HELP! My child (juvenile) has been arrested (Part 1)

If your child has been arrested the following post will help explain the process:child_handcuffs_filephoto_web_t670In Pennsylvania, children as young as ten can be charged with crimes.  The process that follows is similar to the adult criminal system, but juvenile delinquency procedures are different in many important ways.  In this three-part series, we are going to explain the differences and similarities between juvenile delinquency and adult criminal court, including the different terminology.  Please be aware that these blog posts will not cover what happens when the prosecution tries to charge the juvenile as an adult.

In this post, we’ll be covering the similarities between the two systems and the differences in arrest and bail procedures.

In its general outline, the juvenile system looks a lot like the adult system, and therefore it is important that you realize your child has the right to have an attorney present at every important step.  After a juvenile is arrested, there are pretrial proceedings to determine whether they will be sent home with supervisory conditions, electronically monitored at home, or held in custody while awaiting charges.  There are diversionary programs that might be available.  After pretrial discovery and motions are resolved, a juvenile has the right to a trial where the charges must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt before they may be found guilty.

Then, like in adult court, if found not guilty, they are free to go. If guilty, it’s up to the trial judge to determine the consequences.  Possibly the biggest difference is that it all happens in Family Court, rather than at the Center for Criminal Justice.

The differences between the juvenile delinquency process and the adult process start right at the arrest.  After the police arrest someone under eighteen, they must promptly contact the child’s guardian and tell them why the child was arrested and where they are.  Then, the police may either send the juvenile to the Philadelphia Juvenile Justice Services Center (PJJSC) for pretrial detention or release them to their guardian.  All children accused of crimes are assigned and then interviewed by a Juvenile Probation Officer who assesses what, if any, social services or conditions of supervision are appropriate.

If a child is sent home and not put into any sort of pretrial diversion program, they will be given a court date for a pretrial conference.  If your child is detained, they’re entitled to a hearing within 72 hours, and the process if very different from adult bail proceedings.  For starters, juvenile defendants are not entitled to bail. So, rather than bail hearings, juveniles go through detention hearings.  If the court decides to detain a child pretrial they are held in custody until the court decides differently.

Detention hearings are held Monday through Friday at the PJJSC before a juvenile hearing officer.  The hearing officer will rely on the assigned probation officer’s findings, as well as any further evidence presented by the prosecution or your child’s attorney.  Unlike adult court, juvenile law favors sending the child home with their guardian if at all possible, but the hearing officer is empowered to detain your child before trial, especially if it seems necessary to ensure that the juvenile comes to their court dates. If detained, a child’s court dates will be listed, at most, every ten days.

In part two of three, we’ll talk about the differences in trial proceedings, and in the final part, we’ll discuss what happens after trial if your child is found guilty, including expungement.


If your child has been accused of a criminal offense, it’s imperative to hire an experienced attorney NOW. At DiMuzio Zerounian, LLC, we have the knowledge and experience to guide you through this highly specialized aspect of criminal law.  Call our offices for a free consultation 267.479.4044.

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