Pennsylvania has separate justice systems for teenagers and adults. If your child commits an offense or behaves inappropriately when they are under 18 years old, then their actions are adjudicated by a judge within the juvenile court system. They are not automatically sent to the adult criminal court system, though they may be transferred to the adult courts for serious crimes.
Throughout the juvenile court process, an adolescent has the right to an attorney. If your child gets arrested or the school refers their situation to the juvenile courts, call a juvenile defense attorney at Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC right away. Additionally, if your child gets into trouble with the law when they are under 21 years old or away at college, then they may be charged with a common underage or student offense. They also need an experienced criminal defense attorney to protect their rights and fight for their future.
Call Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC at (412) 281-2146 today to learn more about defending against juvenile and underage crimes.
Pennsylvania’s Juvenile Court Process
Adolescents enter into the juvenile court process either through an arrest or a referral, typically by a school administrator. Your child is taken to a detention facility where they meet with a probation intake officer. Depending on the situation, they may be released to you, another guardian, or booked into a detention center.
If your child is booked into a detention center, then there must be a detention hearing within 72 hours. You will be notified in writing or over the phone. During this hearing, a juvenile court judge will determine if there is a reasonable basis to believe your child committed a crime. They will then determine if it is safe for the adolescent to return home, both for the teen and the community. The judge may order continued detention or allow for your teen to return home under certain terms such as electronic monitoring.
Whether your child was detained or at any point returned home, the authorities must determine whether to:
- Dismiss the teen’s case
- Move forward with informal adjustment
- Move forward with a community-based diversion program
- File a delinquency petition (charges)
If an adolescent is detained after a detention hearing, an adjudication hearing must be held within 10 days of the petition being filed.
An adjudication hearing is like an adult’s criminal trial. Your teen should have a juvenile defense lawyer there to represent them. An adolescent can admit to the offense, deny it, and defend themselves at the hearing.
Possible Outcomes to Juvenile Cases
If a judge determines an adolescent committed the offense and is delinquent, then next comes the disposition hearing, which is where penalties are handed down. There are numerous potential outcomes to juvenile cases, including:
- Community service
- Participation in court-ordered services such as counseling or drug or alcohol abuse treatment
- Placement in a residential treatment facility, residential school, foster care, or group home
The outcome of a juvenile court case can have a profound effect on your child and family. To learn more about what you and your child may face if they are found to have committed a crime or delinquent behavior, contact a juvenile defense lawyer right away.
Defending Against Underage and Student Offenses
Adolescents can be charged with committing a crime an adult can commit. However, they can also get in trouble for exhibiting delinquent behavior like skipping school. Whether a teen under the age of 18 years-old has committed a criminal offense or delinquent behavior, they will go through the juvenile court system, unless the court transfers the teen to the adult courts.
There are also certain crimes that exist because a young adult is not yet old enough to participate in a certain behavior, such as drinking alcohol. When a young adult is 18 years or older when the offense occurs, they may be charged with an underage crime. They will go through the adult criminal justice system. Underage and juvenile offenses overlap, though they are not all the time.
The legal team at Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC stands against all types of juvenile, underage, and student offenses. We have successfully represented students across the state, including those who are enrolled at:
- University of Pittsburgh
- Indiana University of Pennsylvania
- Carnegie Melon University
- California University of Pennsylvania
- Duquesne University
- Robert Morris University
- Slippery Rock University
- Penn State great Allegheny
- Point Park University
- Community College Allegheny County (CCAC)
Common Juvenile and Underage Offenses
Our juvenile defense attorneys are experienced in defending teenagers and young adults from a wide range of offenses, including:
- Underage Drinking– The legal drinking age in Pennsylvania is 21 years-old. If you are 20 years or younger and the police catch you drinking alcohol, trying to buy alcohol, transporting alcohol, or driving while inebriated, then under 18 Pa. Code §6308, you can be charged with a crime. Deepening on any past offenses, you may be sentenced to up to two years in jail, a fine, and a suspended driver’s license.
- Driving Under the Influence (DUI)– Under 75 Pa. Code §3802, it is illegal for drivers over the age of 21 to drive, operate, or be in actual physical control of the movement of a vehicle with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 percent or higher. If you are stopped by the police and you blow over the legal limit or there is evidence you are impaired by drugs and/or alcohol, then you will be arrested and charged with a DUI. A first DUI conviction brings with it time in jail, probation, a driver’s license suspension, alcohol safety school, and more.
- Underage DUI (Drinking Underage – DUA)– If you are under the legal drinking age, you cannot drive with alcohol in your system. If you are stopped by the police and blow a BAC above .02 percent or appear to be in any way impaired, you will be charged with an underage DUI. You will be charged with a misdemeanor and may be punished with time in jail, probation, a driver’s license suspension, classes, treatment, and more.
- Fake ID– It can be tempting to use another person’s driver’s license or a fake ID to get into bars and purchase alcohol. However, using false identification to obtain something of value, including alcohol, is illegal. If you are caught with a false ID, 18 Pa. Code §6310.3 states you can be charged with a summary offense for a first violation and a third-degree misdemeanor for a second violation. You can be punished with jail time, fines, and the loss of your license.
- Furnishing Alcohol to Minors– If you are 21 or older, then you can buy alcohol for yourself and your other friends who are the same age. However, under 18 Pa. Code §6310.1, you cannot give alcohol to anyone who is 20 years-old or younger. If you throw a party with alcohol and underage guests present or you buy alcohol for your underage friends or relatives, you can be charged with a third-degree misdemeanor, punishable by jail time, a fine, and more.
- Underage Possession of Alcohol– If you are 20 years or younger, you cannot possess a beverage that has 0.5 percent of alcohol by volume (ABV) or more. If you are caught with an alcoholic beverage, you may be found guilty of a crime and sentenced to up to two years in a jail, a fine up to $1,000, and a suspended driver’s license.
- Juvenile Sexual Assault– The crime of sexual assault occurs when a person engages in traditional sex, oral sex, or anal sex, no matter how slight the contact or penetration, without the other individual’s consent. This is a felony-level offense punishable by time in prison, large fines, and more.
- Underage Drug Offenses– Under 35 Pa. Code §780-113, it is illegal for anyone to manufacture, possess, traffic, or sell controlled substances in Pennsylvania. Popular drugs like marijuana, acid, Ecstasy, OxyContin, Vicodin, Ritalin, and Adderall are either entirely illegal to possess or illegal to have without a valid prescription. A first-time controlled substances offense is typically charged as a misdemeanor.
- Vandalism (Criminal Mischief)– If you are caught defacing, altering, or destroying another person’s, business, or school’s property, you can be charged with criminal mischief under 18 Pa. Code §3304. This offense can range from a summary offense to a third-degree felony.
Potential Statutory Penalties and Collateral Consequences
If an adolescent is charged as an adult, or a young adult over the age of 18 is accused of a crime, then they need to consider the potential penalty upon conviction. Punishments within the adult criminal justice system are far harsher than those in the juvenile court system.
While the possible maximum penalties differ based on a number of factors, including the exact offense and the adolescent’s criminal history, here are the typical potential punishments based on the level of the charge:
- Summary offense– Up to 90 days in jail, and a fine up to $300.
- Third-degree misdemeanor– Up to one year in jail, and a fine up to $2,000.
- Second-degree misdemeanor– Up to two years in jail, and a fine up to $5,000.
- First-degree misdemeanor– Up to five years in jail, and a fine up to $10,000.
- Third-degree felony– Imprisonment up to seven years, and a fine up to $15,000.
- Second-degree felony– Imprisonment up to 10 years, and a fine up to $25,000.
- First-degree felony– Imprisonment up to 20 years and a fine up to $25,000.
A misdemeanor or felony conviction at a young age can have a profound impact. With a criminal record, an adolescent or young adult faces a number of collateral consequences, including:
- Difficulty being admitted to college
- Difficulty obtaining student financial aid
- Loss of certain professional licenses
- Difficulty obtaining employment
- Difficulty procuring rental housing
- Immigration issues
- Child custody and visitation problems
- Loss of your voting rights during incarceration
- Loss of your gun ownership rights for felony convictions
Contact a Pittsburgh Juvenile Defense Attorney Today
If you are a teenager facing criminal charges, or you are a parent whose son or daughter is in trouble with the law, call our experienced and trusted juvenile and student criminal defense attorneys of Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC. No matter your or your child’s age, we will fight for the best possible outcome in the case.