In Pennsylvania, criminal courts maintain jurisdiction for all murder cases, even where the defendant is a child or teen. This applies to children who are accused of murder. Pennsylvania recently made history for prosecuting a pre-teen for murder. A few years ago, an 11 year old Pennsylvania boy was charged with murdering his pregnant step mother. His attorney filed a motion to transfer the case to the juvenile system.
Applying the Pennsylvania Juvenile Act (Act), 42 Pennsylvania Consolidated Statues Section 6301, et seq., the court denied the defense request to transfer the case to the juvenile system. The trial court factored in the fact that the child was unwilling to take responsibility (admit) for the crime. An appellate court disagreed and held that factoring in the child’s unwillingness to admit to the crime violated his 5th Amendment constitutional right to be free from self-incrimination. Ultimately, the case was transferred to the juvenile system, and the child was adjudicated delinquent.
HOW PENNSYLVANIA MURDER CASES GET TRANSFERRED TO THE JUVENILE SYSTEM
Under the Act, a murder case involving a juvenile defendant may be transferred to the juvenile system upon proof, by a preponderance of the evidence, that transferring the case to the juvenile system will serve the public interest.
Section 6322(a) provides in relevant part:
In determining whether to transfer a case charging murder or any of the offenses excluded from the definition of “delinquent act” in section 6302, the child shall be required to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that the transfer will serve the public interest. In determining whether the child has so established that the transfer will serve the public interest, the court shall consider the factors contained in section 6355(a)(4)(iii) (relating to transfer to criminal proceedings).
IS THE PUBLIC INTEREST SERVED? FACTORS UNDER THE PA JUVENILE ACT
In determining whether the public interest is served, the court is required to consider the following factors, pursuant to Section 635 (a)(4)(iii):
- how the alleged offense impacts the victim,
- how the alleged offense impacts the community,
- any threats the child poses to the public or any individuals,
- the nature of the alleged offense,
- the degree of the child’s culpability,
- adequacy of alternative dispositions, and
- whether the child appears amenable to treatment or rehabilitation.
This last factor is further based on the child’s age, mental capacity, maturity, prior criminal record/delinquency history, degree of criminal sophistication, etc.
The criminal courts are no place for the vast majority of juvenile offenders, even for murder cases. The punishments in the adult criminal system are too severe for children and teens. A second degree murder conviction in a Pennsylvania criminal court results in a mandatory life sentence. Children and teens often benefit from rehabilitation and therapy, even cases where the charged offense is murder.
If your child is facing a murder charge in the Philadelphia area, please call our office and ask for a free consultation. (215) 515-0042
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