Juvenile Court vs. Adult Court: When can you be tried as an adult?

In Pennsylvania, there are two court systems that handle cases where an individual is accused of committing a criminal act.  An adult (18 or more years old) who is accused of committing a crime is subject to prosecution in Criminal Court.  Juvenile Court is designed to provide supervision, care and rehabilitation for children (until they reach 18 years) accused of the same conduct, defined as a delinquent act.  But did you know that a child may also be prosecuted, convicted, sentenced, and imprisoned for criminal acts?

In Pennsylvania, Juvenile Court retains jurisdiction of a person accused of a criminal act if that person committed the act while under the age of eighteen (18).  However, there are exceptions to this general principle.  Most notably, they include “direct file” or a “transfer” cases.

Some offenses, even if committed by a juvenile, are directly filed in Criminal Court and the juvenile is subject to the criminal prosecution as if the child were an adult.  A “delinquent act” is an act designated a crime under the laws of Pennsylvania, another state, or under Federal law.  See 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 6302.  Some conduct, despite falling within this definition, is specifically excluded from the jurisdiction of Juvenile Court and will be prosecuted in Criminal Court.  The crime of murder is the most recognizable exception.  A child (10 or more years old) accused of committing a murder will be prosecuted in Criminal Court and is not eligible for treatment under the Juvenile Act.  Additionally, if a child uses a deadly weapon during the commission of certain serious offenses (i.e., rape, robbery), that child’s case will automatically be prosecuted in Criminal Court.  Finally, a child who has previously been adjudicated delinquent for certain serious offenses will be subject to criminal prosecution in Criminal Court for all future such charges.

A child who is subject to adjudication under the Juvenile Act may also find himself transferred to Criminal Court in certain circumstances.  After a petition has been filed in Juvenile Court alleging delinquency, the Court may rule that the Juvenile Act is inapplicable for Juvenile Court and that the charge should be prosecuted in Criminal Court.  Before this ruling can be made, the Court must determine that the child alleged to have committed the delinquent act is at least fourteen (14) years old and then a hearing is held to determine whether the transfer should occur.

In order to transfer the case to Criminal Court, the judge must find that: (1) there is a prima facie case that the child committed the delinquent act alleged; (2) that the delinquent act would be considered a felony if committed by an adult; (3) that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the public interest is served by the transfer of the case for criminal prosecution; and (4) that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the child is not committable to an institution for the mentally ill.  See 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 6355(a)(4).  In determining whether the public interest is served by the transfer, the Court is required to consider several factors.  The Court must consider the impact of the offense on the victim of the alleged criminal act and the child’s culpability in that act.  The impact of the offense on the community and the threat to the safety of the public are also important factors to be considered.  The Court should also consider the adequacy and duration of dispositional alternatives available under the Juvenile Act as well as whether the child can be rehabilitated prior to the expiration of the juvenile court jurisdiction.

If you or a member of your family is facing allegations in Juvenile Court, you should ensure that the case is reviewed by legal counsel who understands and can effectively litigate these potentially life-altering issues.

Contact McMahon Winters Strasko, LLC and our team will thoroughly review your case, counsel you on all of your available options, and advocate for your legal rights.  all us today at 717.358.0600 or e-mail us at contact@mcmahonwinters.com.

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