Juvenile Court is not the same as adult court. Because you have been a victim of, or witness to a juvenile crime, and because your testimony may be necessary for a finding of delinquency, it may be helpful for you to understand how the juvenile system works.
Juvenile hearings are held at the Juvenile Justice Center at 25 South Front Street, Harrisburg, PA 17101 on the 7th Floor. Certain hearings are open to the public depending on the age of the juvenile and the seriousness of the offense.
Victims will be permitted to be in the courtroom. Witnesses will only be permitted to be in the courtroom to testify. Others who are present in the courtroom include the Judge, a clerk, stenographer, the assistant district attorney, the defense attorney, the juvenile defendant, parents or guardians of the juvenile defendant, and probation officers.
See the definitions page for an explanation of legal terms used on this page.
Prior to the court hearing, the juvenile defendant met with the probation officer for an interview. At that time, the juvenile entered a plea to the charges.
A juvenile hearing may proceed in one of two ways. If the juvenile admits to the charges, then an Adjudication/Disposition Hearing (sentencing) is scheduled. In this hearing, you will not need to testify. However, if a juvenile denies the charges, or remains silent, an Adjudication Hearing is scheduled. This is a fact finding hearing to determine if the juvenile, beyond a reasonable doubt, committed the offense.
In the adjudication hearing, your testimony as a witness is essential for delinquency finding by the Judge. If the juvenile is found to have committed the offense, a Disposition Hearing is scheduled for a later date. The Disposition Hearing can also directly follow the Adjudication Hearing, in which case, you would not have to return.
After a finding that a juvenile has committed an offense, a Disposition Hearing is held at which time the Judge will make a decision as to the disposition of the case. The Judge will consider the facts and the recommendation of the Probation Officer assigned to the case. At this time, the victim also has the right to provide input to the court through an oral or written Victim Impact Statement.
In making disposition, the judge must provide balanced attention to the protection of the community, the imposition of accountability for the offenses committed, and the development of competencies to enable the juvenile to become a responsible and productive member of the community.
The Juvenile Act, as amended by Act 33 of 1995, establishes a balanced and restorative justice system in Pennsylvania. The goal of the Juvenile Justice System is to provide the victims of crime, the community and the juvenile offender balanced attention. Due to the unique set of circumstances that each case presents, the response by the system must be individualized and based on an assessment of all relevant information.
This means that the system seeks to treat not only the juvenile offender, but to consider the impact on the victim and the community.
Types of Dispositions
Consent Decree - The juvenile offender and the court may make a formal agreement called a Consent Decree in which the juvenile is placed under the court’s supervision without a finding of delinquency. This agreement is used where the juvenile has no previous record, the offense is of a less serious nature and the juvenile agrees to six months of supervision under the Juvenile Probation Office. Upon successful completion of the terms of the Consent Decree, the juvenile can no longer be prosecuted on the original charged, and will not have a juvenile criminal record.
Formal Probation - The juvenile is placed on probation under the supervision of the Juvenile Probation Office with the conditions, rules and limitations prescribed by the Court. Restitution, court costs, community service, letter of apology to victim, and special counseling programs can be part of the order.
Placement - This occurs when the judge feels that placement outside the juvenile’s home is necessary.
What are my rights as a victim?
To be notified of certain significant actions and proceedings
To be notified if the juvenile was released or detained following arrest.
To be notified if a petition to the Court has been filed.
To be notified of a pre-adjudication escape from a detention center and subsequent apprehension.
To be accompanied at all proceedings
In cases involving personal injury crimes or burglary, to receive notice of and submit prior comment on the potential reduction or dropping of any charge or diversion of any case
To submit prior comment and/or a victim impact statement about the disposition of a case.
To have assistance in the preparation, submission, and follow up of restitution and/or victim’s compensation claims.
To be notified of the details of the final disposition.
To have property returned once your case is closed.
Upon your request, you have a right…
To receive prior notice of the date of release from a placement facility.
To receive prior notice of a scheduled home pass.
To be notified of an escape from a placement facility and subsequent apprehension.
To be notified of any transfer or release that goes against the previous court order – and the opportunity to provide a written statement.
To be notified of the filing, hearing and disposition of any appeal.
To be notified of any disposition review hearing and the opportunity to provide oral or written comment.
To be notified when the case is closed.
In order to provide rights and services, VWAP will need to have a current address and telephone number at all times.
Restitution and other compensation
There are several ways for you to obtain restitution for your losses as a result of a juvenile crime. You may not collect for the same loss twice, but you may choose to use one or more of these ways to recover your losses.
Court Ordered Restitution - You have received a restitution claim form from the Juvenile System Victim Services Unit. Please complete it carefully and return it to the JSVSU as soon as possible so that the amount of restitution owed by the juvenile can be set.
Civil Suits - You may also choose to sue the juvenile and his/her parents in a civil lawsuit before a District Justice. Under the Juvenile Act, you may recover up to one thousand dollars ($1,000) from the juvenile’s parents for injuries or property losses.
Victim's Compensation Assistance Program - VCAP is a state program that pays out-of-pocket medical and counseling bills, loss of wages or support, and cash benefits as a result of crime. Property losses are not covered. All other means of paying these bills (Insurance, HMO, Medical Assistance or Medicare) must be used first. The crime must be reported to the police. You can learn more about the program and receive help filing a claim by calling the Juvenile System Victim Services Unit at (717) 780-7080.