Under California law, the juvenile delinquency court differs from the adult criminal court. The juvenile court and the adult court do not even use similar terminology. If a judge finds an adult guilty after considering all the evidence, they make a guilty verdict. On the other hand, if a judge finds a minor guilty, the judge sustains a juvenile petition. The prosecutor files a petition against a minor when a minor commits a felony or misdemeanor crime. This petition is similar to a criminal complaint in an adult court. If the judge sustains a juvenile petition, the minor could face adverse consequences. If you or your child has received a sustained juvenile petition, Los Angeles Criminal Attorney can help you create a defense to fight the charges.

Juvenile Criminal Defense

It can be traumatizing for a minor to face an arrest. It would be hard for a child to handle being handcuffed, intricate court proceedings, and rehabilitation. Juvenile cases are common in California. Every year, thousands of minor face charges under this court system. Even if a juvenile receives a verdict of probation at home, it is hard to bear the repercussions and the stigma of a juvenile criminal record. For you to have the best outcome for a juvenile offense, it is essential to work with a competent attorney. The good news is that there are many avenues in the juvenile court system that can help a minor avoid confinement.

Juvenile Delinquency Court

The juvenile delinquency court handles all misdemeanor and felony offenses committed by minors. Juvenile courts also handle other offenses like curfew and truancy violations. Typically, the juvenile court handles offenders aged 12 to 17. When a minor attains 18 years, he or she is tried in an adult criminal court. The juvenile court in California is not under the criminal law system. It is part of the California civil law system.

The alternative name for juvenile delinquency proceedings in California is Section 602 proceedings. Juvenile courts have prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys, just like the adult criminal courts. However, juvenile courts only have judges but not juries. According to Senate Bill 439, juvenile courts do not try minors below 12 years.

However, as the bill outlines, juvenile courts can handle children below 12 years if they commit offenses like sodomy, rape, murder, violence, sexual penetration by force, oral copulation, and the threat of great bodily harm. Juvenile courts only handle offenses committed by offenders who had not attained 18 years when committing the crime. A minor may commit a crime at 17 years, but the crime is not discovered until the minor is 20 years. In this case, the juvenile court may still handle the minor’s case since, at the time of committing the crime, the offender was below 18 years.

In a juvenile court system, the judge does not judge a minor as innocent or guilty. If the judge finds that an offender committed the alleged offense, they sustain the minor’s petition. If the judge finds that the minor did not commit the alleged offense, the judge dismisses the petition.

How the Judge Arrives at a Sustained Juvenile Petition

The juvenile justice system begins when the police determine that an offender has committed an offense. The police may choose to warn the offender and release him or her. The police may also write a citation and require the minor to see a probation officer. The police also have the option of taking the offender into a juvenile center. The probation officer may request the District Attorney to file a petition against the minor depending on the offense. The DA has to file a petition within 48 hours if a minor is in custody for a felony offense. The DA should file a petition within 72 hours if the minor is in detention for a misdemeanor offense. If the defendant is not in custody, there is no deadline for filing the petition. 

A detention hearing takes place when the DA files a petition against the offender. The detention hearing aims to decide whether to lock up an offender. If a minor is already in custody, the court will determine whether the defendant should remain in custody. If the court determines that the minor should remain in detention, the defendant or the minor’s attorney may request a rehearing. At the rehearing, the defendant or the attorney will present new evidence why the minor should not be in custody.

The Jurisdiction Hearing

Usually, the jurisdiction hearing occurs within 15 days after the detention hearing if the defendant is in custody. However, if the minor is not in detention, the hearing occurs within 30 days from the initial arrest. At the jurisdiction hearing, the judge reads the petition and explains what it means. The judge will explain the potential consequences of the petition. For instance, the judge may inform the offender’s guardians or parents that they might have to pay restitution and fines on behalf of the minor.

The judge then asks the offender to confirm whether the charges outlined in the petition are accurate. The minor may choose to admit to the charges or fight them. The judge is keen to determine whether the offender understands the charges and the potential consequences. With the help of an attorney, the minor can state that the charges are not accurate and fight the DA’s evidence.

The offender’s attorney can:

  • Object the evidence presented by the DA
  • Cross-examine all the witnesses
  • Present additional witnesses and evidence
  • Argue out the case in court

Like in an adult court, the minor has a right to remain silent during the adjudication hearing. If a defendant chooses to remain silent, the judge will consider the allegations outlined in the petition and decide if they are right. If the judge decides that the petition is real, the judge sets another hearing to determine how to guide or treat the defendant. The judge dismisses the petition if he or she determines that the charges are not valid.

After a Sustained Juvenile Petition

The judge sustains a petition after confirming that all the information outlined in the DA’s petition is correct. The judge sets a disposition hearing after the adjudication hearing. Usually, this hearing is within ten days if the defendant is in custody or 30 days after the DA’s petition filing. However, in some instances, the disposition hearing may happen much later if all the parties agree.

During the disposition hearing, the judge will decide how to treat or guide the minor. The judge will also determine the defendant’s punishment. The probation officer prepares a social study of the offender before the hearing. Every party who is part of the minor’s case receives a copy of the study before the disposition hearing. The study outlines the child’s typically essential aspects that guide the court on the minor’s proper punishment or treatment. Some of the information included in the probation officer’s study is:

  • The child’s school and family history
  • The minor’s previous criminal history
  • If the charges are felonies, the study will contain a statement from the victim.
  • Recommendations

At the disposition hearing, the DA will have a chance to show evidence to help the court decide. The offender and his or her attorney will also have an opportunity to present further evidence. The victim may also submit an oral or a written statement at the disposition hearing. While deciding on the best cause of action, the judge will consider:

  • The protection of the community and keeping it safe
  • Fixing the victim’s injury
  • The best interest of the offender

After the presentation of all the evidence, the court may:

  • Set aside the court’s findings at the jurisdiction hearing and decide to dismiss the case. The judge will only do this if it is for the offender and the justice system’s interest. The judge may also make this decision if the minor does not require treatment or rehabilitation
  • The judge may place the minor on informal probation for six months with the probation department
  • The judge could also make the minor a ward of court. By making the minor a ward of the court, the court will make decisions regarding the minor and not the minor’s parents. The court will take control of the minor, limiting the level of control that the parents have over the child.

When a Minor is a Ward of Court

If a minor is a ward of the court, the judge or the court may:

  • Send the juvenile home on probation with regular supervision.
  • Decide to have the minor live with a relative.
  • Place the minor in a group home, foster home, or any other institution.
  • Send the minor to a county boot camp, ranch, or a local detention facility.
  • Send the offender to the Division of Juvenile justice.

If the judge decides to have the minor go home on probation, live with a relative, go to foster care or a group home, the court will have a case plan for the future. Therefore, the court will review the minor’s placement regularly and decide whether to take additional measures.

If the court decides to lock up the minor in a secure detention facility, the court will state the maximum period for which the minor should be in custody.

Terms and Conditions of Probation

After placing a juvenile on probation, the judge sets up the terms and the conditions of probation. The requirements of probation may require the child to give up some rights. However, all the conditions of probation should be for the best interests of the juvenile. Therefore, the requirements of probation have to be reasonable. Some of the provisions of probation that the judge may impose are:

  • The child should attend school without missing a day
  • The juvenile’s parents and guardians should accompany the offender to counseling
  • The juvenile should adhere to all curfew requirements
  • Following all the rules
  • The youth being subject to random drug and alcohol testing
  • Participation in community service
  • The kid to attend a work program but without pay
  • The child to refrain from seeing or meeting with certain people
  • Restriction on driving, the court may ban the minor from driving or set limits on where the child can drive
  • The court may require the child to pay a fine or restitution to the victim
  • The child could be subject to a random search without a warrant
  • If the court requires the child to pay restitution to the victim, the offender’s parents or guardians pay restitution on behalf of the child

Steps that a Minor Can Take after a Sustained Juvenile Petition

After a sustained juvenile petition and the disposition hearing, a juvenile can take several actions:

  • Appeal the court’s decision
  • Ask or request to set aside the court order
  • Seek a further restrictive disposition
  • Seek a sealing of the offender’s records

The juvenile may file an appeal if he or she is not comfortable with the process and feel that there was a violation of their rights. If a minor decides to appeal, their attorney can help in filing a notice of appeal. The offender will have 60 days from the disposition hearing to file the appeal.

The juvenile may also request the court to cancel or change the court order. This could happen if there is new proof or if the minor’s situation changed.

A more restrictive disposition may also apply after a sustained juvenile petition. This mainly happens if the juvenile fails to adhere to the conditions set by the court. The child may have to go back to court for a harsher sentence.

Sealing the Offender’s Criminal Records

The juvenile’s attorney may request sealing the offender’s records if they do not commit additional offenses within five years. Usually, the sealing is applicable only if the juvenile had contact or interacted with the probation officer. If the minor underwent the sentence before a judge, the juvenile could request their criminal records sealing when they turn 18 years. The child or the probation officer may ask the court to seal the:

  • Records of arrest
  • The court documents and files
  • The probation documents and records
  • Forms and copies of any other agency that could have documents concerning the child’s case

The child will have to apply with an attorney’s help to request the criminal records’ sealing and pay a fee. The probation department will decide on the request. The probation officer will:

  • Decide if the child qualify to petition the court
  • Fill out and file the petition for the child
  • File a report with the court
  • Obtain a court date
  • Inform the District Attorney’s office

The judge will receive, read, and consider the petition. The judge will consider the offense that the child committed. The judge will also determine whether the minor completed his or her sentence. The judge will also consider whether there are some pending lawsuits in court regarding the offender’s offense.

Transfer Hearing for Juveniles of 16 Years and Above

A transfer hearing may apply to juveniles who are 16 years and above. The judge considers several factors when determining whether to transfer a minor from a juvenile court to an adult court. Some of the factors that a judge considers are:

  • The degree or the level of criminal sophistication depicted by the offender
  • Whether it is possible to rehabilitate the minor before the juvenile court jurisdiction expires
  • The previous delinquent or criminal history of the minor
  • Whether there were some previous efforts to rehabilitate the defendant and the outcome of these efforts
  • The circumstances and the seriousness of the offenses committed by the defendant

It’s important to note that if a minor has not attained 16 years, the judge cannot transfer the defendant into an adult court. 

Offenses Tried in an Adult Court

A defendant of 16 years and above are automatically tried in an adult court after committing certain offenses in some instances. The California Welfare and Institutions Code 707(b) outlines the crimes that could lead to a trial in an adult court. The offenses are:

  • Murder
  • Robbery
  • Arson on an inhabited structure or leading to significant bodily injury
  • Rape by violence, force, or threat of substantial physical injury
  • Sodomy by violence, force, or threat of substantial bodily injury
  • Forcible sexual penetration
  • Lascivious or lewd acts with a minor below 14 years through violence, force, or threat of significant physical harm
  • Oral copulation by force, the threat of great bodily harm, or violence
  • Kidnapping with significant bodily injury
  • Attempted murder
  • Kidnapping to commit robbery
  • Kidnapping for ransom
  • Assault with a destructive device or firearm
  • Assault using force that could cause significant bodily injury

Other offenses that could lead to a trial in an adult court include felony offenses like carjacking, torture, aggravated mayhem, and voluntary manslaughter.

The law allows prosecutors to initiate a transfer hearing to an adult court. A judge will have to decide whether the minor qualifies to face trial as an adult in an adult criminal court. 

 Find a Los Angeles Criminal Attorney Near Me

You should never dismiss misdemeanor and felony offenses committed by children. The legal consequences could be detrimental in case of a sustained juvenile petition. It’s crucial to hire a competent criminal defense attorney immediately after an accusation. The Los Angeles Criminal Attorney provides the best legal representation for minors facing charges in California. Contact us at 424-333-0943 and speak to one of our attorneys.