News Reporting Concerning Juveniles (42 P.S. §6301 et. seq., 18 P.S. §§ 9104-9105)

Juveniles enjoy a number of confidentiality protections that adults do not have. This is because states are recognized to have an interest in rehabilitating juvenile delinquents and this interest would be complicated by reporting names of juveniles involved in crimes. While this interest is given much weight in the courts, it does not prevent newspapers from reporting all stories that include the names of juveniles. Certain distinctions are made between criminal and non-criminal actions, and the criminal distinctions are further affected by how the information concerning the juvenile has been obtained.

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General Rules

Newspapers must be careful not to publish information that they obtained from sources that violates the confidentiality protections for juveniles involved in juvenile proceedings. This rule is statutorily created and applies to proceedings in which a juvenile is alleged to be delinquent or dependent. However, the Supreme Court of the United States has held that reporters' First and Fourteenth Amendment rights outweigh a states interests in protections relating to the rehabilitation of juveniles. This means that if a reporter lawfully obtains the names of juveniles involved in crimes, the reporter may publish the names of the juveniles. In Smith v Daily Mail, 443 U.S. 97 (1999), a reporter was allowed to publish the name of a juvenile charged with murder because the juvenile's name was acquired by monitoring police radio frequencies and by asking witnesses. Even though West Virginia had a statute preventing the publishing of juvenile's names when they are involved in criminal proceedings, the reporter's First and Fourteenth Amendment rights outweighed West Virginia's interests of rehabilitating the juvenile.

When juveniles are not involved in juvenile proceedings, their names may be published by the newspaper subject to the restrictions placed on using adult names (such as invasion of privacy and defamation limitations). An example of this is Pierog v. The Morning Call, 1995 WL 813163 (Pa.Com.Pl. 1995) where a newspaper published the name of a juvenile involved in a car accident. Because the police did not charge the juvenile with criminal wrongdoing, the accident was considered to be a newsworthy event and did not implicate Pennsylvania's Juvenile Act.

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Juvenile Proceedings (42 P.S. §§6301 - 6365)

Juveniles involved in juvenile proceedings are protected by Pennsylvania's Juvenile Act, which is modeled after the Model Juvenile Court Act. If the person in question falls within the definition of a juvenile, court records and law enforcement records involving the juvenile will not be made available to reporters (subject to the exceptions listed below).

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Definition of a Juvenile

For the purposes of protection under the "Juvenile Act," a juvenile, or "child" is an individual who:

1. is under the age of 18 years;
2. is under the age of 21 years who committed an act of delinquency before reaching the age of 18 years; or
3. is between the ages of 18 and 21 and who, under special circumstances, requests the court to retain jurisdiction until a course of instruction or treatment has been completed. §6302

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Juveniles Tried as Adults

If the juvenile is tried as an adult, then the following items can also be printed and disclosed to the public:

  • original records of entry compiled chronologically, including, but not limited to, police blotters and press releases that contain criminal history record information and are disseminated contemporaneous with the incident;
  • documents, records or indices prepared or maintained by or filed in any court of this Commonwealth;
  • posters, announcements, or lists for identifying or apprehending fugitives or wanted persons; and
    court dockets, police blotters and press releases.

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Previously released information

Information collected by newspapers and individuals that includes information released by the courts or the police is not considered criminal history record information and is not treated as protected information. For example, a newspaper may publish a story that summarizes information released by the county court of common pleas. (18 P.S. §§ 9104 and 9105).

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Juvenile Court records

All files and records of the court in a juvenile proceeding are open to inspection only by persons, agencies or institutions having a legitimate interest in the proceedings or in the work of the unified judicial system. Such persons and agencies are considered to be judges, parties to the proceeding, agencies providing supervision for the juvenile, and other persons or agencies that are connected to the court or the child's welfare. Newspaper reporters are not considered to have a legitimate interest in the proceedings. 42 P.S. §6307

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Law enforcement records for Juveniles

Law enforcement records and files are not open to public inspection or disclosure to the public except in cases where:

  1. the child is 14 or older at the time of the alleged conduct; and
  2. the child has been adjudicated delinquent (by a court) or alleged to be delinquent by a law enforcement agency for an act that includes the elements of rape, kidnapping, murder, robbery, arson, burglary, the intentional manufacture, delivery, or possession of a controlled substance, or other act involving the use of or threat of serious bodily harm.

Where the law enforcement records are open to public inspection, the following information may be disclosed: the name, age and address of the child, the offenses charged and the disposition of the case. 42 P.S. §6308

Note: The Third Circuit (federal court system) has made clear that the Juvenile Delinquency Act does not require that all juvenile records and proceedings be closed to the public. Although the above statutes state that names of juveniles cannot be released to the public, courts have held that they will strike a balance between the significant public interests at stake and the interests of the juveniles in keeping their identity private. Courts will not unseal the dockets, filings or transcripts in juvenile cases, but will permit the disclosure of the result of the adjudication and disposition of cases without stating the names of the juveniles involved. The following is a sample of such a disclosure from the case of Sealed v. Sealed, 1997 WL 169368 (E.D.Pa. Apr 04, 1997), which the court stated would provide the public with the information that they needed to know while protecting the interests of the juveniles involved.

Three of the four juveniles charged in this matter have admitted their involvement in the series of fires. Accordingly, the juveniles were adjudged delinquent, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 5032. The government represented that all three of these juveniles had provided substantial cooperation in the investigation and prosecution of these cases.

The Court ordered the maximum period of probation allowed for each juvenile, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 5038. One of the juveniles who is seventeen years old received a term of probation until he turns twenty-one. The two other juveniles, both of whom recently turned fifteen, received five years probation. As a condition of probation, the Court ordered that two of the juveniles spend three years in a federal juvenile facility. The Court ordered that as a condition of probation, the other juvenile spend two years in a privately operated juvenile treatment center. The government filed a Motion to transfer one of the juveniles to adult criminal prosecution, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 5032. On February 11, 1997, this Court issued an Order granting the government's Motion. The juvenile has appealed the Court's Order, and that matter is currently pending under seal before the Third Circuit. The Court notes that if this juvenile is transferred to adult criminal prosecution, subsequent proceedings against him will become a matter of public record.

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Ethical Requirements

In addition to requirements set by the law, the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics states that journalists should use special sensitivity when dealing with children and inexperienced sources or subjects. Additionally, they should be cautious about identifying juvenile suspects or victims of sex crimes. Failure to adhere to these recognized values may give rise to a lawsuit if someone is injured because of the journalist's non-adherence to these standards.

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