Everything you need to know about Pennsylvania’s juvenile DUI process

The juvenile DUI court process in Pennsylvania is a specialized legal procedure designed to handle cases involving individuals under 21 who are charged with driving under the influence (DUI). Given that the legal drinking age in the United States is 21, Pennsylvania, like many states, has a zero-tolerance policy for underage drinking and driving. This means that any detectable amount of alcohol in a minor’s system while operating a vehicle can lead to DUI charges. Here’s an in-depth look at the process.

juvenile dui pennsylvania

1. Arrest and charges

A juvenile DUI case in Pennsylvania typically begins with the arrest of the underage driver. Law enforcement officers may conduct a traffic stop if they observe signs of impaired driving or if the driver is involved in an accident. If the officer suspects alcohol or drug use, they may administer field sobriety tests and request a breathalyzer or chemical test. Refusal to submit to these tests can lead to immediate penalties due to Pennsylvania’s implied consent laws.

2. Preliminary arraignment and detention

Following the arrest, the juvenile may be taken into custody and undergo a preliminary arraignment. The charges will be formally presented during this initial court appearance, and decisions regarding the juvenile’s detention or release pending further court proceedings will be made. Release to the custody of a parent or guardian is often preferred, with conditions such as a curfew or monitoring.

3. Juvenile Court system

Juvenile DUI cases in Pennsylvania are typically handled within the juvenile court system, which focuses on rehabilitation rather than punishment. The court may appoint a juvenile probation officer to the case, and a formal petition outlining the charges will be filed.

It generally takes two to four weeks to get it into court, which adds up to about ten weeks before the child’s in front of the judge. That may seem like a long time, but they would wait two years in the adult system. So it’s a pretty quick turnaround in juvenile court.

Consent Decrees in Pennsylvania

The child comes before the judge, who has the final say with all this, but if the child meets certain criteria they may be allowed to have a consent decree.

We’re talking about someone who hasn’t been involved with our system before. Someone already on probation or whatever wouldn’t get that opportunity.  We’re looking for those kids who made a mistake and aren’t going to be a problem and we want to give them the benefit of the doubt with it.

And then it depends on what happened.  Was there an accident?  Was someone hurt? and that sort of thing.  Based on those facts, the DA would determine whether they agree with the consent decree.  The child was driving by himself, there was no accident, he was just pulled over for driving erratically, and they would be candidates for a consent decree.

The idea of juvenile court is we have to find out what happened, what the needs are, and what we can do to help alleviate the situation.  Oftentimes, with a driving thing it’s the alcohol that creates the situation and it’s not behavioral problems or some of the other different factors that we see here.

4. Adjudication hearing

The adjudication hearing is the juvenile equivalent of a trial in adult court. The judge will hear evidence from both the prosecution and the defense. Juveniles have the right to an attorney; the court will appoint a public defender if they cannot afford one. Unlike adult court, there is no jury in juvenile proceedings; the judge makes all decisions regarding guilt and sentencing.

5. Disposition (sentencing)

If the juvenile is found guilty, the court will proceed to the disposition phase, similar to adult court sentencing. However, the focus is on rehabilitation. Penalties for a juvenile DUI in Pennsylvania may include community service, alcohol education or treatment programs, probation, and in some cases, detention in a juvenile facility. The court may also impose fines and suspend the juvenile’s driving privileges.

6. Expungement and future implications

Pennsylvania law allows for the expungement of certain juvenile records under specific conditions, potentially including DUI offenses, once the individual reaches adulthood or meets other criteria. However, it’s important to note that a juvenile DUI can impact future opportunities, including employment and education.

Was your child arrested for DUI in Pennsylvania? We’re ready to help.

The juvenile DUI court process in Pennsylvania is designed to address underage drinking and driving with a focus on rehabilitation. It involves several stages, from arrest to disposition, to educate and rehabilitate young offenders to prevent future incidents. The process underscores the seriousness of DUI charges, even for minors, and aims to provide them with the tools needed to make safer choices in the future. Parents and guardians play a crucial role in guiding their children through this process and supporting their rehabilitation and reintegration into the community.