Even for an adult, an arrest and facing criminal charges can be difficult, but it can be exceptionally difficult for children. In California, minors under 18 can face arrest and charges for infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies, just like adults. The situation is not suitable for a parent or guardian whose child faces charges for a significant crime. However, the juvenile justice system is somewhat forgiving of young offenders. Since the majority do not comprehend their crimes' nature and legal ramifications, their treatment is not the same as that of adult offenders.

Families, society, or even the juveniles facing charges for a crime do not profit when juvenile offenders face prosecution on par with adult offenders. That is the main idea behind Senate Bill 439. It guarantees some leniency in the juvenile criminal system. Young people who commit crimes are rehabilitated and assisted in reintegrating into society as accountable and law-abiding individuals. Therefore, our knowledgeable lawyers at Los Angeles Criminal Attorney could assist you in understanding how SB 439 affects their case if your child, aged 12 or younger, is currently facing criminal charges in Los Angeles. Additionally, we will stand up for and defend the rights of your child until you win your case.

Understanding SB 439 and its Essence

Like adults, children are exposed to crime. They commit the same crimes that adults do. Regrettably, the law is harsh on anyone found guilty of crimes, no matter how young they are. Penalties for infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies vary according to California law. These punishments range in severity according to the seriousness of the offender's behavior and criminal history. That does not exempt children. Children as young as ten years old or younger commit serious crimes. They vary from adult offenders because youngsters are too young to comprehend their behavior's gravity and potential legal repercussions. Therefore, they do not warrant punishment but rehabilitation.

In light of this, there was a suggestion to pass a new law that would shield younger offenders aged twelve and below from harsh punishments that would not be advantageous to them or society. The idea was to develop a fresh approach to shielding children from the consequences of breaking the law. Instead of penalizing juvenile offenders for offenses whose ramifications they did not grasp, it was agreed that better methods of addressing them should be developed. Jerry Brown, the Governor of California then, signed Senate Bill 439 into law on September 30, 2018. The law came into force in January 2019.

This statute gives the juvenile justice system the authority to handle criminal cases involving young offenders between the ages of 12 and 17. A minor's case will be handled by the juvenile justice system rather than the adult court system if they violate state laws, local ordinances, or federal statutes.

However, if a juvenile under 12 violates the law, they should be penalized differently. However, the juvenile court has jurisdiction over the case if the youngster, who must be 12 years old or younger, committed a violent or serious felony like murder, rape, or sodomy. However, in cases involving significant crimes like those, criminal courts have jurisdiction over whether the child carried out the attack using physical harm, threat, or terror.

The main goal of SB 439 is to ensure that counties have restraining and disciplinary measures in place for juvenile offenders who commit nonviolent crimes at 12 years old or younger. The law does not name specific parties accountable for coming up with these reasonable alternatives. But organizations like hospitals, schools, and the general public must be at the forefront of developing alternatives to the severe punishments against offenders as outlined by the law.

The Reasoning Behind Senate Bill 439

The primary goal of SB 439 was to recognize the juvenile justice system's contribution to reintegrating young offenders into society. However, the system is not appropriate for younger children, so alternative measures are required.

For example, young children who come into contact with the juvenile court system can suffer severe consequences. Although the system is somewhat forgiving toward minor offenders, it has a lasting impact on the brains and lives of young offenders, especially those under 12. Early involvement with the juvenile justice system can harm a child's development, growth, socialization, and education. Due to their early contact with the court system, children who go through it at a young age are more likely to become chronic offenders.

Keep in mind that a child's brain is still developing. They are only partially capable of reasoning once they reach adulthood. Less restrictive punitive measures are required because stringent tactics to deal with young offenders will probably hinder their development.

SB 439's Core Objectives

Following its enactment into law, SB 439 aims to accomplish the following goals:

  • Develop alternative rehabilitative measures for younger juvenile offenders whose cause for breaking the law is unmet emotional, mental, and physical needs.
  • To establish that the lowest age of adjudication in a juvenile court is 12, below which other options should be pursued.
  • To ensure that counties have appropriate policies in place addressing alternatives to the juvenile justice system's prosecution of adolescents under the age of 12
  • To increase financial assistance for current and future juvenile offenders under 12, rehabilitation programs, and other intervention initiatives.

California did not have an age restriction for prosecuting juvenile criminals in juvenile courts before the Governor signed this bill into law. The juvenile courts would decide on petitions filed against children who had committed crimes. Even if there was convincing proof that doing so could have a detrimental effect on their well-being, that would still be the case. Children under 12 still need to acquire the ability to make sound judgments. Therefore, subjecting children to a strict legal system they cannot comprehend does not improve their behavior.

Legal Rights of Juvenile Offenders after SB 439

When a child faces charges for a crime, the police decide what to do next based on the case circumstances and the child's age. Younger children under the age of 12 are typically arrested for infractions. The police free them after issuing a severe warning against future infractions. In contrast, if the crime were more serious, the youngster would have to go through the juvenile court system so that a judge could decide what should happen to them. Since the passage of SB 439, only juveniles who commit violent or significant offenses have been subject to the juvenile justice system. However, minors 16 or 17 years old who commit significant offenses like rape or murder can face adult-level charges.

Even though they are all juveniles accused of the same crimes, those who go through the juvenile justice system do not have the same legal protections as those who go through the adult criminal system. Courts for children are rather informal. Because of this, it is essential to know your child's rights if they commit a crime under 12 and are prosecuted by the juvenile justice system.

Right to a Legal Arrest

Even when arresting young people, the police must protect their rights. For example, the police can only arrest if they have solid justification. The legality of an arrest depends on this. Without a valid reason for the arrest, the youngster can challenge it in court, which will compel the judge to suppress any evidence against them. Therefore, before making an arrest, the police need solid evidence that the youngster broke the law.

The Right to a Phone Call After Arrest

Children are occasionally detained away from their homes. They are then entitled to tell their parents, other relatives, or even a lawyer about their arrest. After being apprehended, the arresting officer must respect their right to make a phone call. When a parent or guardian finds out that the police are holding their child, they can hire a lawyer to represent the family and the minor during all legal procedures.

Some adolescents have direct access to their attorney's phone number. Some minors will be too shaken to stand up for themselves. The arresting officer must ensure that the children know their rights. Anything a youngster says to an officer while being questioned in violation of their right to a phone call is not admissible in court.

Right To Criminal Defense

Criminal defense attorneys defend adults and children facing criminal accusations. Their role is to ensure that everyone goes through a fair trial. Therefore, if your child faces criminal charges in a juvenile court, they have a right to a criminal defense.

The defense team will uphold the rights and best interests of your child. Additionally, a lawyer will counsel you (the parent or guardian) and your child on the best course of action for a successful end. If this is the first time your child faces criminal accusations, you could be too upset to comprehend what is happening in court and to them. Your attorney will be present to ensure that your child's best interests are upheld.

As soon as your child is arrested, you can hire legal representation. Your child can ask for a public defender if you cannot pay for a private one.

Right To Cross-Examine Witnesses

Unlike a criminal court case, the adjudication process in a juvenile court is typically informal. However, minors facing criminal charges can cross-examine witnesses. It allows them to interrogate and confront the witnesses who testify against them in court. To defend themselves against charges, juvenile offenders can also object to testimony presented in court. Cross-examining witnesses challenges their credibility, calling attention to any errors they could have made during their testimony and exposing any bias on their behalf. It aids the judge in reaching a verdict in your child's case.

Right to Receive Notice of the Charges They Face

The authorities can readily presume that a child facing criminal accusations does not comprehend their allegations' nature and legal ramifications. Not only will the youngster be informed of the charges, but everyone else will be as well. SB 439 grants adolescents the right to receive notification of any pending criminal proceedings. Just as adult offenders are informed of the criminal accusations they face, the police and prosecution team must take the time to help the child comprehend the petition being brought against them.

In California, a child facing criminal arrest has 48 hours to appear before a judge in juvenile court. They ought to be aware of the charges against them and the possible consequences by the time of their arraignment.

Your child's arraignment of your child must follow the arrest. The juvenile justice system lacks a bail procedure allowing a child to attend their trial from home. So, after their arrest, you must quickly retain legal counsel. A knowledgeable attorney will defend your child's rights and could persuade the judge to release the child to you before the detention hearing.

The most traumatic time for you and your family is when your child, who is under 12, faces criminal accusations and appears before a juvenile court. Additionally, it could be intimidating, mainly if you are unfamiliar with legal procedures. You must know your parental obligations and rights for the process to go smoothly. After your child is taken into custody, you have the following parental rights:

  • The right to be informed by the court of your child's arrest and detention
  • A right to understand your child's rights.
  • The right to represent your child in court by hiring a defense lawyer
  • The privilege of maintaining the privacy of court procedures involving your child.
  • The right to view your child's probation department reports and files
  • The right to be present in court with your child.

After the initial hearing in juvenile court, the judge can release the child to the parents or keep them in custody until the detention hearing. However, before making that choice, the court must weigh several issues, including the child's welfare and the community's safety. The judge will not permit the child to return home with you if they determine that the child and the community could be at risk.

Sentencing Options After SB 439

Even after SB 439, the sentencing options for adolescents facing petitions in juvenile courts remained unchanged. Keep in mind that the seriousness of the case determines whether the prosecutor files a petition against your child in a juvenile court. A formal appeal for the juvenile justice system to take charge of the situation is made in the petition. The prosecutor's personal opinions on your child's actions that led to the commission of a significant crime are contained in the petition.

A juvenile court judge will review the facts of the case and the evidence present before deciding whether to accept or reject the petition after receiving it. If the judge rejects the petition, your child will be released from custody and not be subjected to any further charges. However, your child will be subject to the various sentencing dispositions or sentences established by law if the judge grants the petition. The severity of your child's behavior, status, prior delinquency, and whether or not the victim suffered severe physical harm will influence your child's disposition.

Therefore, even if SB 439 provided respite for children 12 and younger, individuals who face serious offenses would still have to go through the juvenile court system. For all children who go through the same legal system, their possibilities for disposition remain the same. Under California's juvenile justice system, the following sentence alternatives are available:

Formal Probation

If your child is given a formal probationary period, they can serve it at your house, camp, or a group home. However, they must adhere to any court-imposed requirements, like:

  • Going to school every day
  • Keeping curfew hours strictly enforced
  • Giving back to the community
  • Paying the victim of their crime restitution
  • Not associating with or going near the prohibited individuals or locations
  • Taking part in individual or group therapy
  • Receiving treatment for their alcohol or drug problem

Typically, juvenile camps are brief and designed to accommodate the unique requirements of young offenders. They provide short-term programs like counseling, alcohol and drug rehab, educational services, job training, volunteer opportunities, and leisure activities.

Informal Probation

Under California WIC 725, juvenile offenders are subject to informal probation. A six-month maximum supervised period is part of informal probation. It will be necessary for your child to:

  • Enroll in school
  • Join a drug or alcohol treatment program
  • Complete the required counseling and therapy sessions.

Additionally, you and your child will be expected to attend counseling sessions. Except when they are in your presence, the minor must abide by a curfew. The juvenile could be required to submit to random drug testing and pay compensation to the victim of their crime, depending on the case's specifics. If the minor complies with all probation terms and conditions, the court will dismiss the petition following the probationary period.

Diversion Disposition

Before the prosecutor files a petition against your child in a juvenile court, a diversion disposition is agreed upon. Under California WIC 654, disposition for diversion exists. Building a plan that incorporates your involvement in your child's treatment and medication needs entails cooperation between the probation department and other relevant parties. Only six months are allotted for diversion. The prosecutor can file a petition against your child in a juvenile court if it does not have the desired effect. However, the prosecutor will drop their case without petitioning the court if they complete the diversion.

Deferred Entry of Judgment (DEJ)

DEJ permits your child to enroll in and finish an educational program in exchange for having their case dismissed. However, your child must first agree to the accusations. They can return to their home after completing the court-mandated programs, according to the judge, who will also dismiss their petition.

But, this disposition alternative is only accessible if your child faces charges for a less serious offense. It excludes serious transgressions like:

  • Offenses including violence
  • Grand-scale offenses
  • Sexual abuse
  • Crimes involving the use of weapons
  • Criminal offenses covered by California WIC 707(b).

Your child will be subject to warrantless, ad hoc searches of their person and home under this disposition. Your child will also be subject to the following conditions:

  • Observing a strict curfew unless you are with them
  • Paying restitution to the victim of their crime
  • They must go to school without fail
  • They must submit to arbitrary drug and alcohol testing

In keeping with this determination, the juvenile court will only dismiss your child's petition after twelve months and not after 36 months from when they are sent to the DEJ program.

If your child fails to abide by the court-ordered conditions, their case returns to the juvenile court for the judge to determine an alternative disposition.

Commitment to a Division of Juvenile Justice

If your child has committed a violent felony, a crime covered by California WIC 707(b), or a crime that necessitates registration as a sex offender, they can be sent to the Division of Juvenile Justice. If other attempts to rehabilitate your child have failed and they have a lengthy juvenile court record, they can also receive a DJJ disposition. To meet the offender's personal needs, DJJ facilities are secure housing units more akin to prisons. Usually, younger offenders are kept apart from older ones. Your child is assessed and assigned to a program that fits their age, maturity level, educational needs, and case circumstances once they arrive at a DJJ facility.

Find a Competent Criminal Attorney Near Me

Is your 12-year-old or younger child facing charges for a significant crime in Los Angeles?

Knowing what SB 439 supports and whether your child will interact with the juvenile justice system is helpful. A skilled criminal defense lawyer can best explain your alternatives, rights, and a child's rights. Your child will have your lawyer by their side as they battle for a just conclusion and advocate on their behalf. We have a team of exceptional criminal defense attorneys at Los Angeles Criminal Attorney who have handled cases similar to yours. You can manage the stress and worry of situations like these with their support and advice. Call us at 424-333-0943, so we can analyze your case and provide the best defense tactics.