The juvenile court system is different from that of the criminal court. This means there are many options an attorney can explore to keep your child out of custody. Retaining the help of a competent attorney can prevent the minor from spending time in custody or protect against the stigma that comes with having a criminal record. 

Proper legal representation can be the difference in whether you will be taking your child home or see them sentenced as adults and sent to jail. If you or your child is faced with juvenile delinquency, the Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm can help you obtain the best outcome through outstanding legal representation.

Dealing with California Juvenile Cases

Juvenile delinquent acts are violations of the law committed by minors. The act of participating in this unlawful behavior is what is called juvenile delinquency. Instead of a trial in a criminal court, minors go through a disposition, which means adjudication, and if found guilty, they obtain a disposition hearing, meaning a sentence. Minors, in this case, refer to children aged between 12 to 17 years. Sen Bill 439 states that juveniles under 13 years shouldn’t be tried in court unless the crime in question involves sodomy, sexual penetration using force, rape, or homicide. This makes juvenile courts distinct from criminal court systems.

Delinquent acts fall under two classifications. The first category is the one that would be deemed as an offense if it is an adult who committed it. Particular severe crimes could also have the child charged as an adult. The other category is status offenses which would usually not be deemed as crimes if performed by adults. These offenses include alcohol consumption and curfew violations.

In California, juvenile delinquency courts have the mandate to adjudicate alcohol possession or consumption, truancy, curfew violations, and other status offenses by children. The court also handles misdemeanor crimes and infractions committed by minors. There is also the juvenile dependency court that deals with cases of abandoned and neglected minors. Keep in mind that this court is under the civil justice system and not the criminal system. 

Special Terms Used in Juvenile Courts

The language used in the juvenile court is different from that of the criminal court. During sentencing, the judge will sustain a petition instead of using the terms guilty and innocent. Further, as indicated earlier, instead of a sentence, the juvenile court uses the term disposition. 

The lowest type of disposition in these courts is informal probation, where the minor accepts charges and the case is dropped upon successful completion of the program. At the other end of the spectrum, a sustained petition means the juvenile is expected to commit to the California Youth Authority (CYA), a California prison for children. Currently, CYA is referred to as the Division of Juvenile Justice.

Meaning of ward of Court in Juvenile Delinquency

In the juvenile court, you are likely to come crossways with the term ward of court during disposition. This means that you or your child will be under the control and treatment of the court. Fortunately, the child can serve the probation at home, in a group of homes, foster care, or county probation home. 

The Goal of Rehabilitation

The philosophical difference between the California juvenile court system and the adult criminal system is that juvenile courts aim to rehabilitate delinquents while the criminal court seeks to punish offenders. The dispositions in juvenile courts include a commitment to CYA, parole conditions, restitution payment, mandatory victim impact lessons, and placement in a foster home. The sanctions are designed to educate, treat and instill discipline in minors and not retribution. 

Issues with the Juvenile Court System

Because of the juvenile justice system’s noble or remarkable goals, you would expect it to be perfect. Unfortunately, the system has received extensive criticism due to its failures. The CYA has been sued because of deplorable conditions like:

  • Application of excessive force, mainly through restraining children or using mace on those already secured
  • Forcing minors to attend lessons while in cages
  • Restraining children in cages for extended hours like 23 hours a day
  • Limiting or failing to provide minors access to physical or mental health services
  • Controlling children in juvenile facilities with psychotropic medications
  • Embracing a culture riddled with extreme, gang-related violence

After the 2003 Farrell Vs. Allen lawsuit, the CYA entered in a decree committing to remedy the abuses, and deplorable conditions have been discussed below.

Changes in the Juvenile Justice System 

The juvenile court has seen many changes in the realignment process since 2014, triggered by sentencing preferences, costs, and litigations. The realignment of minors from states to counties has witnessed counties embrace the role of securing, treating, and rehabilitating delinquents. However, cases involving violence or severe crimes are still committed to CYA. The changes in a realignment in the juvenile justice system came about in 2007 after the passing of SB 89, which required realigning juveniles from the state to county level. 

As a result of these changes, very few juveniles find themselves committed in CYA. The county department of probation handles the majority of the cases. 

Unfortunately, just like the CYA, county probation departments are receiving criticism for deplorable conditions like inadequate education services and increased violence and riots. Despite these problems, the system has dedicated and devoted professionals who are a ray of hope to these facilities’ mission, which is rehabilitation. 

Trials in the Juvenile Court

In general, children below 18 are the ones handled by juvenile courts. However, there are exceptional circumstances where a minor can be treated as an adult. Welfare and Institutions Code 602 states that the juvenile justice system has jurisdiction over children who have not attained the age of 18 at the time of engaging in delinquent acts. So, even when a child participates in the commission of a crime at the age of 17 and the offense is not discovered until adulthood, the case will still be adjudicated in the juvenile court. 

We advise getting in touch with a professional criminal defense attorney who understands juvenile cases to help you understand more about your case.

Instances where Minors are Tried as Adults

When a child, 16 or older, commits a crime listed under Sec 707 (b), they might be subject to a transfer hearing. Some of the factors the judge considers before deciding to transfer the minor include:

  • The criminal complexity of the crime in question
  • If there are chances of rehabilitating the minor before the expiration of juvenile jurisdiction, the judge might consider it
  • The child’s criminal record of delinquent acts
  • The prior attempts to rehabilitate the minor and whether they bore fruits
  • The facts and circumstances surrounding the case

Remember, when a juvenile engages in the commission of any of the offenses listed under WIC 707 (b), they might be tried as adults in a criminal justice system. The crimes listed under this section include:

  • Rape with violence
  • Attempted homicide
  • Forcible sexual penetration
  • Kidnapping for robbery
  • Kidnapping with physical harm
  • Torture
  • Kidnapping for ransom
  • Murder
  • Robbery
  • Arson causing significant bodily harm
  • Arson of an inhabited structure
  • Assault

Furthermore, escape from a juvenile facility, home, or camp can trigger a transfer or fitness hearing if the escape or attempted escape involved the application of force. The chances of a minor ending up in a fitness hearing are high if attempted escape causes bodily injury to an employee of the facility. 

Similarly, a minor will be subject to this hearing if they participate in the commission of a felony offense, personally utilizing a weapon as outlined under PC 16590 (a). Besides, a fitness hearing could also apply as per PC 12022.5 or PC 12022.53, making personal use of a firearm.

Note that the prosecutor doesn’t decide on the transfer hearing. Instead, they initiate the process, but the judge retains the discretion to determine if the minor should be tried as an adult or not, based on the case’s nature. Typically, the juvenile justice system terminates its jurisdiction over the minor when they turn 21. Still, in some cases, if the juvenile is committed to CYA, this court system’s jurisdiction might extend to no more than 25 years. 

Furthermore, losing a transfer hearing isn’t the end of the road for you or your child. It’s still possible to appeal the court’s decision by filing a petition within 20 days after the first arraignment. 

It’s advisable to retain a criminal attorney’s services during this process because they will simplify the appeal process. An experienced attorney will help you build preponderance evidence demonstrating that you or your minor belong in the juvenile court system and not the adult criminal one and doesn’t deserve to face trial as an adult, independent of the crime in question.

California Juvenile Court Process

If your child’s case is not tried in criminal court, it will be adjudicated in a juvenile court. The two court systems use different procedures when handling claims. The juvenile court process begins with the apprehension of the minor for a delinquent act. The arresting officer has the right to reprimand the juvenile if the offense in question is minor. If this happens, the justice system ends at this point. 

Alternatively, the officer could provide you with a citation, requiring you to show up before a judge on a particular date. However, if the officers find it necessary to deliver you to the probation department, you will be detained at a juvenile hall for interrogation, awaiting a petition. If you find yourself in a situation like this, it’s paramount that you understand your rights. 

1.  Your Child’s Rights

The police officer making the arrest must recite the Miranda warning to you or your child before an arrest. The notice includes the following rights:

  • The right to remain silent
  • Anything your child says might be used against them in court
  • Right to legal representation
  • A public defender will be provided if the child cannot afford one

It’s worth noting that it’s not a must for the arresting officer to read the Miranda warning at the arrest time. These rights can be read during custodial interrogation, where a child is held temporarily and questioned to evoke an implicating answer. 

However, as per the California statutes, the warning should be read before the child goes into custody, even if no interrogation is intended. You or your child will be read the Miranda warning’s rights and asked if you understand them. If your answer is “yes,” the officer will ask you if you want to speak. If you agree to talk, the right to remain silent will be waived, and anything you say to the officers will be used to prove your guilt in court. However, if you invoke the right to stay silent, the arresting officer will stop the custodial interrogation.

Remember, there is no particular fashion of putting into effect the right to remain silent, but it’s critical to do it instead of remaining silent affirmingly. 

A minor caught in the commission of a delinquent act can waive the Miranda rights if they are voluntary. However, waiving these rights for juveniles 15 years or younger is impossible unless in an attorney’s presence. The evidence in your child’s case is more crucial than a voluntary confession because the prosecutor in these cases must prove the waiver of these rights by a preponderance of the discovery. 

A juvenile judge considers several factors when determining if a confession was voluntary. These factors are:

  • Notwithstanding if the law enforcers had harmed or threatened to harm you or your child in any manner
  • Notwithstanding if the officers had threatened to jail you or your child’s close family member
  • The officers promised a more lenient sentence in exchange for a confession
  • Regardless of the officer suspects denial of legal representation
  • Notwithstanding if the minor was denied crucial needs like food, toilet, and water
  • Irrespective of the interrogation was unnecessarily lengthy or implacable

Remember, if your child has been apprehended for committing a delinquent act, the officers don’t need your presence to continue with the questioning. However, this shouldn’t mean that the child’s request to have their parent or legal guardian present during interrogation should be denied. Your presence as a parent to the juvenile might result in a case of dismissal on the grounds of involuntary participation. 

2.  Actions you or your Child must Take During Arrest

It’s critical for you as a child or parent to a minor to understand the actions you should take at the time of an arrest. Understanding what to do protects you from further legal implications. Therefore, after an apprehension, you should stay calm, give your name to the arresting officer, remain polite, and avoid resisting arrest. Once you have been apprehended, you should understand that the officer is not your friend, and as such, you should request your parent’s or an attorney’s presence. 

Similarly, you should be clear regarding your intention to revoke the right to remain silent and keep off confessions when writing apology letters.

The general juvenile justice process at a glance involves:

  • A detention hearing if you or your child is in custody
  • An arraignment hearing for juveniles not in custody
  • A transfer hearing if you have engaged in the commission of a crime listed under Sec 707 (b) offenses.
  • A jurisdiction hearing
  • A disposition hearing

California statutes provide timelines to govern how these hearings occur. Your defense attorney and the prosecuting team can work closely for a settlement and go straight to disposition. Further, there might be multiple re-hearings in the event of errors during the case. Remember that you have the right to be present in the various hearings as a parent to the juvenile. 

Legal Dispositions after a Juvenile Justice Process

Under the California juvenile justice system, multiple disposition options are available. The dispositions or sentences include:

Informal Probation 

In cases where you or your child is facing less serious criminal allegations, you might be eligible for WIC 654 informal probation. The role comes with various conditions like your parents agreeing to participate in counseling, education programs, obtaining care and treatment if the case involves substance abuse, and parenting. Poor performance or failure to take part in these programs can result in the filing of a petition 

WIC 654 Diversion 

Under WIC 654 diversion, juvenile cases are diverted to informal probation before filing a petition in less severe offenses like shoplifting. In these cases, your attorney acquires a recreation where you must complete the informal probation for the charges to be dismissed. Failure to complete the diversion program will result in the filing of a petition. 

Deferred Entry of Judgment

Under the deferred entry of judgment disposition option, you are required to admit guilt for the petition against you in exchange for a dismissal of the charges upon completion of the program. This disposition is for first-time felony offenders for offenses not listed under section 707 (b).

Formal Probation in a Camp or Home 

Upon declaration as a ward of the court, you or your child will be sentenced to probation. The formal probation can be completed from home, a group of homes, or a relative’s house. Emotionally unstable juveniles complete probation in level 14 group homes which are equipped to handle cases like these. 

Remember, the goal of the juvenile justice system is to rehabilitate. Therefore, the terms of the probation are designed to rehabilitate you or your child. These conditions are:

  • Stay away from particular individuals
  • Curfew restrictions
  • Mandatory school attendance
  • Restitution of the victims of your delinquent acts
  • Community labor
  • Graffiti removal
  • Substance abuse counseling

If you need significant rehabilitation, you might be committed to a probation camp for a duration of between three to twelve months. These camps have a structured daily schedule that involves treatment and education programs. 

CYA Commitment 

If an offense is adjudicated as a Sec 707 (b) offense or requires you to register as a sex offender, you will be subject to the harshest juvenile court penalty, which is a commitment to CYA. 

Lasting Consequences of Juvenile Adjudication

A juvenile adjudication could have severe implications on you or your child’s future. Under the Three Strikes Law, a sustained petition in a juvenile court translates to a strike. The law allows adult criminal courts to check previous juvenile adjudications while making probation or sentencing decisions. It means that if you commit a delinquent act as a minor and the court sustains the petition, and later on, as an adult, you are convicted of a subsequent crime, your prior record will affect your current sentence. 

If the offense in question is sex-related, you may be required to register as a sex offender. California’s sex registration comes in tiers. Under the first tier, your registration as a sex offender will remain in the records for at least ten years for sex offenses like sexual battery. 

Tier two requires you to register as a sex offender for not less than twenty years for sex crimes like lewd acts with minors or non-forced sodomy with a child younger than 14 years.

Tier three registration is for a lifetime. The registration applies if you have committed an extreme sex offense like rape, sex crimes against children under ten years, or sex crimes using force. The effects of you or your child registering as a sex offender can have life-changing or dangerous repercussions, making an attorney crucial in these cases. 

Find a Juvenile Delinquency Defense Attorney Near Me 

While juvenile cases are handled in the juvenile justice system, the case might be challenging to go through, especially for first-time offenders. Luckily, with the multiple options available in the juvenile courts, all is not lost. With the help of a criminal attorney, you can rest knowing your child’s rights are protected. At the Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we are familiar with all juvenile delinquency elements and are ready to help you at your hour of need. Call us today at 714-740-7848 for a zero-obligation consultation.