There are many differences between the adult criminal system and the juvenile law system in Philadelphia. Many of the crimes committed by juveniles are the same as those committed by adults, but the juvenile case is handled differently. The main difference is that the main goal of the juvenile system is rehabilitation in order to try and change a juvenile's behavior before becoming an adult.
Therefore, the punishments are different and are based on what is in the juvenile's best interest as opposed to simply punishing the juvenile for committing the crime. Another difference is that access to the juvenile's record is much more limited. The public is not automatically able to view a juvenile's file like in adult criminal cases.
The general rule is that the public cannot view a juvenile's court file. However, there are a number of agencies, which play a role in the juvenile's case that can see it. These agencies include the courts and attorneys, school officials and the agencies involved in supervision of the juvenile or have custody of them. In addition to this, adult parole and correctional facilities can inspect a juvenile record when making parole decisions in an adult case, and others who can show they have a legitimate interest in the matter and a couple of other agencies.
There are exceptions to this rule though. The public is allowed to inspect juvenile records in three situations. The first is if the juvenile is 14 years old or older and committed a felony level offense. The second is if the juvenile is 12 or 13 years old and commits a number of dangerous felonies such as murder, first degree assault, rape and others. The final one is if the juvenile is charged with an offense listed above and has previously been adjudicated delinquent for a similar offense.
Juvenile crimes in Philadelphia are taken seriously and the consequences can be severe. However, the goal is to rehabilitate and not just to punish. Access to a juvenile's record is limited to help further that goal. Experienced criminal defense attorneys understand how juvenile matters are handled and may be able to protect a juvenile's rights.
Source: Pennsylvania Juvenile Court Judges' Commission, "Pennsylvania Juvenile Delinquency Benchbook" accessed on April 13, 2015