How Do I Handle Juvenile Charges In Pennsylvania?

portrait of handcuffed young man with face hidden by sweatshirt hood

If you are under 18, break the law, and have been charged with a juvenile offense, you will receive a summons/notice to appear, and a juvenile allegation of delinquency and a juvenile petition. You should call Gregory J. Spadea at 610-521-0604 and he can answer your questions.

Police Questioning

Before questioning you, a police officer must try to contact your parents or legal guardian. If they ask, you must tell the police your real name and address. You do not have to tell them anything else and you should not make any statements without an attorney present. Therefore you must ask for an attorney and if you do the police must stop questioning you.

Asking for a lawyer

You have a right to a lawyer, and it is important to ask for one. If you do not ask for one, your parents can ask for you. Asking for a lawyer does not mean that you think you are guilty. A lawyer can advise you on what you should or should not answer. When the police question you, they do not have to tell the truth. They are trained to use interrogation techniques, such as making up facts or evidence that can be used against you. A lawyer can help you so never speak with the police without your lawyer present.

If you want a lawyer before your “initial appearance” in Court, such as when you are being questioned by the police, it is up to you or your parents to find a lawyer. You should call Gregory J. Spadea at 610-521-0604 of Spadea & Associates, LLC in Ridley Park, PA.

Initial Court Appearance

Unless you had a detention hearing, this is your first appearance in Court. At the initial appearance:

  • you ask for a lawyer to be appointed to you if you do not already have one
  • the charge against you will be read aloud and
  • you admit or deny the charge. Remember: Talk to an attorney before you do this!

There will be a Public Defender at Court who will talk to everyone who is charged with a juvenile offense and who does not have an attorney. The Public Defender will talk to you for free and will advise you of your rights. Anything you tell the Public Defender is confidential. Talk to the Public Defender before you talk to the District Attorney. Anything you tell the District Attorney can be used against you. Talk to the Public Defender before you admit or deny the charge in Court. After talking to you, the Public Defender may help you settle your case. If you deny the charge, and you want a lawyer, you have to ask the Court to appoint a lawyer to you.

If you admit to the charge, you have been “adjudicated,” and the Court will schedule a disposition hearing (see below).

If you deny the charge, make sure that you meet with your lawyer as soon as possible. Do not wait for your lawyer to call you. If you deny the charge, the Court will schedule a “first hearing,” which is basically a negotiation day, before your trial. At a “first hearing” there will not be a trial, so you do not need to bring witnesses. You lawyer does not have to go to the first hearing, but it is a good idea if he does. Ask your lawyer to go to this hearing with you. This is a good time to bring in proof of counseling, community service, good performance at school, etc. This will help your lawyer negotiate a better disposition for you. If your case does not settle at the “first hearing,” a hearing, which is your trial date, will be scheduled.

Adjudication

You are adjudicated if you formally “admit” to the juvenile offense in Court, or after a hearing by the Judge you are found to have committed the offense. Most cases settle and never go to hearing. But if you deny the charge and have a hearing, the State must prove that you committed the offense. You have a right to defend yourself and have a lawyer represent you. There is no jury, just a Judge. If the Judge finds you that you committed the offense, then you are “adjudged” guilty. Your case will then move on to a “dispositional” hearing. The dispositional hearing is usually held on a different day after your adjudication hearing.

Disposition Hearing

Instead of getting sentenced, you receive a “disposition.” The primary purpose of the disposition is to rehabilitate you. The Court can order the terms of the disposition, but most dispositions are agreed to without a hearing. It is very important that you have a lawyer represent you in the negotiations for your disposition.

For a dispositional hearing, your probation officer should prepare a report with recommendations. The District Attorney, will also make recommendations to the Court. You also have a right to argue for a specific disposition, and your lawyer can introduce evidence (school records, counselor statement, family testimony, etc.) to support your position. After the Judge hears all the evidence, he will decide. Even if you have an agreement with the State, the Judge will still review it to make sure that your interests and the public’s interests are protected. The Judge follows the District Attorney’s recommendations in practically all of the cases. Call Gregory J. Spadea at 610-521-0604 of Spadea & Associates, LLC in Ridley Park if you are changed with a crime.

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