A juvenile hearing in open court
In Pennsylvania, juvenile court is rehabilitative, not punitive.
The state’s interest is in making the young person less likely to be a repeat offender than punishing him or her for an initial crime.
For that reason, young offenders are granted a high degree of confidentiality that adult offenders are not given. Most juvenile hearings are closed to the public.
The names of juvenile offenders are typically unavailable to the public, including the press.
However, in cases where the youth is at least 14 years of age at the time of the offense and the incident would be a felony if committed by an adult, or at least 12 years of age in cases involving any of a list of violent felonies, hearings are open and documents are public records.
On Thursday, a Warren 16-year-old’s dispositional hearing on charges related to a written threat at school was held in open court.
The hearing was not the first open juvenile hearing in Warren County, according to the Warren County juvenile probation department. It was the first juvenile hearing covered by Times Observer staff. According to juvenile probation, changes to the Pennsylvania Juvenile Act allow for some juvenile cases and documents to be open.
The student’s name, date of birth, mental health evaluation, and numerous other details that would normally be hidden from public view in a juvenile case were shared in open court.
The newspaper’s editorial board decided, in this case, not to publish the name, nor otherwise identify the student, nor his parents. The newspaper has not adopted a formal policy with respect to future cases, instead deciding a course of reporting based on the circumstances of individual cases. In this case, a violent act had not been committed, as was pointed out in the court proceeding.
According to Pennsylvania Newspaper Association Media Law Counsel Melissa Melewsky, “If the hearing is public, you have the right to attend and accurately report on the proceedings, including the child’s name.”
“With that being said, some newspapers do not name juveniles in similar situations as a matter of policy,” Melewsky said. “This is an ethical decision, not a legal one. Many newspapers start their inquiry from the standpoint that the Juvenile Act is intended as a rehabilitation method, not a means for punishment, and whether publishing the name serves any purpose for their readers.”