Common Questions
of Parents/Guardians of Juveniles

"My child has been charged with a crime
in Juvenile Court...what do we do now?"

Q: Does my child need to have an attorney in Juvenile Court?

A: Yes. In fact, the judges of Juvenile Court have the policy that a case cannot and will not proceed unless the child is represented by an attorney. Please do not delay in getting an attorney for your child. The Office of the Public Defender will need your child to come into our office to be interviewed AT LEAST 5 WORKING DAYS PRIOR TO THE HEARING. Otherwise, the case may be delayed.

Q: How do I get a public defender to represent my child?

A: If your child has been arrested and charged with a criminal offense and your child was less than 18 years of age at the time of the offense - they will receive a Delinquency Petition from the Office of Juvenile Probation. To get an attorney to represent your child, your child must come in person to the Office of the Public Defender to apply for legal services. Parents/guardians may accompany the child to the office, but be aware that your child will be interviewed ALONEThe child is the client in delinquency matters - NOT parents/guardians.

When your child comes to the office, they should bring these documents with them:

  • The Delinquency Petition from the Office of Juvenile Probation;
  • Any other papers that you or your child received about the case.

After we have determined that your child is charged with an offense covered by the Public Defender Act, and that no conflict of interest exists in your child's case, the child will be interviewed about the charges. If for some reason, this office cannot represent your child, WE will make arrangements for your child to retain a Court Appointed attorney outside of our office.

If your child is detained in Shuman Center for any reason, your child will be automatically interviewed by a Juvenile Division attorney at the time of or prior to your child's detention hearing (at least 72 hours after detention). IF YOUR CHILD IS DETAINED AT SHUMAN CENTER - YOU, (THE PARENT) NEED DO NOTHING. YOUR CHILD WILL AUTOMATICALLY BE INTERVIEWED AND AN ATTORNEY WILL BE ASSIGNED TO THEIR CASE.

Q: What if I am able to hire an attorney for my child?

A: If you are financially able to hire an attorney to represent your child, you may do so. The Juvenile Division will represent any person less than 18 years of age that asks for our representation, but the child and the parents are always free to hire a private attorney of their own choosing.

Q: When will the case be assigned to an attorney?

A: The information that your child provided during the intake procedure will be provided to the Juvenile Division. Attorneys are assigned to specific courtrooms in the Juvenile Court. Therefore, the case cannot be assigned to an attorney until it is scheduled before a Judge. Be aware that clients and their parents cannot choose a particular public defender. The cases and courtrooms are assigned by the Division Supervisor.

Q: Can I as a parent expect a call from the assigned attorney prior to the scheduled hearing?

A: No. The attorney has the obligation of being familiar with the case before it goes to court. Very often, (especially in more serious cases) every effort is made and it is necessary that there be communication with the client child and/or the parents prior to the day of trial. However, the decision as to whether such contact is necessary belongs to the assigned attorney. Please do not expect that in every case that the attorney will be calling the parent prior to the day of the hearing.

PLEASE NOTE: Although very often a parent/guardian's cooperation is often very helpful and the attorney may decide to ask for your help - the attorney is NOT REQUIRED or OBLIGATED to speak to a parent. We represent your child. Our duties to communicate with and to make case decisions together with extend to the child - not the parent. The attorney will try to answer your questions and include you in the case, ONLY where it is to the benefit of our client the child and where the child's interests and the parent's interests do not conflict.

Q: What happens at the time of the DELINQUENCY Hearing?

A: After a Juvenile Petition is filed, the first phase of a Juvenile Court Case is the ADJUDICATION Hearing. Your child's hearing is a trial hearing before a Court of Common Pleas Judge. Your child has the same rights guaranteed under the Constitutions of the United States and Pennsylvania as an adult, except that a delinquency trial will be held before a judge not a Jury. Your child has the right to remain silent, the right to be free from unlawful search and seizure, the privilege against self-incrimination, the right to confront and cross-examine witnesses against him and the right to counsel. The attorney assigned to your child's case will review the case and will help your child to decide what to do. Options include going to trial (where the child could be found guilty of all, some, or none of the charges), non-trial resolutions to your child's case (e.g., consent decree, mediation, continue to observe), or a negotiated plea bargain with your child.

Q: What happens at the time of the DISPOSITION Hearing?

A: If your child is adjudicated delinquent (meaning found guilty or pleads guilty), the next phase of a Juvenile Court proceeding is the DISPOSITION phase. At the disposition, the judge has many options. The judge could place your child on probation with a variety of conditions including, but not limited to: testing and evaluation, participation in therapy, and payment of restitution and costs; The judge can also order that your child be placed at a facility outside of the home. Judges will usually only place a child outside of the home after all other treatment options have been exhausted. Disposition options are looked at as climbing a ladder - the more frequently a child is before the Court or the more serious the offenses, the higher on the ladder of options you go. It is very rare that a child would be placed outside of the home on a first offense.

Q: Will my attorney be experienced enough to handle my case?

A: Attorneys in the Juvenile Division of the Office of the Public Defender have a great deal of experience and training. A significant number of our attorneys have been practicing in the Juvenile Court for 20 years or more. These attorneys are constantly sharing their knowledge and experience with others on our staff. The newer attorneys in our office have also received specialized training related to particular areas of office practice. Every attorney has also demonstrated the ability to competently fulfill the duties which have been assigned. The Juvenile Division of the Office of the Public Defender of Allegheny County has been recognized by the American Bar Association and the Juvenile Law Center (October 2003) as one of the two best defender organizations for juveniles in the entire Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. View the ABA Juvenile Justice Center's national assessment report from 2003 below.

PDFChapter 4: Promising Approaches and Innovative Practices

Q: Who can I contact if I have further questions about the juvenile delinquency process?

A: You can contact the Juvenile Division of the Office of the Public Defender at 412-350-3504.