When a child commits an offense, the offense is known as a delinquency act under California law. Often, children go through traumatic experiences when arrested for criminal activities. Therefore, the juvenile justice system focuses on rehabilitating minors rather than punishing them with jail terms or hefty fines. However, even if the juvenile punishment is not overly strict, you should still consult a competent attorney after your child's arrest. The attorney will evaluate the case and create a solid legal defense. At the Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, we have extensive experience in juvenile law. You can count on us to assist you in navigating the juvenile system. We are always ready to help our clients obtain a fair judgment.

Juvenile Delinquency Court In California

The juvenile delinquency court is responsible for adjudicating misdemeanor and felony crimes committed by minors. The court also prosecutes status crimes like truancy and curfew violations. Status crimes are regarded as criminal activities when executed by a juvenile.

The Juvenile Division in the Los Angeles Superior Court presides over informal juvenile courts, juvenile dependency, and juvenile delinquency. The informal juvenile court handles infractions and low-level misdemeanors. On the other hand, the dependency court handles neglected, abused, and abandoned minors.

Juvenile delinquency court proceedings are also known as 602 proceedings. They are named after the application of Penal Code 602 proceedings, which govern delinquency proceedings in California.

Senate Bill 439

Minors below 12 years are not supposed to be tried in a juvenile court, according to Senate Bill 439. The former California governor, Jerry Brown, signed Senate Bill 439 into law in 2018 as part of the Justice and Equity bill package. Senators Ricardo Lara and Holly Mitchell sponsored the bill. This bill sets 12 years as the minimum age for juvenile trials in California. However, minors under 12 can still face charges under the juvenile justice system if they commit serious crimes like forcible sex or murder. Senate Bill 439 also prohibits the detention of minors under the age of 12 because no criminal court has jurisdiction over them.

Senate Bill 439 aims to protect minors from possible severe punishment by the criminal justice system. It also seeks to create an enabling system to offer children adequate support and care.

Juvenile Delinquency And How It Is Charged In California

Under California law, juvenile delinquency is engaging in illegal conduct as a child or a person younger than the statutory age of majority. The statutory age of majority in California is 18 years. Therefore, if you are below the age of 18, you could face charges as a minor offender. However, if you commit an offense but it is not discovered until after you attain the majority age, you can still face charges in a juvenile court.

At times, you could be subject to a transfer hearing, whereby the juvenile court decides to transfer your charges to an adult court depending on the following:

  • The success of prior attempts to rehabilitate you
  • Your previous delinquent conduct
  • The complexity of the offense you commit

If you are under 16, you cannot be convicted in an adult court. However, you can face charges in an adult court if you commit any of the following crimes outlined by the Welfare and Institutions Code 707(b):

  • Manufacturing, compounding, or selling half an ounce of a substance specified under Health and Safety Code11055(e)
  • Forcible sexual penetration
  • Assault by force with a likelihood of causing significant bodily injury
  • Discharge of a firearm in an occupied building
  • Kidnapping with bodily harm
  • Oral copulation by force, violence, or substantial bodily injury
  • A lewd act on a child below 14 years with force or threats
  • Sodomy with force, violence, or causing significant bodily injury
  • Rape with violence, force, or causing substantial bodily injury
  • Murder
  • Robbery

Standard Terms Used In A Juvenile Court In California

The language judges use in juvenile courts is unique and different from the one used in adult courts. For example, the judge could use terms like ‘’suspend or sustain the petition filed by the district attorney’’ instead of "innocent’’ and ‘’guilty’’. A juvenile court judge could also use the term ‘’disposition"’ instead of "sentence’’ as used in adult courts.

In the juvenile justice system, informal probation is the lowest disposition. However, it is different from adult probation. The child does not have to confess any wrongdoing. In addition, the judge could drop the minor’s case after completing the probation program.

For severe cases, the court could commit the juvenile offender to the California Youth Authority (CYA), a version of a children's prison. Commitment to the CYA is on the higher level of the disposition spectrum. The California Youth Authority has been renamed the ''Division of Juvenile Justice''. It forms part of the Department of Correction and Rehabilitation in California.

Juvenile Delinquency And ‘’Ward Of The Court’’

Often, the term "ward of the court" is typical in a juvenile court during a child's disposition. If the court declares you a ward of the court, it means that the court assumes full control over you. However, being a ward of the court does not stop you from serving your probation from home. The court can also place you in foster care, a county probation camp, or a group home.

California Juvenile Court Process

Juvenile delinquents are charged in juvenile court. The juvenile court process is different from the adult court system. Some of the stages in the juvenile court process include:

The Arrest

The juvenile court process begins with the offender's arrest after committing an offense. It is essential to understand what you should do after your arrest. This will save you from any unplanned legal implications. You should remain polite and avoid any resistance to the arrest. Here are some guidelines to follow upon arrest:

  • Avoid writing or confessing through an apology letter even if the police persuade you
  • Know that the police are not your friends and do not have your best interests at heart
  • State that you intend to invoke your right to remain silent
  • Request for the presence of your parent
  • Request for an attorney

Often, the law enforcers could warn and dismiss you if the offense you commit is not severe. The law enforcers could also provide a citation, ordering you to appear in court later. However, if you commit a serious offense, the law enforcers will take you to a juvenile hall, where they will interrogate you. You must understand your rights during interrogation to avoid self-incrimination.

Interrogation And Your Miranda Rights

Usually, the law does not require the police to read the Miranda warning during your arrest. However, they should read the Miranda warning before interrogating you. The Supreme Court ruled that Miranda rights must be read during a custodial interrogation. A custodial interrogation is when you are confined to one place and are being questioned to provide an answer that could be incriminating. While reading the Miranda warning, the police will inform you:

  • The right to an attorney
  • Provision of an attorney if you cannot afford one
  • The right to remain silent
  • Anything you say could and will be used against you in court.

On the other hand, the law allows law enforcers to read you the Miranda warning before putting you behind bars, even if they are not interested in interrogating you. The law enforcers will ask whether you understand your rights after reading the Miranda warning. If you respond yes, the officers will ask you if you wish to talk. If you invoke your right to stay quiet, the officers are not supposed to interrogate you. However, your right to remain silent will be waived if you agree to talk. Anything you say afterward could be used as evidence against you.

You can choose to waive your Miranda rights voluntarily. However, you cannot waive your rights if you are under 15 years old. You can only do so after consulting your attorney. The prosecutor is required to prove the waiver using a preponderance of the evidence. In this case, the evidence exceeds a voluntary confession. Often, the court considers the circumstances surrounding your charges to determine whether your confession was voluntary. Some of the factors include:

  • Whether the interrogation was unduly lengthy or unrelenting
  • Whether the law enforcers had harmed or threatened you in any way
  • Whether the law enforcers denied you any basic need like food, use of a toilet, or water
  • Whether the law enforcers had threatened to jail your family member
  • Whether there is a denial of attorney representation
  • The promise of a more lenient sentence in exchange for a confession

Additionally, the law enforcers do not require the consent of your parents or guardians to interrogate you. However, this does not rule out your right to request the presence of your parents during the interrogation.

Detention Hearing

During the detention hearing, the judge determines if the juvenile offender should stay in the juvenile hall awaiting the case's resolution. You require the services of an attorney at this stage to enhance your chances of obtaining a positive outcome. An attorney will employ the relevant defenses to ensure you gain your freedom from custody as you await future court hearings. If you lose at the detention hearing, you could remain in the juvenile hall until the resolution of your case.

The ability to post bail is the significant distinction between the adult court system and the juvenile justice system. Unfortunately, the law does not allow the judge to grant you bail as a minor offender. That is why you need a competent criminal attorney with the capacity to convince the court to secure your release during the detention hearing.

Transfer Hearing

A minor could also be tried in an adult court under certain circumstances. Transferring a minor to the adult court is known as a fitness hearing or transfer hearing. The judge will decide during the transfer hearing whether to handle the case in a juvenile court or transfer it to an adult court. For example, the judge could transfer your case to an adult court if he/she believes you will not benefit from the rehabilitative measures imposed in a juvenile court. The following circumstances could trigger a transfer of your case to an adult court:

  • When you commit a felony and you are 16 years or older
  • When you are 14 or 15 years old, and you commit an offense highlighted under WIC 707(b), and you are not apprehended until you reach 18 years

Appealing Transfer Hearing

You can appeal the judge’s decision to transfer you to an adult court by writing a petition. You must submit the petition within 20 days of your court appearance. It is crucial to seek the services of an experienced criminal attorney while appealing the decision. It is easier to create a preponderance of evidence with the help of an attorney to prove that you belong to the juvenile justice system. You could claim that you have the right not to face trial in an adult court, regardless of the severity of your accusations. If you lose the transfer hearing appeal, the judge will transfer you to an adult court where you could face the criminal jurisdiction process as an adult offender.

Adjudication Hearing

An adjudication hearing is closely related to a trial in an adult court. However, unlike an adult court, there are no juries in the juvenile court. Adjudication hearings always happen before the judge. At the adjudication hearing, the minor and the prosecutor have equal chances to present their evidence. The prosecutor has the burden of providing substantial evidence showing that the minor committed the offense.

Disposition Hearing

California law has timelines and procedures for when and how the hearings should occur. You could be sentenced at the disposition hearing if the judge sustains a petition against you. At certain levels of the juvenile court system, the prosecutor and your attorney could agree and decide to go directly to the disposition hearing. You have the right to a rehearing if a mistake happens during these hearings. The disposition hearing could be postponed if the probation officer delays submitting the social study report. The hearing could also be delayed if you are mentally incapable.

Possible Dispositions After A Juvenile Court Process

There are several sentencing alternatives in the juvenile court process, usually known as dispositions. The repercussions range from informal probation to commitment to the California Youth Authority.

Informal Probation

Under Welfare and Institutions Code 654, you could qualify for informal probation if your case is not severe. If the judge grants you probation, the court must devise several conditions to guide the informal probation. Often, most juveniles and parents opt to participate in education programs, counseling, parenting, and obtaining care for minors addicted to controlled substances. The probation officer could file a petition if you fail to participate in these programs. The probation officer could also file the petition for poor performance anytime within 90 days or six months after the informal probation.

Juvenile cases are diverted to probation before petitioning under Welfare and Institutions Code 654. Often, attorneys try to obtain an informal or diversion probation for most low-level crimes like shoplifting. By completing probation, you can have your shoplifting charges dismissed or avoid filing. The probation officer is charged with developing a program for the minor, which often takes six months.

Formal Probation At Home Or A Camp

The judge could sentence you to probation if the court declares you a ward of the court. At times, a ward could complete the probation at home. In other cases, the judge assigns the ward to placement in a group or relative’s home. The judge could assign you to a level 14 group home if you are emotionally disturbed. The terms of probation include any necessary conditions that can facilitate your rehabilitation, including:

  • Community service
  • Graffiti removal
  • Substance abuse counseling
  • The court can order you to avoid certain people
  • Restitution
  • Curfew restrictions
  • Mandatory school attendance

You could be sent to a probation camp for three months to one year if you need a substantial rehabilitation structure. The camps are dormitory-based environments with organized daily programs that involve education and treatment programs.

Deferred Entry Of Judgment

This disposition option requires you to plead guilty to the accusations in the petition. You will have your case dropped after completing the program. This program is available to first-time felony offenders, provided the felony is not highlighted under Penal Code 707(b). This program takes 12 to 36 months.

California Youth Authority (CYAC)

Sending a juvenile to the California Youth Authority is the most severe punishment. You can only face this penalty if you are adjudicated for a 707(b) crime or a crime that requires you to register as a California sex offender.

The Focus On Rehabilitation

The California juvenile system aims to rehabilitate minors instead of punishing them. The offenders undergo educational programs and treatments to enable them to stop engaging in criminal activities. Following rehabilitation, offenders return to their families and become productive members of society.

However, even if the California juvenile court is designed to rehabilitate juveniles, it does not rule out punishment when you violate the law. The court could sanction you for impermissible behavior. The sanctions aim to instill discipline in you, not retribution. Some of the sanctions you could face include the following:

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

The Life Repercussions Of A Juvenile Adjudication

A juvenile adjudication can negatively affect your life. The sustained petitions or juvenile convictions could count as strikes under the California Three Strikes Law. The California Rules of Court also permit adult courts to examine juvenile adjudication while making sentencing and probation decisions.

In California, juvenile adjudication can lead to civil confinement as a sexually violent predator. It could also lead to sex offender registration. However, if the court convicts you of a less serious offense, you could seal your juvenile record if you complete your sentence and avoid committing additional crimes.

Failures Of The Juvenile Justice System In California

In 2003, California's juvenile court justice system was criticized for its failures. The highly publicized lawsuit known as Farrell V. Allen sued the state for deplorable conditions at the California Youth Authority, including:

  • Perpetuating a culture riddled with extreme, often gang-associated violence
  • Excessive use of force, like using mace on children while already restrained
  • Utilizing psychotropic medications as a form of control
  • Making children attend school while locked in cages
  • Failing to provide children with adequate medical and mental health services
  • Confining children in cells for 23 hours a day

However, in 2004 the California Youth Authority entered into a consent decree promising to remedy the abuses.

Currently, juvenile justice in California is undergoing a realignment process revolving around litigation, cost, and sentencing preferences. The county departments in charge of probation are presently responsible for securing, treating, and rehabilitating the most severe and violent youth offenders.

In 2007, the California legislature passed Senate Bill 81 to realign juvenile justice from the state level to the county. The most severe and violent youth offenders are currently handled in the county probation departments through changes in the law and a series of funding initiatives.

Unfortunately, county-level providers like the California Youth Authority are also under scrutiny. The Los Angeles County Probation Department is in settlement negotiations regarding education services offered to minors at Challenger Memorial Youth Center in Lancaster. Violence and riots are still experienced at probation camps for girls and boys.

Find A Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

Facing an arrest as a minor can be traumatizing. You should seek the services of a competent attorney to ensure your rights are well protected. The attorney will help you create the best defenses to fight your charges. Our attorneys at the Los Angeles Criminal Attorney are well-versed in all aspects of the juvenile justice system. We will aggressively represent you to obtain a favorable outcome for your case. Contact us at 424-333-0943 and schedule an appointment.