An arrest is a traumatic event, especially for children who probably do not understand the criminal process. It can be an overwhelming time for your child as it is for you, regardless of the crime he or she is accused of committing.

Understanding the process your child will go through can help both parents and children adapt to the procedure and understand the options they could pursue to lessen the crime’s burden.

At Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, we can provide your child with the best legal representation. Our attorneys have worked with many juvenile offenders, and we have a unique understanding of the juvenile justice system in California. Read on to learn more about juvenile delinquency and the Division of Juvenile Justice.

The California Juvenile Court System

When your loved one on the wrong side of the law, it makes a difference to understand the juvenile court system and what it means for the minor.

The juvenile court system in California essentially seeks to rehabilitate instead of punishing juvenile offenders. Sometimes, the court can issue sanctions designed to discipline the child. Some of these sanctions include fines, payment of restitution, and community service.

Primarily, however, juvenile offenders receive the treatment, education, and support they need to help them get past their crimes and become responsible and productive adults. Unlike in adult court, the juvenile court does not seek to find the minor guilty or innocent.

Instead, the court will determine whether the minor committed the alleged crime beyond a reasonable doubt and sustain the petition.

Juvenile courts have different dispositions (or sentences) based on the offense. Dispositions will range from informal probation to commitment to the Division of Juvenile Justice.

The court can make juvenile offenders wards of the court, meaning that the court now has control and responsibility for the minor. They can send the child on probation at their home or commit them to a group or foster home.

In most cases, minors under 18 will be tried in juvenile court. Some minors of 16 years or older could be tried in adult court for crimes such as

  • Murder
  • Attempted murder
  • Arson of an inhabited structure or causing great bodily harm
  • Assault
  • Assault with a firearm
  • Robbery
  • Rape, sodomy, or oral copulation with force, violence, or threats
  • Forcible sexual penetration
  • Lewd or lascivious acts on a minor under 14 through force, threats, or violence
  • Kidnapping for ransom
  • Kidnapping for robbery
  • Kidnapping for sexual assault
  • Kidnapping causing bodily harm
  • Kidnapping during carjacking
  • Discharging a firearm into an occupied building
  • Felonies involving the use of a firearm
  • Torture
  • Carjacking
  • Aggravated mayhem
  • Drive-in-shooting
  • Voluntary manslaughter
  • Offenses listed under PC 1203.09 against a person of at least 60 or a disabled person
  • Personal use of a firearm as described under PC 12022.53 or PC 12022.5
  • Felonies under PC 136.1 and 137
  • An offense involving the manufacture, compounding, or sale of a controlled substance as defined under HS 11055(e)
  • Violent felonies that qualify under criminal gang sentence enhancements
  • Escaping from a juvenile facility through force or threat and intentionally inflicting harm on an employee of that facility
  • Exploding a device intending to commit murder

The court also considers other factors such as the following before trying a minor in adult court:

  • The degree of sophistication the minor displays in committing the crime
  • The possibility of rehabilitating the minor before the expiry if the juvenile court’s jurisdiction
  • The delinquent history of the minor
  • The success of previous attempts to rehabilitate the minor
  • The seriousness and circumstances of the alleged offense
  • The age of the minor (minors under 16 cannot be tried in adult court)

The juvenile justice case begins with the arrest of the officer. The arresting officer will take several actions depending on the best interests of the minor and the society. Some of the actions the officer could take include:

  • Releasing the minor with a warning either at the police station or the Juvenile Center Intake Unit
  • The officer could write a citation and have the parents of the minor or the minor sign a promise to meet with a probation officer.
  • Present the minor at the Juvenile Center Intake Unit

The next step involves intake and investigation, whereby the minor goes to the Juvenile Center. The officer will examine the case’s facts and recommend that a petition be filed for serious offenses.

For less serious offenses, the probation officer could take one of the following actions:

  • Release the youth with a warning without filing charges (the officer could advise the minor on where they could find help).
  • The officer could place the minor on informal probation with conditions such as attending school, participating in community programs, improving their attitude, developing better relationships, avoiding certain social activities, and attending counseling sessions. The youth will be on informal probation for up to six months. The probation officer could file a petition against the minor for the original offense if the youth fails to meet the probation conditions.
  • The probation officer could recommend that the DA file a petition with the court for the offense.

Unlike in criminal cases (for adults), minors can go either home or remain in custody. They cannot be released on bail.

A minor will go home with the parent, guardian, or the responsible relative except in certain situations such as:

  • The minor does not have parents, guardians, or responsible adults to take care of them.
  • The minor has nowhere to live.
  • The minor is incapable of supporting himself
  • The minor is neglected or abused; therefore, his or her home is not safe to live in
  • The minor needs to be in custody for his or her safety and the safety of others and their property
  • The minor is likely to run away
  • The minor previously violated a court order
  • The minor is a threat to the public

The DA could still send the minor home under supervision with the promise from the parents, guardians, or responsible relatives of the minor that the minor will attend court hearings and adhere to release conditions.

If not released, the minor cannot stay in custody for more than 48 hours unless the DA files a petition against the minor.

A petition is similar to a criminal charge for adult offenders. The petition contains details such as:

  • The name, address, and age of the minor
  • The laws the minor violated
  • The type of the charge (status, misdemeanor or felony)
  • The names and addresses of the parents, guardians, or responsible relatives
  • A statement of the events of the offense
  • Whether the minor is in or out of custody

The DA office has 48 hours to file a petition if the minor is in custody, and 72 hours if the minor is in custody for a misdemeanor.

A detention hearing follows the DA files a petition. The court will inform the minor of the reason for the petition, the events that could happen in the court, and the minor's right to a lawyer.

The court usually provides an attorney for the minor, even if the youth cannot pay the attorney fees.

The minor has the right to contest the reasons for being locked up, question witnesses, and present witnesses and evidence to support their case. During the detention hearing, the court seeks to establish that the petition is true to decide whether to detain the minor or release them.

The court will schedule a detention hearing 15 court days after a detention hearing if the minor is still in custody. During this hearing, the judge will read the minor the petition against him and ask whether the charges are true or false.

Depending on the plea the minor takes and the evidence presented, the judge will decide whether these allegations are true and set a disposition hearing date. The court will decide on the best treatment, care, and guidance suitable for the youth.

The court will determine the sentencing options suitable for the minor, depending on the alleged offense and defense at the disposition hearing. Some of the dispositions include:

  • Informal probation W&I Sec. 725
  • Diversion W&I Sec. 654
  • Deferred entry of judgment W&I 790
  • Formal probation at home or camp
  • Commitment to the Division of Juvenile Justice

The court will consider several factors (based on the observation of the minor by the probation officer) before deciding the youth's best disposition (sentence). Some of these factors include:

  • The family history
  • School history
  • The criminal record of the minor
  • A statement from the victim of the crime (felony)
  • Recommendations of the probation officer

The Division of Juvenile Justice

The California Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) is part of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, focusing on educating, treating, and training California’s serious juvenile offenders.

The division offers its services to juvenile offenders between 12 and 25 years by working closely with correctional facilities, law enforcement, public defenders, district attorneys, probation officers, and public and private organizations concerned with youth matters.

The Division of Juvenile Justice's mission is to provide juvenile offenders with an opportunity for change and growth by identifying their needs. The DJJ achieves its mission by providing education, intervention, and treatment to encourage the youth to adopt better lifestyle choices, reduce recidivism, and strengthen families and safety in their communities.

Unlike the adult correction system, which seeks to punish offenders, the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) aims to rehabilitate the youth and lead them to become law-abiding citizens. The division accomplishes this by sending serious offenders to its correctional facilities.

A juvenile offender could be sent to these facilities in one of these three outcomes:

  • The juvenile court commits the offender,
  • A criminal court tries the offenders as an adult and commits him or her, or
  • The court tries the offender as an adult and commits him or her to an adult prison, but orders the DJJ to house that offender.

If your son or daughter is committed to the DJJ, he or she will be taken to one of three DJJ facilities or the forest camp. The choice of the facility will depend on the age, maturity, and educational and individual needs. The three DJJ facilities in California include two correctional facilities in Stockton, another correctional facility in Camarillo, and a forest camp in Pine Grove.

You can visit your loved one in any of these facilities if you do not pose a threat to the minor or the program. You have to check with the facility for dress code regulations, allowable items, and visitors’ numbers.

Qualifications for Juvenile Commitment to a DJJ Facility

The Division of Juvenile Justice receives minors aged between 12 and 25 years and might keep a few of them when they are older than 25.

In most cases, it will transfer youth above 18 years to adult facilities unless they are making good use of the educational, treatment, and vocational programs offered at the facility.

A minor will be committed to a DJJ facility if he or she is a ward of the court and the most recent offense is either:

  • Listed under the Welfare and Institutions (WIC) Code 707(b), or
  • Is a sexual offense under Penal Code 290.008(c)

The minor could be subjected to the maximum time in confinement, as an adult would serve for the same offense. However, the judge could choose to impose a sentence below the maximum, but never above it.

Commitment to the DJJ is typically long and severe, with intensive programs designed to rehabilitate, treat, and educate them. Youths committed to these facilities must attend school full-time and go through the possible programs.

For example, the youth will proceed to college or vocational programs upon completing high school. They are also assigned jobs in the facilities in case they are still in the facility.

Youths in DJJ facilities also go through other programs based on their individual needs. These programs include:

  • Mental health residential units
  • Behavioral treatment programs
  • Sexual behavior treatment, and
  • Intensive behavior treatment

While there is no minimum term, a juvenile committed to the DJJ will be released after two years or at 21 years old (whichever comes later). If the youth was committed for a WIC 707(b) offense, they could be discharged after two years or at 23 years, whichever comes later.

However, if the youth was committed for an offense with a sentence of at least seven years for an adult, the youth must be discharged after two years or upon attaining the age of 25, whichever comes later.

As a rule, a minor cannot be sent to a DJJ facility for a sentence of 90 days or less. Minors committed to the DJJ could remain there until their 18th birthday when they are transferred to adult prison facilities to complete their terms.

In some cases, the youth will remain at the DJJ facility until the end of their term.

It is crucial to understand that the DJJ only houses California’s challenging juveniles. It does not service truant and troublesome youth against whom the DA has not filed a petition for breaking the law.

Other juvenile offenders whom the DJJ cannot house include:

  • Those convicted of a violent felony to serve a life sentence or a maximum determinate sentence that extends beyond the youth's 25th birthday
  • The minor is convicted for a direct file offense.
  • The conviction is for a serious felony, which the minor committed when aged 16 or older.

Juvenile Appeal

Juveniles, like adults, have the right to appeal the court’s decision. They can file an appeal to appeal certain judgments and orders by a lower court. The appeal is based on discontentment with the case's outcome, legal mistakes, and disregard of the minor’s rights during the case.

The minor will file a Notice of Appeal through the attorney within 60 days after the disposition hearing (or the date of the judge’s order).

Some of the arguments your child’s attorney could use during an appeal include improper inclusion or exclusion of evidence or violation of your child's rights during any step of the juvenile court process.

In some cases, the minor could request the court to set aside (cancel or change) because the minor has new proof, or his situation has changed since the case.

Find a Juvenile Defense Attorney Near Me

An arrest is a traumatic event, especially for minors, who have probably never had contact with law enforcement. It is also a confusing time for parents or guardians when you receive the news that your young one is in custody for an offense.

Dealing with the arrest of a minor is a stressful event. From worrying about the child's freedom in the near future and the effect this offense will have on future opportunities, you also need to worry about the potential legal consequences of the offense.

Minors arrested for serious felonies are likely to be committed to the Division of Juvenile Justice, whose facilities are just as tough as adult prisons. At worst, the child could be incarcerated at an adult facility.

Los Angeles Criminal Attorney helps minors and their families navigate the juvenile court system and understand the role of bodies such as the DJJ. Call us today at 424-333-0943 for any questions about your child’s disposition or commitment to the DJJ.