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What happens at a juvenile dispositional hearing?

As people in Philadelphia know, there are a set of rules for children and a different set of rules for adults. Children need to be supervised much more than adults because children usually do not understand the consequences of their actions. Adults, generally, need to protect children from these consequences, so they learn and do not make the same mistakes as they grow older. This is also true in the criminal world. While many of the laws are similar, after a law is broken, juveniles are treated differently than adults in the juvenile law system.

One difference is that juveniles have dispositional hearings instead of sentencing hearings to determine their punishment. At a dispositional hearing, the judge will hear evidence about what the punishment should be from the victim, the juvenile and other relevant individuals, such as a probation officer and the prosecutor. The judge will then issue the punishment and must state the reasons why he or she made that decision.

The judge must state whether the juvenile needs to undergo any testing or participate in treatment and make sure that the child will be able to continue their education. Also, if they order the juvenile into out-of-home placement, they cannot simply just state how long the juvenile will be out of the home. They must state the specific places the child will be and why it is the least restrictive way to ensure the public’s safety, as well as why it is the best place for the juvenile’s rehabilitation and treatment.

Many juveniles are charged with crimes every year in Philadelphia. Once charged though, their experience will be different than adults charged with a crime. They will go through the juvenile law system and if they are found guilty, will learn their punishment at a dispositional hearing. But, there may be defenses available to juveniles to prevent the juvenile from being found guilty. It is important to understand these defenses to help protect one’s constitutional rights.

Source: PaCourts.US, “Rules of Juvenile Court Procedure, Chapter 5,” accessed on Sept. 5, 2016


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