tried as an adult for this serious offense.
  • Aggravated assault: If the assault resulted in serious bodily harm or involved a deadly weapon, the juvenile could be charged as an adult.

It's important to note that while these crimes constitute serious offenses, the decision to try a juvenile as an adult is not taken lightly. The court weighs various factors and considers whether the resources of the juvenile court system are adequate for the rehabilitation of the juvenile and protection of the public.

The Role of Age and Criminal History in Juvenile Trials

Age and criminal history play pivotal roles in determining whether a juvenile will be tried as an adult or not. A juvenile's age can significantly influence the court's decision, as younger individuals are often viewed as more amenable to rehabilitation compared to older ones. The court also recognizes that younger individuals often lack the maturity and understanding of the consequences of their actions, which is a critical consideration in decisions regarding transfers to adult court.

Regarding criminal history, repeat offenders are more likely to be considered for adult court, especially if previous rehabilitation efforts were unsuccessful. A pattern of persistent offending suggests that the juvenile might benefit more from the intensive interventions available in the adult system. If previous attempts to rehabilitate the juvenile within the juvenile system were not successful, this could lead to consideration for adult court.

Protecting Your Child's Future

If your child is facing serious charges and there is a possibility of their case being transferred to adult court, it's crucial to seek immediate legal assistance. An experienced criminal defense attorney can provide invaluable guidance and representation, advocating for your child's rights and arguing for rehabilitation over punishment. They can challenge the prosecution's request for a waiver to adult court or request a decertification hearing with the goal of having the case moved back to the juvenile system.

At Scaringi Law, our experienced juvenile crime attorneys can help in building a strong defense that takes into account your child's age, maturity, mental state, and potential for change. We can also present evidence of your child's positive attributes and achievements to demonstrate their capability for rehabilitation and argue that the resources of the juvenile justice system can adequately address your child's needs.

We understand the gravity of these cases and are committed to protecting your child's future. If you find yourself in this difficult situation, don't hesitate to contact us online or call us at (717) 775-7195 for a confidential consultation.


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