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Juvenile Justice- Requirements of the Juvenile Act

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The PA Supreme Court holds that a juvenile court must determine (1) that the juvenile committed the delinquent acts alleged; and (2) that the juvenile is in need of treatment, supervision, or rehabilitation, before it may enter an adjudication of delinquency.

By Attorney Elisabeth K.H. Pasqualini, Juvenile Criminal Defense Attorney, Harrisburg, PA

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania recently reviewed the plain meaning of the Juvenile Act to determine that an adjudication of delinquency does not necessitate placement.  In the Interest of M.W., 39 A.3d 958 (Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, Decided Feb. 21, 2012), the Supreme Court overruled the determination of the Superior Court and held that the Act was clear in its wording and meaning.  The trial court adjudicated M.W. guilty on a charge of robbery, but with-held the determination of treatment, supervision or rehabilitation because there had been an adjudication in another proceeding and that imposition of rehabilitation was pending.  The trial court later determined that there was no additional treatment, rehabilitation or supervision necessary.  The Commonwealth appealed this decision.

The Plain Meaning of the Juvenile Act; 42 Pa.C.S.A. 6301, et seq. (2012 Pa. Legis. Serv. Act 2012-204 (S.B. 850))

The Superior Court noted that the language was clear:

Under the Juvenile Act, a juvenile proceeding may commence when a petition is filed indicating a juvenile has committed delinquent acts. See 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 6321(a)(3).... After the filing of a petition, the juvenile court holds an adjudicatory hearing at which evidence on the petition for delinquency is heard. "After hearing the evidence on the petition [for delinquency,] the court shall make and file its findings as to whether ... the acts ascribed to the child were committed by him." 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 6341(a). "If the court finds that ... the allegations of delinquency have not been established[,] it shall dismiss the petition and order the child discharged from any detention or other restriction theretofore ordered in the proceeding." Id. Conversely, "if the court finds on proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the child committed the acts by reason of which he is alleged to be delinquent[,] it shall enter such finding on the record and shall specify the particular offenses, including the grading and counts thereof which the child is found to have committed." Id. § 6341(b).

However, the Supreme Court found that the relationship between a finding of delinquency and an adjudication on that particular charge upon which he delinquency was found is not so clear.  The definitions provide that a "delinquent child" in Section 6302 of the Juvenile Act is "[a] child ten years of age or older whom the court has found to have committed a delinquent act and is need of treatment, supervision or rehabilitation."

Here, the child had been adjudicated of robbery, but was pending disposition on other charges.  He was sent to a treatment facility on those other charges.  The trial court did not deem that additional placement was necessary and did not hold a hearing on additional supervision, rehabilitation or supervision.  In reviewing the trial court's actions, the Supreme Court held that in order to adjudicate a child delinquent, the juvenile court must both determine that the juvenile has committed a delinquent act, and determine that the juvenile requires treatment, supervision, or rehabilitation.

Because there is no requirement in the legislation that a juvenile be given treatment, supervision, or rehabilitation, it is within in the discretion of the trial court.  Questions related to juvenile justice or offenses, contact Shaffer & Engle Law Offices, LLC toll free or email us today.

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