Minors usually go through traumatic experiences when they are arrested for criminal activities. If a minor commits a crime, it is referred to as a delinquency act. The California juvenile justice system focuses on rehabilitation instead of punishment like paying fines, serving jail sentences, or prison sentences when convicting minors for their criminal actions.

Although the sentence is not quite stringent, it is recommendable to seek professional legal services to mitigate the severity of the charges and their long term impacts. At Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, we have extensive experience helping parents and juveniles navigate the California juvenile system to achieve the best possible outcomes.

Definition of Juvenile Delinquency and How it is Handled in California

Juvenile delinquency is the act of participating in unlawful behavior as a minor or individual younger than the statutory age of majority. In California, the statutory age of majority is 18 years. Therefore, suspects below 18 years are tried as juvenile offenders. However, if a juvenile offender commits a crime but is not discovered until 20 years, they can still be tried in a juvenile court.

Sometimes, a juvenile offender can be subjected to a transfer hearing where the judge decides to transfer the case to an adult court based on:

  • The minor’s previous delinquent behaviors
  • The complexity of the crime committed by the minor
  • The success of previous attempts to punish the juvenile through rehabilitation

 A juvenile offender below 16 years old cannot be tried in an adult court, although a juvenile case can be transferred to the court. However, they can still be tried in an adult court for committing any of the thirty crimes listed in the Welfare & Institution Code 707(b). These crimes include:

  • Robbery
  • Murder
  • Rape with force, great bodily harm, or violence
  • Sodomy with violence, great bodily harm, or force
  • A lewd act on a child below 14 years with threats, significant bodily injury, or force
  • Oral copulation by violence, force, or significant bodily injury
  • Kidnapping with the intent of robbery
  • Kidnapping with bodily harm
  • Discharge of a firearm in an occupied building
  • Attempt murder
  • Assault by force with a likelihood of causing significant bodily injury
  • Forcible sexual penetration
  • Compounding, manufacturing, or selling half an ounce of a substance specified under Health and Safety code 11055(e)
  • Voluntary manslaughter
  • Carjacking
  • Aggravated mayhem
  • Drive-by-shooting

 Juvenile Delinquency Court

The juvenile delinquency court is dedicated to adjudicating both felony and misdemeanor charges alleged to be committed by minors. This court also handles status offenses such as curfew violations and truancy. Status offenses are considered as criminal acts when committed by juveniles.

The Los Angeles Superior Court’s Juvenile Division oversees the juvenile delinquency, juvenile dependency, and informal juvenile courts. The informal juvenile court deals with low-level misdemeanor and infractions while the dependency court deals with abandoned, abused, and neglected children.

Sometimes juvenile delinquency court proceedings are referred to as 602 proceedings. This is after the application of section 602 proceedings, which governs California’s delinquency proceedings.

Under Senate Bill 439, juveniles below 13 years should not be tried in a juvenile court, unless the child is charged with sexual penetration by force, sodomy, murder, or rape. Therefore, juvenile courts are not part of the California criminal law system but part of the civil law systems.

Unique Terms Used in a Juvenile Court

The kind of language used in juvenile court is different from the one used in adult courts. For instance, the judge does not use terms like “guilty” and “innocent,” but they use “sustain the petition filed by the district attorney” instead. Juvenile courts also use the term “disposition” rather than “sentence” as used in adult courts. The lowest form of disposition is informal probation. However, it is different from the other probations since the minor is not expected to admit any wrongdoing, and the charges are dismissed after completing the program.

The minor is expected to commit to the California Youth Authority (CYA), California’s version of minors’ prison on the higher end of the disposition spectrum. California Youth Authority is now referred to as the Division of Juvenile Justice and is based within the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

“Ward of the Court” and What It Means in California Juvenile Delinquency

A juvenile court might use the term “ward of the court” during a minor’s disposition. If the court makes a juvenile offender a “ward of the court,” it will assume the minor’s treatment and control responsibility. However, this does not limit the juvenile from serving his or her probation at home. The minor can also be placed in a group home, county probation camp, or foster care.

The Goal of Rehabilitation in Juvenile Disposition

The California juvenile system is designed to rehabilitate offenders rather than punish them. Therefore, they are expected to be treated and educated to help them stop their criminal activities, reunite with their families, and become productive citizens.

However, since the California juvenile court goal is rehabilitating minors, it does not mean that children who disobey the law cannot be punished. The minor can be sanctioned for the impermissible conduct. Sanctions are designed to instill discipline rather than retribution. The sanctions can include:

  • Parole or probation conditions
  • Commitment to California Youth Authority
  • Placement in a foster home
  • Attending a victim impact class
  • Payment of restitution and fine
  • Community service

Transfer Hearing

As indicated above, juvenile offenders can be tried in an adult court in certain circumstances. This process is referred to as transfer hearing or fitness hearing. In this hearing, the judge will decide whether to transfer the case to an adult court or handle it in a juvenile court. The judge will check the above-stated factors to decide. If the judge concludes that the minor will not benefit from the rehabilitative measures imposed in a juvenile court, they could transfer the case to an adult court.

Possibility of Appealing the Court’s Decision to Transfer a Juvenile Case

If a minor loses a transfer hearing, they are transferred to an adult case and face the criminal jurisdiction process similar to an adult offender. However, the minor or their attorney can challenge the transfer decision by writing a petition within 20 days after the first arraignment.

It is essential to hire a professional criminal attorney while appealing the court’s decision to transfer the juvenile case. With an attorney’s help, it is easier to build a preponderance of evidence proving that a minor belongs to the juvenile system and does not deserve to be tried in an adult court, regardless of the allegations’ severity.

California Juvenile Court Process

Juvenile delinquents are usually tried in a juvenile court if their case is not transferred to an adult court. The juvenile court uses a different court process than the adult court system. The juvenile court process starts with an arrest of the minor for crime commission.

If the situation is not serious, the police usually warn the minor and dismiss them. The police might also provide a citation to the minors, requiring them to appear in court later. If the alleged crime is severe, the police might take your child to a juvenile hall where the interrogation takes place. It is essential to learn about a minor’s rights during police questioning to ensure they are upheld.

Child’s Rights During Interrogation

Police officers should read the Miranda warning before interrogating a minor. The Miranda warning includes the following:

  • The right to remain silent
  • Saying anything would be used in a court of law
  • Right to an attorney
  • An attorney will be provided if you cannot afford one

Typically, the police do not need to give Miranda warning during an arrest. According to the Supreme Court ruling in Miranda, the rights must be read during custodial interrogation. A custodial interrogation is when a person cannot freely leave and is being questioned to elicit an incriminating response.

Under California law, police should give a Miranda warning before they take minors into custody, even if they do not intend to question them. Once the police read the Miranda warning, they will ask the minor whether they understand their rights. If the suspect responds with a “yes,” the officer will ask him or her whether they wish to talk.

The officer should stop any questioning if the suspect invokes his or her right to remain silent. However, if the suspect agrees to talk, his or her right to remain silent is waived. Therefore, anything said afterward can be used to prove the suspect’s guilt.

Ideally, there is no unique process or words used to invoke the right to remain silent. However, it is essential to invoke the right rather than remaining silent affirmatively.

A minor can waive the Miranda rights only if the waiver is voluntary. However, children aged 15 years and below cannot waive their rights unless they consult a lawyer. The prosecutor bears the burden of proving the waiver by a preponderance of the evidence. This means that the evidence is more than a voluntary confession.

The judge usually takes note of the circumstances surrounding the case to determine whether the confession was voluntary. These factors include:

  • Whether the police had harmed or threatened the child in any way
  • Whether the police had threatened to jail the juvenile’s family member
  • The promise of a more lenient sentence in exchange for a confession
  • Whether the officer suspects denial of lawyer representation
  • Whether the officer denied the child any crucial need such as food, water, or use of toilet
  • Whether the interrogation was unduly lengthy or unrelenting

Please note, police do not generally need to question minors with the consent of their parents. However, this does not mean that the police should deny a child’s request for their parent’s presence during the interrogation. If the parent was available during the interrogation, the judge might decide that the participation was involuntary and probably dismiss the case.

What a Child Should Do During Arrest

A child needs to be aware of what he or she should do during an arrest. This will help in protecting themself from any unplanned legal implication. The child should not panic, give his or her name, and remain polite and avoid any resistance. Once the child is arrested, he or she should remain polite and should also:

  • Know that the police is not his or her friend
  • Request the presence of his or her parent
  • Request for an attorney
  • State clearly that he or she intends to revoke the right to remain silent
  • Avoid writing or confessing through an apology letter, under any circumstances

Possible Dispositions after a Juvenile Court Process

There are different sentencing options referred to as dispositions available in the California Juvenile court process. These consequences range from informal probation to commitment to the California Youth Authority. Let’s have a closer look at these dispositions.

Informal Probation

If the case is not serious, a minor can be eligible for informal probation under the Welfare and Institution Code 654. If a minor is granted probation, the court must agree on several conditions of the informal probation. In most cases, the minor and parents agree on participation in counseling, education programs, parenting, and obtaining care for minors addicted to controlled substances.

If the minor does not engage in these programs within sixty days, a petition should be filed. A petition can still be filed to poor performance anytime within six months or ninety days after the informal probation.

Welfare and Institution Code 654 Diversion

Under the Welfare and Institution Code 654, juvenile cases are diverted to probation before filing a petition. In most low-level offenses such as shoplifting, attorneys usually try to obtain a diversion or informal probation. Therefore, the minor can avoid the filing in the first place or have the shoplifting charges dismissed after completing probation.

The probation officer should develop a plan for the juvenile that lasts at least six months. This is an effort to adjust the situation, which brings the minor to the court’s jurisdiction or creates a probability that the minor should be within such jurisdiction.

Deferred Entry of Judgement

Deferred entry of judgment is another disposition option that the juvenile court can decide on. Deferred entry of judgment requires the minor to admit guilt of the petition’s allegation and have their charges dismissed after completing the program. This program is for first-time felonies that are not listed in section 707(b) and last between twelve to thirty-six months.

Formal Probation in a Camp or at Home

If a minor is declared to be a ward of the court, the court can sentence the minor to a probation term. Sometimes the ward is completed at home. In some cases, the court might assign the ward to placement in a group or relative’s home. This includes a level 14 group home for emotionally disturbed minors.

The probation term can include any conditions necessary for the rehabilitation of the minor such as:

  • Avoid certain people
  • Curfew restrictions
  • Mandatory school attendance
  • Restitution
  • Graffiti removal
  • Community service
  • Substance abuse counseling

If a minor requires a substantial rehabilitation structure, they can be sent to probation camp for three months to one year. In California, there are about 70 probation camps. These are dormitory-based environments with a structured-daily schedule that involves treatment and education programs.

Other types of probation camps exist in California. These include fire or wilderness camps, boot camps, Missouri-model camps, and military-style camps.

California Youth Authority Commitment

The most severe penalty that a minor can face is the California Youth Authority commitment. This kind of punishment is only for minors adjudicated for a 707(b) offense or an offense that requires the minor to register as a California sex offender.

Lasting Consequences of a Juvenile Adjudication

Unfortunately, a juvenile adjudication can implicate a child in his or her future. Juvenile convictions, formally known as “sustained petitions,” are counted as strikes as part of California’s Three Strike Law. Under California court rules, an adult court can look at juvenile adjudication while making probation and sentencing decisions.

Juvenile adjudications can cause a juvenile sex offender to register as a sexually violent predator in California. However, in less severe juvenile conviction, your child can seal his or her juvenile record after fulfilling his or her sentence and remains crime-free for a specific period.

Find a Juvenile Delinquency Attorney Near Me

It is saddening to learn that your child will be arrested and prosecuted for committing a crime. That’s why you should seek help from an attorney to ensure that your child’s rights are well-protected and the best legal defenses are developed. At Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, we are well-versed with all aspects of juvenile delinquency in California and are ready to offer our clients the best services. For more information, contact us at 424-333-0943 and schedule an appointment.