One of the most challenging aspects of life you can experience as a parent is learning your child has been arrested. Often a minor lacks the judgment of an adult and isn't mature enough to understand the effects of their conduct. The state of California understands that when your child violates the law and uses poor judgment, applying the adult criminal process benefits neither the society nor the child. That is why you require the legal assistance of the Los Angeles Criminal Attorney. In the best interest of protecting the minor, the state has established a justice system to be less punitive and passed Senate Bill 439 into law. The aim is to offer appropriate direction to help your child back on track to law-abiding and productive adulthood.

The California Juvenile Court Does Not Have Jurisdiction Over Children of All Ages

In September 2018, Governor Brown signed Senate Bill 439 into law. The law became effective in January 2019. According to the new law, the juvenile courts have jurisdiction over juveniles when:

  • The minors are aged between twelve and seventeen, and

  • The children break municipal ordinances, or U.S laws, or California laws.

Please note the law doesn't apply to children who commit oral copulation, sexual penetration, sodomy, rape, and murder. The juvenile court controls the offenses when your child violates the law using menace, duress, violence, a threat of bodily injuries, or force.

In other criminal cases involving juveniles below twelve, Senate Bill 439 requires counties to develop less restrictive alternatives to the judicial system. This bill does not specify who should develop the other options. Health, community-based, and school services can provide alternatives.

What is the Rationale of Senate Bill 439?

The proponents of Senate Bill 439 support it for the following reasons:

  • Early interaction with the judicial system results in adverse child educational and developmental outcomes.

  • There is a likelihood that when a child enters the criminal system early, they might become a chronic offender.

  • The law agrees with developmental brain science, which proves that a teenage brain requires more time before maturing into adulthood.

Laws Before SB 439

Per the California old laws, the juvenile justice system had jurisdiction over all persons below eighteen that broke a municipal ordinance, United States law, or state law. There wasn't a minimum age where the juvenile court could not handle a criminal case.

Constitutional Rights in Your Child's Juvenile Case

A minor in a juvenile court proceeding doesn't have similar rights as those in courts in adult criminal cases. Before the 1960s, juveniles had limited rights. Since a juvenile court proceeding is formal, the courts and California have strengthened the juvenile's rights.

Discussed below is an overview of constitutional rights in a juvenile delinquency proceeding:

  • The probable cause required to search your child — Police should have probable cause to search and arrest the minor when they suspect the child violated a statute. Nevertheless, a public official in a quasi-parental relationship with the minor child, such as school personnel, only requires suspicion of misconduct to search and detain them.

  • Entitlement to phone calls — Typically, a juvenile is permitted to make one call if they are detained, and there is no likelihood of being released quickly. They can choose to call their parents or guardians, who will consult with a lawyer. Alternatively, they can contact an advocate directly. By requesting to talk to the attorney or parent, the minor invoke their Miranda rights. If the law enforcers ignore their request to talk with the attorney or parent, anything they say to the police after that will not be used against them in court.

  • Not entitled to bail — Minors don't have the right to post bail. However, most of them are released from detention to their guardians or parents before arraignment.

  • A minor is entitled to a criminal defense lawyer — In the re Gault case, the Supreme Court ruled that minor children are entitled to counsel in their judicial proceedings. If they cannot afford a lawyer, a public defense attorney can represent them.

  • Entitlement to notice of a minor's charges — After the re Gault case, the court also ruled that a minor should be given notice of their delinquency charges.

  • Right to cross-examine and confront witnesses — While the juvenile adjudication hearing isn't formal, a juvenile is entitled to cross-examine and confront witnesses. That means your child can question persons testifying against them and contest the witnesses' testimony through a seasoned criminal defense attorney.

  • Your baby is entitled to assert the Fifth Amendment privilege against incrimination of self.

  • California doesn't permit a jury trial in a juvenile case.

  • The right to have a criminal charge established beyond any reasonable doubt should a minor face adjudication as a delinquent or incarceration due to a court proceeding. The state should establish criminal charges against the child beyond any reasonable doubt. If the penalties aren't in question, the prosecutor should only prove the charge using the "preponderance of evidence" standards.

An Overview of the California Juvenile Judicial System

The system ensures the protection and safety of the general public. The system also seeks to offer guidance, treatment, and care to juveniles who have violated the law. The treatment must be in line with the child's best interest, hold the ward accountable for their conduct, and be suitable for the circumstances.

How Do Minors Get Into the California Juvenile Judicial System?

If the law enforcers believe that your minor child broke the law, they might be taken into custody, and the arresting officer can:

  • Issue a warning before releasing them,

  • Refer them to a diversion or shelter service,

  • Cite them for a minor crime and issue a notice to appear, or

  • Take them to juvenile hall.

If taken to a juvenile hall, the probation officer has the discretion to book them. If booked, the probation department determines whether to bring a petition to a juvenile court.

The probation officer can decide to impose informal probation instead. They should meet all the qualification requirements for informal probation. During the probationary period, the probation department retains the discretion to bring a petition at any time.

The Juvenile Judicial System

After the petition is filed, the court process starts. The petition outlines the alleged crime. It also has a notice to you as the parents of your responsibility for support and care.

If held in a juvenile hall, the petition is within forty-eight hours of the detention. A detention hearing is scheduled within twenty-four hours after the petition is brought.

Your child will be assigned a probation officer. The probation officer doesn't represent them but reviews their case and determines how and whether to proceed.

The child has no rights to a jury trial, only to a jurisdiction hearing. During the jurisdiction hearing, the judge will review:

  • The probation officer's report

  • The psychiatric and medical reports

  • Evidence by a defense attorney and the district attorney about the case

Then the court will determine whether the petition against your child should be sustained.

If the matter is adjudicated, your child becomes a ward of the court. The court decides where they will be placed during the disposition hearing. They could be:

  • Placed under the supervision of a probation officer

  • Committed to a juvenile camp or ranch

  • Committed to the Division of Juvenile Justice

  • Placed on formal probation

Different Sentencing Options in California Juvenile Cases

A juvenile who has committed a crime and whose petition filed by a prosecutor or probation department has been sustained can face any of the disposition or sentencing options below. The sentencing option is dependent on factors such as the seriousness of the crime, previous criminal record, whether the victim sustained severe bodily injury, and the alleged victim's status.

Informal Probation

Informal probation per Welfare and Institution Codes (WIC) 725 or 554, your child's petition is brought, but they might face informal probation. It could involve a supervision period that does not exceed six months, where they enter an alcohol or drug treatment program together with your engagement.

Otherwise, the juvenile could be put under supervision for

  • Six months

  • Require them to attend school

  • Have both you and your child enroll in counseling programs

  • Comply with curfew rules except when accompanied by you

The child could also pay restitution to the alleged victim and submit to drug testing. You should pay restitution if the minor isn't working or can't make the payment.

Generally, this sentencing option is for a non-violent crime like trespass or vandalism. After the probation period has elapsed and your minor has followed all probation terms and law, the petition is dismissed.

Division of Juvenile Justice Commitment

Your minor child will be subjected to this sentencing option if they have committed:

  • A serious felony

  • A crime under WIC Section 707(b)

  • An offense that requires sex offender registration

Formal Juvenile Probation

A ward of the court could also face formal probation that could be served at home, camp, a relative's home, or group home. During the probationary period, the court requires them to follow the following conditions:

  • Compulsory school attendance

  • Curfew restrictions

  • Performing community service

  • Not interacting with specific people

  • Restitution

  • Drug or alcohol counseling

Generally, juvenile camps are short-term programs tailored to offer counseling, vocational training, educational services, recreational activities, and work experience.

Your Child Might Face Diversion

Before the petition is brought, the involved parties could settle on a diversion disposition under WIC 654. A probation officer could develop a plan that includes your participation in an education or treatment program for a maximum of six months.

The ward might spend ninety days in a community facility. If they complete the diversion program, the case will be dismissed or dropped and no petition filed.

Deferred Entry of Judgement

A Deferred Entry of Judgement requires the child to accept the accusation in their petition. The DEJ disposition allows the dismissal of the petition provided they complete the court-ordered program.

The sentencing option is for less severe crimes and does not include:

  • Sexual assault

  • Gang-related offenses

  • Offenses under WIC Section 707(b)

  • Offenses involving firearms

  • Violent felonies

While under the DEJ (Deferred Entry of Judgement) disposition, the ward is subject to searches without a warrant of their residence, property, or person. Other terms include:

  • Submit to random alcohol testing

  • Curfew

  • Compulsory school attendance

  • Restitution

The court cannot dismiss the charge earlier than twelve months and not later than thirty-six months from the date of referral to the DEJ program.

Sealing a Juvenile Criminal Record

California permits the sealing of a juvenile criminal record to protect children from prejudice stemming from the juvenile record. Contrary to popular belief, juvenile delinquency adjudication isn't sealed once a child attains eighteen years. To have the criminal record sealed, the juvenile should bring a petition with the court. The court has the discretion to determine whether to seal the records or not. As a result, engaging a seasoned attorney increases the chances of successful case outcomes.

The public cannot access your child's convictions and arrests once they are sealed. That means the child can lawfully answer "No" to all inquiries about the conviction or arrest.

However, these records can be reopened due to the following situations:

  • The child is a party to a civil lawsuit.

  • The Department of Motor Vehicles might permit auto insurance adjusters to inspect the driving record to analyze the child's insurance risk and eligibility.

  • The prosecution could access the sealed record when finding and revealing exculpatory proof in a case.

You could begin the record sealing process after either:

  • At least five (5) years have elapsed after the court supervision, or

  • The child has attained eighteen years and completed probation.

However, the child does not qualify for the record sealing if they were found guilty of a crime under WIC 707(b) after they were fourteen.

The Sealing Process

The record sealing process per WIC Section 781 takes approximately eight months. The minor should file the petition in a court in the county where they were found guilty.

While the minor's defense attorney could appear in court, the judge might elect to interview the juvenile in person.

After filing the petition, a hearing date is set. During the hearing, the judge analyzes the petition and proof presented by:

  • Your child

  • The prosecutor

  • The Department of Probation

Once the court analyzes the evidence, the judge can decide to either:

  • Deny the petition, or

  • Grant a request and send copies of the order to every agency that can access these records ordering them to destroy your child's records.

You should engage a seasoned lawyer who is well-versed with the juvenile judicial system. The attorney will work to ensure that the record sealing process is successful.

When Would a Juvenile be Tried as an Adult?

The judge decides whether a ward of the court is fit for the juvenile criminal process in a fitness hearing. The judge will consider the following when determining whether they are likely to benefit from the rehabilitative services of juvenile court:

  • The seriousness of the crime

  • Whether your child can be rehabilitated before the juvenile court jurisdiction expires

  • The prior criminal record

  • The level of criminal sophistication the ward showed

  • The success of prior attempts to rehabilitate the minor

If the judge decides that the child won't benefit from the rehabilitative services, they will be transferred to adult court. The prosecutor might start a transfer hearing when:

Your son or daughter is at least sixteen years and is alleged to have committed a felony or an offense in the WIC Code 707(b)

The child was fourteen or fifteen when they allegedly broke a WIC Code 707(b) offense and weren't apprehended until they are eighteen.

When your child is tried as an adult, they will face the same penalties as an adult found guilty of the same offense. It includes potential incarceration without parole depending on the seriousness of the crime. However, a minor cannot be sentenced to death under any circumstances.

What is the Role of the Probation Officer?

In an adult court, the proceedings' significant players are the criminal defense lawyer, prosecutor, and judge. However, in juvenile criminal cases, the probation officer is another player involved in several aspects of the case.

The Arrest Phase

When your child is arrested, they will meet a probation officer. If the police believe the alleged crime is severe, they will take your child to a juvenile hall, and the probation officer will interview them. The juvenile hall can be likened to the county jail for minor children.

Adjudication Phase

The probation officer will also play other roles in the proceedings, such as:

  • Recommending whether the prosecutors should bring a petition against your son or daughter

  • Recommending whether it is okay to be tried in the juvenile criminal process

Typically, the probation officer will consider the following factors before making a decision:

  • Whether the behavior involved threats of physical harm or physical harm to property or persons

  • Whether your child has had a problem in the community, school, or home that shows formal court action is necessary

  • The minor's capabilities, maturity, and age

After the Sentencing

If the court sustains the petition against the ward, the officer is responsible for their oversight. It is especially true when committed to a camp or permitted to go home on probation.

Find A Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer Near Me

Juveniles often make mistakes and act without taking into consideration the consequences of their conduct. It is part of the growing process, and children’s mistakes shouldn't follow them for the rest of their lives. Unluckily, the prosecution in the juvenile criminal process doesn't share similar sentiments and is concerned with obtaining a conviction. The seasoned lawyers at the Los Angeles Criminal Attorney see the child as a developing member of the society who must be offered all benefits of laws, including Senate Bill 439. We can help protect your child's legal rights. Call us now at 424-333-0943 to book your initial consultation.