Juvenile Law Center

Luzerne County: State Legislation and Reform

In the wake of the Luzerne County juvenile court "kids-for-cash" scandal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and General Assembly have enacted provisions aimed at improving the juvenile justice system and ensuring such abuses are not repeated. The two bodies have adopted some key recommendations from Juvenile Law Center's Lessons from Luzerne County: Promoting Fairness, Transparency and Accountability, a report we submitted to the Interbranch Commission on Juvenile Justice in the spring of 2010. Juvenile Law Center commends the legislature and Supreme Court for taking action but notes that there still remain proposals that have yet to be acted on. 

Counsel

In January 2012, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court approved Rule 152, a newly amended court rule that requires juveniles under 14 years of age to have lawyers at all delinquency proceedings; youth 14 years and older may waive their right to counsel only in limited circumstances and only if the court is satisfied that the juvenile made a knowing, intelligent, and voluntary waiver of that right. Under Rule 151, amended on May 16, 2011, all juveniles are deemed indigent and the court must appoint counsel if a youth appears at any delinquency hearing without an attorney. On April 9, 2012, Governor Tom Corbett signed into law Act 23 (formerly known as Senate Bill 815), sponsored by Senator Lisa Baker (R-Lehman Township), which put into state law these provisions severely limiting waiver of counsel and providing for appointment of counsel. Read Senator Baker's floor remarks on the SB 815 concurrence vote, commending Juvenile Law Center's advocacy efforts, here. 

One key Juvenile Law Center recommendation still to be acted on: establish a state-based funding stream in Pennsylvania for juvenile indigent defense. 

Admissions

In 2012, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court enacted a critical rule to govern admissions—the juvenile court equivalent of a guilty plea. The new rule specifically requires the court to ask the youth a series of questions on the record to ensure that the juvenile is making a knowing, intelligent and voluntary admission to the charged offenses. Moreover, the court must verify that the youth had the opportunity to consult with an attorney in completing a written admission colloquy, and that there is a factual basis for the admission. 

Post-Dispositional Remedies

On April 3, 2012, in another major victory for advocates, Governor Tom Corbett signed into law Act 22 (formerly Senate Bill 818), which requires judges to state their reasons for disposition—the juvenile court equivalent of a sentence—on the record. Act 22, which was sponsored by Senator Lisa Baker (R-Lehman Township), also mandates that the court, when committing a child to an out-of-home placement, explain why that facility is the least restrictive placement that is consistent with the protection of the public interest and best suited to the child's treatment, supervision, rehabilitation and welfare. This new law is consistent with Pennsylvania Supreme Court Rule 512, adopted in 2011. 

However, neither the Pennsylvania Supreme Court nor the General Assembly has yet to act on a number of Juvenile Law Center proposals for additional reform in this area, including provisions that would:

  • Ensure that youth are informed of their right to appeal.
  • Provide juveniles with remedies to challenge their adjudications and dispositions similar to those available to adult offenders after an appeal deadline has passed.
  • Assure that appeals are timely and meaningful and that the entire process doesn't exceed 90 days.

Shackling

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court adopted Rule 139 in April 2011 prohibiting the use of various restraints—including handcuffs, chains, shackles, irons or straitjackets—on children appearing in court. Such restraints may only be used if a court determines, after providing the youth with an opportunity to be heard, that they are necessary to prevent physical harm, stop disruptive behavior that creates the potential for harm, or to keep the juvenile from fleeing. On May 29, 2012, Governor Corbett signed Act 56 (formerly Senate Bill 817) into law, prohibiting the shackling of children in juvenile court unless there are extreme or exceptional circumstances. The law, which was originally introduced by Senator Lisa Baker (R-20), reinforces the Supreme Court's 2011 rule. 

Expungement

In 2011, Senator Stewart Greenleaf (R-Montgomery/Bucks) introduced Senate Bill 850, which would permit swifter expungement of low-level summary offenses and earlier eligibility for youth to avoid the barriers associated with obtaining employment or application to secondary educational programs. Although Senate Bill 850 has been unanimously approved in the Senate, it awaits action in the House of Representatives. 

We have yet to see action on key Juvenile Law Center recommendations in this area, including court rules or new laws that would:

  • Ensure that juvenile records don't impede education and employment opportunities.
  • Reduce barriers to expunging records.

 

Last updated June 2012

Support Juvenile Law Center

One of the most important lessons from our 40 years of experience is that children involved with the justice and foster care systems need zealous legal advocates. Your support for our work is more important now than ever before. Support