As the adult parent or guardian of a young person, you might find yourself dealing with the difficult and stressful situation of that young person being accused of committing a crime while a juvenile. In Pennsylvania, a person accused of a crime is considered to be a juvenile if they were under the age of 18 years at the time the alleged offense occurred. Sometimes the young person has actually been arrested and is in police custody, while other times they may not yet have been arrested, but they are being “investigated” by the authorities.
If your young person is still under age 18, the authorities will probably notify you of the arrest or investigation, and if they want to question the young person, they may ask your permission to do so. At a time when you are under a great deal of stress, this puts a great deal of pressure on you to make a quick decision. What do you do? Do you – or do you not – instruct your young person to simply cooperate? What are the consequences of cooperating – or of not cooperating? Should you hire an attorney right away to represent your young person even at the earliest court hearings? You want to help your young person, but you don’t want to make the wrong decision that could make their legal situation even worse. Because it is very difficult to know what to do in that situation, you should not make that decision without consulting an attorney first.
Juveniles have the same constitutional rights as adults do, including the right to remain silent until they are represented by an attorney and to be represented by an attorney at all court hearings. Young people, especially juveniles, naturally have less maturity, judgment, and life experience than adults do, so they are particularly vulnerable to not safeguarding their legal rights (or having their legal rights safeguarded for them), especially at the earliest stages of the criminal process, when they are not yet represented by an attorney and are easily persuaded, or intimidated, to make statements against their legal interests by adults who either have authority over them or who they trust. This can have a very serious effect on how a juvenile delinquency case is ultimately decided.
Representing a juvenile who is accused of a criminal offense – which is known as a “juvenile delinquency matter” in Juvenile Court – is a specialized type of legal practice. The procedures for charging a juvenile with an offense are often different than with adults, the court procedures in Juvenile Court are different than in adult court, and the sentencing options – called “dispositions” in Juvenile Court – are different in Juvenile Court than they are in adult court. Even the legal vocabulary is different in Juvenile Court than it is in adult criminal court. Therefore, when deciding upon an attorney to hire for your young person, not only do you want an attorney who is well experienced in criminal law, but also in the specialized practice of representing juveniles in Juvenile Court.
Many parents are under the mistaken impression that a juvenile delinquency record never follows a person once they reach the age of 18 years. But that is often not the case – in fact, the consequences of a juvenile delinquency finding and disposition – the Juvenile Court equivalent of a criminal conviction and sentence – can be severe, and can potentially follow a person for the rest of their life.
The trial attorneys at Rick Stock Law have decades of experience in criminal defense and in the defense of juveniles charged with criminal delinquency in Juvenile Court. If you are a parent or guardian of a juvenile who has been charged, or is even being investigated, for a possible criminal offense, the legal process happens very quickly, time is very much of the essence, and the juvenile needs an attorney as soon as possible. Contact our law offices online or by telephone at 484-272-5133 and ask to schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys.