Can Pennsylvania Courts Try Children 17 or Younger as Adults?
Under Pennsylvania law, the Juvenile Delinquency Statutes generally allow child offenders the benefit of youth. However, under certain circumstances, offenders younger than 18 may be tried as adults despite age consideration.
State statutes recognize minor children have varying degrees of liability for their criminal acts. Therefore, as a child advances in age and awareness, the system may apply adult standards to criminal acts, depending on the totality of facts.
Children in Adult Prison
When a child is convicted as an adult by Chester County Court, they will receive adult penalties and mandatory minimum sentences. Thus, they will be incarcerated with adult prisoners and at a significantly heightened safety risk.
The Equal Justice Initiative reports that children in adult prisons experience rape at a rate five times higher than in juvenile facilities. Additionally, children in adult prisons commit suicide at 36 times the rate of those who are instead incarcerated among inmates of peers. Young prisoners often suffer from undiagnosed and untreated mental conditions, and may have disabilities that are not accommodated during their time in prison.
Furthermore, when a child is convicted as an adult their record will not be sealed. That means that their bad decisions as teenagers may follow them for decades to come, negatively impacting their chances of living productive adult lives. Unfortunately, criminal records often reduce the opportunities for jobs, credit, housing, and even certain professions.
Children Prosecuted as Adults
Under Pennsylvania law, youthful accountability standards begin to shift at age 14. The Pennsylvania statute regarding transfer to criminal proceedings explains the process that allows juvenile court jurisdiction waivers. In all instances, the prosecution must meet the burden of proof, also outlined by the law.
While almost all minor children initially enter the juvenile court system, if their charges cite, “conduct which is designated a crime or public offense,” the court may initiate a hearing process that completes a criminal division transfer. In those situations, the prosecutor must prove:
- The child is 14 or older;
- The hearing conforms with state statutory requirements;
- Juveniles and their parents or guardians received three days’ notice describing why, how, and when the hearing will take place;
- Prima facie (first look) evidence that establishes the child likely committed a criminal act; and
- Reasonable grounds that criminal prosecution serves the public interest.
During the transfer hearing, the court will review the crime, the circumstances, and victim impact. The decision will also take into account the offender’s mental health, emotional issues, maturity, criminal history, criminal sophistication, chance for rehabilitation, and other relevant factors.
A “delinquent act“ is defined as an offense committed by a child that is automatically designated as a crime and excluded from juvenile court jurisdiction. These offenses include:
- A murder committed by any child;
- Voluntary manslaughter and related offenses committed by any child and involving a deadly weapon and/or where a child has previous convictions for robbery, aggravated indecent assault, and other stated criminal acts; and
- At age 15 and older, rape, aggravated assault, robbery, and other designated actions that qualify as adult crimes.
A child defendant who has been transferred from juvenile court to criminal court may seek a reversal. Their transfer request must include specific references to the evidence that proves the transfer would be in the public’s interest.
Your Child Deserves the Best Possible Defense
If your child is facing adult criminal charges, speak to an experienced criminal defender as soon as possible. Attorney Mike Skinner of Skinner Law Firm understands the Pennsylvania criminal justice system, and the critical role evidence will have for a child’s possible convictions and sentencing.
Our firm believes that children do not belong in the adult system, and we have a long record of providing our clients with successful criminal defense in Chester County and surrounding jurisdictions. Contact Skinner Law Firm at (610) 436-1410 or online today to schedule your initial consultation and learn more.