Q: CYF called me about bruises on my son from school. He plays soccer. Now they want to do a drug and alcohol evaluation. Do I have to take it? (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: No, you don’t have to comply. The question is, will CYF pressure you more, perhaps by filing a dependency petition if you do not comply? No one can answer this question without knowing more facts. I would advise speaking with an attorney who is experienced in Juvenile Dependency. You can call the Allegheny County Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service (412-261-6161) for a referral to a private attorney who is experienced in that type of law. If you cannot afford a private attorney, call the Allegheny County Bar Association and ask for the Juvenile Court Project. They will put you in touch with the Parent Advocates. They can advise if you qualify for representation, and if so, advise you how to proceed.
Q: My 17-year-old son pulled over 12:46am for having a break light out. Cop said he didn’t have insurance, but I did, it’s my car, His mom I just bought it 10 days prior and just didn’t get around to dropping old and adding new car with our insurance agent. They searched car found small amount weed, a bong, papers and e-cigarette devices. Now, I get 2 fines for district court no brake lights no insurance, but it’s addressed to the defendant with my first name and my son’s last name. The cop wrote it this way on the ticket, so I am fighting the ticket. If they drop these tickets can it go to juvenile court? Since the district dropped I don’t understand why 2 different courts are charging with the same offenses. (Duquesne, PA)
A: Your question is a bit confusing. It really depends on who is charged in each action. If you are charged on the Motor Vehicle traffic summaries, and your son is subsequently charged in juvenile court for the reefer, then that is permissible under the rules. However, if your son is charged with Motor Vehicle summaries, enters a plea of guilty, or is found guilty or not guilty, an adjudication occurs. The police cannot then charge him again for drug offenses arising out of the same set of facts. There are Rules 109 and 110 of the PA Rules of Criminal Procedure that address this. It is basically a double jeopardy situation. I would consult with a lawyer for a precise answer as I am not looking at your charges and am not sure I have all the facts
Q: My daughter is 17 and will be 18 in six months. She has serious behavioral issues. She has been in and out of hospitals her whole life. She is in a psych ward now for locking herself in a teacher’s lounge at school and threatening harm. My ex-wife, who have full custody of her and my 15 year-old son, doesn’t want our daughter released to her and has said a court will force me to take her. I don’t want her. Can I be forced to take her? We can’t have her issues in our house. (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: You cannot be forced to take custody of her. If your ex-wife will not let her in her home, or refuses to take her home from the hospital, CYF will be called to take temporary custody of her. You will be called and offered temporary custody as well. if you don’t want her, she will be placed in a shelter and eventually placed in foster care if found to be a dependent child. As a biological parent, you and the mother will be responsible to reimburse CYF for all the money it spends on her care if she remains in foster care. I suggest you and your wife seek help for her whether it is through the courts, the school, CYF, etc. My suggestion is to call KIDS VOICE in Pittsburgh.
Q: I have been trying to remove myself from a toxic household that is mentally and sometimes physically abusive for multiple years now. I’m turning 18 in a few days. Once I turn 18 I will be leaving to live in a safer environment. However, I will need to transfer schools. I have already spoken with my old school about re-enrolling and everything is in order. All that is left to do is un-enroll from my current school, but I’m not sure how I can do so without my parent’s signature/consent. Please help, my education and development depend on this. (McKees Rocks, PA)
A: Since you are age 18, you are an adult and do not need parental signatures. PA compulsory education ends at age 17. You can leave school on your own at age 17. If you have any further questions, call Kids Voice in Pittsburgh.
Q: I live with my daughter and her 3 boys, ages 16, 14, and 11. My 16-year old grandson has severe mental health issues. He was diagnosed with mental health issues 10 years ago. Jump to the present. Early this past spring he tried to kill himself with his psychiatric medications. He hasn’t been the same person since the overdose. Since then he has been verbally abusing everyone in the household. In September, he threatened to kill me and his mom. Two weeks ago, he was verbally abusive and punched his mom, held his 11-year old brother hostage in her bedroom and then proceeded to cause $1,000.00 damage in our living room. Presently he is in a Children’s Hospital. The hospital is recommending a Residential Treatment Facility, but he has declined to go there, because of Act 147. Because of this act, he thinks that he rules his own mental health. He wants to go to a DOS program for 30 days and then come home, so that he may terrorize his family more. We are very scared and do not want him at home for fear what he may do. A week before he was admitted to the psych hospital he threatened to torch his bedroom. We are not safe. Please help me. (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: I am not understanding why he has not been involuntarily committed, either initiated by you, the hospital or police, if police were ever involved. It appears he is a danger to himself and others. Have you tried this? He needs a doctor’s prescription for an involuntary commitment at his age. Yes, you can obtain a Protection from Abuse (PFA) Order. I would call the police to initiate it. I would make sure you have the police aware of his condition and on your side before you obtain the PFA. A PFA order is only a piece of paper. Your real protection depends on how quickly the police arrive if your grandson decides to violate it. The power of the PFA is that once he violates it, when you call the police, they take him straight to jail, as he is in contempt of the order. You could also try to get help through CYF. If you cannot have him live in your home, he is therefore without proper parental control and supervision. CYF can file a Petition for Dependency, and ask the court to find him a dependent child. At that point, the court decides where he will be placed if home is not an option. Prior to filing the Dependency Petition, CYF can file for a Shelter Order and take temporary custody of him. If you do this, you need to understand that CYF has legal and physical custody of him, until such time that he is deemed able to return home or to a less structured environment.
Q: My 13-year-old daughter was charged with a summary offense of Harassment of a former friend. She received a citation with a $250 fine. Do I need to contest these charges and retain a lawyer or should I just pay the fine? Also, will she have a criminal record and can this be expunged? Thanks. (Mt Lebanon)
A: I find it odd that she is 13 years old and cited. Do not check “guilty” and send your money in for the fine. Check “not guilty” and request a hearing. If it requires money to be sent, send it. With no criminal history, this is the type of case that can be worked out without a conviction and a fine. This will be much easier if you have an attorney who is familiar with the court system guide you to this result.
Q: My 12-year-old has a public defender. She is accused of felony indecent sexual assault and misdemeanor indecent assault against a 12-year-old peer. We believe it was consensual and the girl has “buyer’s remorse”. I would like to plead not guilty. She can plead to the misdemeanor, I don’t accept that. What do you think would be best? (Cranberry Township, PA)
Q: These cases require a great deal of preparation and attention. The penalties are drastic and unfair. Jail is unlikely but sexual offender registration could be, which is oppressive. I had a similar case between teenagers. We were in the middle of trial and because the judge sensed that it was consensual, the judge brokered a consent decree with no admission of guilt for my client. This seemed fair to me as it would help avoid any Megan’s law (SORA at the time) compliance or registration and a criminal/juvenile record. However, every fact pattern is different. You have an entirely different prosecutor and Judge. I am not sure what options are available to your child. Talk with her public defender and gauge how involved they are and how interested they are in defending your daughter. If you are not comfortable, you can always hire a private attorney.
Q: This happened after an adjudication hearing was scheduled. The Assistant DA made a deal for an informal hearing with our lawyer, Is this legal?
A: Cases of first-time juvenile offenders can be handled by an informal disposition. This keeps them out of court. This normally is offered to low level offenders with no juvenile court history. The youth is given conditions to fulfill and if so fulfilled and complied with, the charges are withdrawn. If there was no great defense to the allegations, it sounds like what a good attorney would do with a juvenile delinquency case.
Q: My son rolled through a stop sign and was pulled over by cop in PA. The cop could smell marijuana and asked my son if he had any. My son said yes. The cop got the marijuana and arrested my son. He was released the same day but they confiscated his phone and money and car. We can pick up the car but the police still have his phone and money. (Munhall, PA)
A: I will assume your son has no criminal record. Your goal should be to get him out of this with no criminal record. An attorney can increase the chances of this result. Perhaps there is a constitutional illegal stop and search defense but if not, there may be other options, especially if he has no record. He will likely be summoned in the mail and charged with possession of marijuana and prohibited acts as well as some sort of motor vehicle summary. The summons will likely come from Allegheny County Juvenile Court. I have seen police departments keep cars in this situation and force the owner to petition the court for return of property. They can try to keep the cell phone and money by arguing they are linked to criminal enterprise if the case is active. Seek legal representation for him.
Q: My 17-year-old was at a house where there was alcohol. There was an altercation between others. She was not involved and asked a friend to take her home because she was scared. Police stopped them did not test them. The cop did ask her how much were you drinking and she said a little. She was drinking Red Bull and thought that was illegal. Will she still be charged? (Mt. Lebanon)
A: Attorneys defend these cases all the time. Police break up an underage drinking party and don’t have evidence of alcohol consumption for some of the kids because they have no beverage container in their possession, do not appear to be intoxicated nor smell like alcohol. This normally does not prevent the police from citing everybody at the party. The statute 18 Pa. C.S.A Sec. 6308, requires proof that a minor consumed, transported, possessed or purchased alcohol. If the only evidence against your daughter is that she said she was drinking, the officer can testify to that and it would be up to the District Justice to believe your daughter’s story about her believing Red Bull was illegal. I find her story questionable but I would have to hear it in person. Bear in mind that many District Justice offices offer a program for minors in this situation whereby the charges will be withdrawn if the minor completes an alcohol class. I would consult with a lawyer as if your daughter is convicted, she will have a record for five years and will lose her driver’s license for 90 days.