How Does the Juvenile System Work

This information is intended to provide an overview of the Juvenile Justice System. Any specific questions should be directed to the police officer investigating the crime or to the Assistant District Attorney assigned to the case.

When a juvenile commits a crime, the police conduct an investigation to determine if there is enough evidence to file a petition alleging acts of delinquency. If there is enough evidence, the complaint is referred to the Juvenile Probation Department. The department then has two (2) options in handling the case; refer the case to a later hearing or detain the juvenile at the Westmoreland County Detention Center.

What is the intake process?

The juvenile remains at home under the supervision of a parent or guardian until his/her appearance before an intake officer at the Juvenile Probation Department. At the intake conference, the parents and juveniles are required to appear for an informal interview.

Do I have to appear before the intake officer?

No, victims do not attend intake conferences, but may talk with the intake officer or Victim/Witness Advocate prior to the hearing.

What does an intake officer do?

The intake officer determines whether the juvenile should be referred to court or handled informally. If court referral is make, an adjudication hearing is scheduled before the Juvenile Court Judge or Master.

What if the case is not referred to court?

There are three options:
  • Warn and reprimand the juvenile. No further action taken.
  • Informal adjustment consent for three (3) to six (6) months.
  • Refer the case to the Community Youth Commission.
Juveniles may also be forced to pay restitution, attend school regularly or do community service.

Do I need to hire an attorney?

No. An Assistant District Attorney will prosecute the case on behalf of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The Assistant District Attorney is employed by Westmoreland County so you are not required to pay legal fees.

When are witnesses permitted in the Courtroom?

The court may order all witnesses to wait outside the courtroom until called to testify. This is called sequestration. If witnesses are sequestered, they are not to discuss their testimony with any other witnesses who have testified. Once a witness has testified, he or she may remain in the courtroom.

What can I expect if I am called to testify?

You will be asked by the Assistant District Attorney to relate the facts you know about a crime. This is called direct examination. The juvenile offender's attorney will then ask you questions. This is called cross examination. Here are some suggestions to help you if you are called to testify:
  • Review the facts of the case in your own mind before you are called to testify. Never guess or make up an answer if you are unsure. It is better to say "I don't know" or "I don't remember".
  • Listen carefully and answer only the question being asked. If you do not understand a question, ask for clarification. If an objection is made, wait until the judge rules on the objection before answering.
  • Do not volunteer information.
  • Do not give opinions, unless asked.

Try to conduct yourself in a courteous and respectful manner during direct cross examination.

What happens in Juvenile Court?

A Juvenile hearing may proceed in one of two ways: an adversarial proceeding or a non-adversarial proceeding . An adversarial proceeding is one in which there is no admission of guilt by the juvenile defendant. In this case a formal hearing is held before a Court Master or a Judge. In a non-adversarial proceeding the juvenile admits his/her involvement in a crime and there is usually no testimony presented.

What if you are called to testify?

Juvenile Court hearings are held before a Juvenile Court Judge at the Westmoreland County Courthouse on Main Street in Greensburg, PA. Parking is available at the Bell Parking Garage located on Pennsylvania Avenue behind the courthouse. All master hearings are held at the Juvenile Services Center, located behind Westmoreland Manor on Route 119, approximately three (3) miles south of Greensburg, PA. Parking is available at the center.