It can be traumatic to be arrested, especially if you are a child. It could also be stigmatizing for a juvenile to be handcuffed, taken through intricate proceedings, and later behind razor-fences for rehabilitation. It's common for minors below 18 years to be arrested and committed to secure confinement in California while others are subject to probation. Even those lucky children sent home but on probation are circumstantially forced to deal with the lasting consequences of a criminal record and the stigma that comes with it. The good news is that there are several options within California State's juvenile court system, which do not constitute confinement. The Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm has competent attorneys who can keep a child out of custody and help them get their life back in line. If your child has a run-in with California law, we are available to offer legal assistance.

Understanding the Juvenile Delinquency Court

In California, juvenile delinquency court refers to a court set aside to adjudicate misdemeanor and felony offenses supposedly committed by children. The juvenile court handles status crimes like truancy and curfew violations. Status crimes only constitute acts of crime when carried out by children. The Superior Court in Los Angeles Juvenile Division governs the informal juvenile court that handles mild misdemeanors and infractions. It also oversees the juvenile delinquency court and the oversees juvenile dependency court that handles abandoned, neglected, and abused minors. It is worth noting that prosecutors in California try to divert children to community initiatives to help them rather than pressing juvenile charges.

Technically, the California criminal system doesn't constitute the juvenile court. Juvenile court forms part of California's civil law system that adjudicates the cases. Juvenile court proceedings are always confidential with only the judge, defense attorneys, and prosecutors but without juries. Jerry Brown,  a former California Governor, signed into law SB 439 on September 30, 2018. The bill mandates the court only to exercise jurisdiction on a child below 12 years if they are convicted of:

  • Violence
  • Oral copulation
  • The threat of significant bodily harm
  • Murder
  • Sodomy
  • Sexual penetration through fear or force
  • Rape

Juvenile court's jurisdiction is over certain minors under 12 years and minors aged 12 to 17, but mostly, children below 12 years are not tried in California juvenile court.

In the juvenile court system, the judge doesn't find a child innocent or guilty. Instead, the judge sustains the district attorney's petition if the judge establishes that the child committed the alleged offense beyond doubt. In the juvenile court, a judge can give several optional sentences. Informal probation is a lesser sentence when a child denies allegations of any crime. After completion of the program, the charges against the minor could be dismissed.

On the other hand, the judge may make a child a ward of the court. Ward of the court means the court takes the primary role of controlling and treating the minor. The child may still fulfill the probation while at home even if he or she is a ward of the court. They may also be committed to a probation camp within the county, foster care, or group home. This is because the primary goal of California's juvenile justice system is to rehabilitate minor offenders. This differs from the adult system that aims to punish the offenders upon a conviction; they are taken to jail. In the juvenile court system, children receive treatment, education, and services that can help them overcome crimes, go back to their families, and transform into productive people.

However, in as much as the juvenile court system in California aims at rehabilitation, children who go against the law face punishment. The child may face sanctions for impermissible behavior. Sanctions are meant to discipline a child instead of retribution. Some of the sanctions may include:

  • Attending a victim impact class
  • Commitment to the California Youth Authority (CYA)
  • Payment of fine or restitution
  • Commitment to a foster home
  • Community service
  • Commitment to a camp, juvenile hall, or ranch
  • Probation or parole conditions

Besides its good intentions of rehabilitating minors, California’s juvenile court system has been in the public domain for numerous failures. In 2003, the State was sued because of poor conditions at the CYA. Some of the worse conditions included:

  • Confining minors in cells for 23 hours a day
  • Perpetuating a culture riddled with extreme, gang-related violence
  • Extreme use of force, including using mace on restrained minors
  • Utilizing psychotropic medications as a form of control
  • Making children attend schooling while still in cages
  • Failing to give minors ample mental health and medical services

In 2004, the Alameda County Superior Court appointed a special master to oversee CYA. The CYA embraced a consent decree to redeem itself from the abuses. In 2007, the California legislature passed Senate Bill 81 to realign juvenile justice from the county level to the State level. 

Currently, California juvenile justice has undergone realignment. All but most violent and severe youth offenders are receiving rehabilitation, treatment, and security from county probation departments. The changes in law and a series of funding initiatives have enabled the restoration of extreme and violent juvenile offenders within the county probation departments. The system has more devoted and caring professionals dedicated to the mission of rehabilitation.

A Minor's Arrest 

A minor should be aware of what to do when the police arrest them. A child should avoid any resistance, give their names, remain polite, and not panic. This gesture will assist the juvenile in avoiding unplanned legal implications. The juvenile should also:

  • State in a straightforward manner that they intend to exercise the right to stay silent
  • Know that the police is not their friend
  • Avoid writing or confessing through an apology letter under any circumstances.
  • Request for an attorney
  • Request the presence of their parent

Interrogation – A Minor's Legal Rights 

A minor should demand a Miranda warning from the police before interrogation. The Miranda warning constitutes:

  • Right to an attorney
  • The legal right to stay silent
  • A criminal defense attorney will be availed if you cannot hire one
  • Anything the minor says can and will be used against them in court

However, the Supreme Court's ruling on Miranda demands that the police read your rights while conducting the custodial interrogation. The police are not supposed to read Miranda warnings during the minor's arrest. During interrogation, victims are questioned to give a self-incriminating response, and they cannot leave freely.

California law demands that the police should read Miranda warning to the minor before taking them to custody. This requirement applies even if the police do not wish to question the minor. The police must ask the juvenile whether they are aware of their rights after reading the Miranda warning. If the minor replies positively, the police must enquire from them if they would like to speak. The police should not question the juvenile if they opt to stay silent. If the child agrees to speak, their right to remain silent no longer holds. Anything the minor says afterward can count as evidence against them in the court of law.

A child can waive their Miranda rights if they voluntarily do so. However, minors aged fifteen years or less cannot waive Miranda rights unless with the lawyer's permission. The prosecutor has to prove the waiver through a preponderance of the evidence. The judge often looks at the factors of the case to establish if the confession wasn't coerced. Some of the factors include:

  • If the judge suspects denial of lawyer representation
  • Whether the interrogation was unduly lengthy or unrelenting
  • If the police threatened or harmed the minor in any way
  • If the officer denied the child any crucial need like food and water
  • The police promised the minor a more lenient sentence if the minor made a confession
  • If the police threatened to jail or harassed the juvenile's relative

The judge may decide that the participation was involuntary and dismiss the case if the minor's parent was present during the interrogation.

Juvenile Court's Trial Age 

Typically, the California juvenile court system tries children under the age of 18 years. In some instances, younger minors may be tried in adult court. According to California 602 WIC, children under 18 who commit crimes are tried in juvenile court. If you commit an offense at the age of 17 without being tried or discovered until you reach 20, you can be charged in juvenile court.

A minor 16 years may be subject to a transfer hearing if they commit a crime under the Welfare and Institutions Code (WIC) section 707(b) of California's law. It will be upon the judge’s discretion to decide if the minor should be charged in an adult court depending on:

  • The child's previous criminal history
  • The degree of criminal activity portrayed by the minor
  • The circumstances and magnitude of the offenses alleged in the petition
  • Whether the child can be corrected/rehabilitated before juvenile court jurisdiction expires
  • The effectiveness of former efforts to rehabilitate the minor

It is worth noting that children under 16 years are not tried in adult courts. However, in some instances, a child 16 years and above may be tried in adult court if they commit one of the crimes listed in WIC code 707b. the crimes under section 707b include:

  • Assault with a destructive device or firearm
  • An offense outlined under section 1203.09 of the California Penal Code against a victim above 60 or disabled.
  • Escaping by using violence or force from a juvenile facility, especially if significant bodily injury is willingly inflicted on the juvenile facility's employee
  • A violent felony, which also would constitute a felony violation of Penal Code 186.22b criminal street gang sentencing enhancement
  • Attempted murder, among others

Juvenile Court's Trial Process 

The trial process in the California juvenile court starts with an arrest of a child. If the police opt to release the child with a minor reprimand, then the case may end right there. However, the police may also take the child to the probation department. The minor may later be detained at juvenile hall and a petition filed against him or her. The trial process constitutes of various hearings, including:

  • A detention hearing
  • Jurisdiction hearing
  • Disposition hearing for sentencing
  • Transfer hearing in cases of 707(b) crimes
  • Arraignment for children out of custody

Juvenile Detention Hearing

A detention hearing helps determine if the child should be taken out of their home after the District Attorney files a petition. The court may also decide whether the child should stay locked up if they are already locked up. The hearing may take place a day after the District Attorney files the petition and after locking up the child. 

Often, the court commences the hearing by informing the child why they are locked up, having the right to an attorney representation, and what they expect from the court. The court may provide an attorney if the child doesn't have one, regardless of whether they can afford to pay or not. The child's parents may be forced to refund the court if it decides later that the parents should pay for the attorney.

During detention hearing, the child may challenge the decision to custody, question the individuals who gave the information and whoever prepared the evidence. The child can also give his or her evidence. If the child has reliable witnesses, they may also tell the court what they know. 

For a detention hearing to occur, the court must be convinced that there's total truth in the petition. The court has to consider the child's best environment by either putting them in a juvenile center or on home supervision.

Jurisdiction Hearing

If the child is put in custody, a jurisdiction hearing on the charges must occur within 15 court days after the detention hearing. The jurisdiction hearing must take place 30 days after the arrest and if the child is in custody. The court may have more time if you don't agree to the hearing to continue. The court may also not allow you to request more time. If one party requests for the hearing to continue, they must have a good reason. If the court will enable you to continue with the hearing, then it's scheduled immediately.

Once the hearing commences, the judge reads the petition and expounds on what it means. The judge could also give the expectation of the hearing. After reading the charges, the judge will ask the child if the accusations are true or false, and they will be given a chance to challenge the criminal charges. If the child doesn't challenge the criminal charges, they enter a plea to admit that the charges are accurate. 

The judge will also determine if the child understands the criminal charges and the consequences. If the child is ordered to pay restitution or fines, the judge will tell the guardians or parents to pay. The child can challenge the District Attorney's evidence if they prove that the charges are false. The judge can dismiss the petition if the accusations are false.

The procedures and timelines for how and when each of these hearings should occur are provided in California law. If the defense attorney and the prosecutor resolve at a certain stage, they may go straight to disposition. In case some errors arise, they may schedule one or several re-hearings. In every court hearing, the parents of the minor must be present.

Minor Sentencing in the Juvenile Delinquency System

There are several optional sentences in juvenile courts in California. The options range from Commitment to Youth Authority (CYA) to informal probation. Apart from adult prison, the most severe punishment a child can face is CYA commitment. The only minors who can be sent to CYA are those with several crimes requiring sex offender registration in California. Those whose recent adjudication is for a WIC 707(b) crime also qualify for CYA commitment.

A child qualifies for informal probation or a diversion according to Welfare and Institutions W&I code 654 or WIC 725 if the case is not severe. Minors guilty of non-violent, first-time crimes like Penal Code 602 PC trespass or Penal Code 594 PC vandalism are eligible for informal probation. According to California W&I code section 654, before a petition filing occurs, the case is directed to probation. This often happens in juvenile court with cases involving petty theft crimes under PC 484 and shoplifting. 

In a shoplifting crime, juvenile attorneys often make efforts to secure a WIC 725 probation or a WIC 654 diversion. The attorneys do so because of the low-level nature of the crime. Therefore, a child may get the PC 484 shoplifting accusations dismissed upon completing probation or avoiding a filing. 

Efforts are made to amend the situation, bringing the child within such jurisdiction to fit within the court's jurisdiction. The probation officer creates a program for the child that takes less than six months. The program entails counseling and education. The probation officer may resort to petition proceedings at the juvenile court if the child fails to perform.

On the other hand, the judge may decide to place the child on informal probation under W&I section 725. This is where the petition is filed but put on hold, giving a child another chance. So long as the child adheres to the probation terms and never pleads guilty, the petition may be dismissed. The W&I section 725 probation takes six months. Conditions for probation include:

  • Drug testing and restitution
  • Counseling for both the child and his or her parents and curfew
  • School attendance

In case a California juvenile court decides to make the child a ward of the court, he or she can face a sentence to a probation period. At times, the minors can undertake their informal probation at home even if they are court's wards. In some instances, the court may commit the ward to a group home or a suitable placement in a relative's house. For example, emotionally unstable minors are assigned level 14 group homes. Necessary rehabilitation for the minor is given as probation terms that may include:

  • Graffiti removal
  • Counseling on substance abuse
  • Restitution
  • Compulsory school attendance
  • Community service
  • Curfew restrictions
  • Not interacting with specific people

Those minors requiring a high level of rehabilitation are placed in probation camps for three months to a year. There are seventy probation camps throughout the United States. The majority of the camps are generally dormitory-based, with a schedule constituting treatment programs and education. Few probation camps lie in California, like fire camps or wilderness. Fire camps or wilderness emphasizing forestry and fire fighting training, family-style Missouri-model and military-style boot camp, focusing on small-scale, intensive, and focused treatment.

In a California juvenile delinquency system, a child may also face a deferred entry of judgment (DEJ) under W&I Code 790. This option calls on the child to plead guilty to the petitioner's allegations. However, if the child completes the DEJ program, the charges may be dismissed. Deferred entry of judgment (DEJ) program takes a period of 12 to 36 months. Minors who commit first-time felonies that are not under section 707(b) crimes qualify for DEJ.

How Adjudication Affects a Minor 

A juvenile adjudication may have a long-term negative impact on the minor. For purposes of California's Three Strikes Law, sustained petitions or juvenile convictions count as strikes. Juvenile adjudications may send a minor to civil confinement as an SVP (sexually violent predator) and even sex offender registration. A minor may seal the juvenile record in less serious juvenile charges if they complete the sentence and maintain crime-free status for a substantial period.

Find a Juvenile Delinquency Defense Attorney Near Me

It could be traumatic to know that your son or daughter is in custody and will be charged for committing an offense. That's why you need to contact a competent attorney who can protect your child's rights. At Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we are experienced in handling juvenile delinquency cases in California. We provide the best services to our clients. Contact us at 714-740-7848 for the best legal representation.