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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2017 - 2018 Regular Session


Posted: December 9, 2016 04:28 PM
From: Senator Stewart J. Greenleaf
To: All Senate members
Subject: Juvenile Act Amendments
I introduced Senate Resolution 304 of 2014 to direct the Joint State Government Commission to study various aspects of the Juvenile Act. An advisory committee of the Joint State Government Commission issued a report making certain legislative recommendations. I will be reintroducing Senate Bill 1262 of last session to implement those recommendations.

Most of the recommendations update Juvenile Act procedures to bring them in line with the Pennsylvania Rules of Juvenile Court Procedure. Other recommendations make technical amendments to the Juvenile Act to update terminology and references in the law (e.g., replacing “mental retardation” with “intellectual disability”).

The advisory committee made a substantive recommendation pertaining to “direct file” murder charges. A “direct file” case occurs under current law when a child who is charged with murder is subject to initial criminal court jurisdiction and is typically tried as an adult, regardless of the child’s age. Adult criminal court is the default rule for these homicide defendants. Pennsylvania courts may transfer the criminal case to juvenile proceedings if certain factors are present.

Only two other states have no minimum age for the filing of criminal charges against a child who is accused of homicide. In most states, a juvenile proceeding is the default rule and the case may be transferred to criminal proceedings if the child charged with murder is at least 14 or 15 years of age. The U.S. Supreme Court has recognized scientific and psychological discoveries about the development of decision-making abilities in people under the age of 25. Given the inability of young people to make the same rational decisions as adults, our law must evolve to reflect that children are different. My bill will establish a minimum age of 15 for the direct filing of criminal charges of murder against a juvenile.

Please join me in sponsoring this legislation to modernize our law governing juveniles.

Introduced as SB223