Cases of minors committing serious crimes in California are not unusual. Even though it is a common misconception that children are innocent, they sometimes break the law just like adults. Nonetheless, they are not treated like adults. They go through the juvenile delinquency system, which focuses more on education, training, and treatment than punishment.

When a juvenile court establishes that a child has engaged in a serious offense other than a curfew violation, it can declare them a ward of the court. Here, the core responsibility of controlling or making decisions for the child shifts from the parent to the court. Having the court take primary responsibility for your child is the toughest time for a parent.

When the court restricts your parental duties, you have various legal options to consider. To understand your options, contest the charges, and stop the court from removing your obligations, you must consult an experienced attorney. With the aid of a Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, you can better understand the ramifications of a sustained petition and your child's legal options.

Legal Definition of Ward of the Court

According to Welfare and Institution Code (WIC) 725(b), the term "ward" denotes a juvenile for whom the court has primary responsibility for control and treatment. If the court finds that the minor violated the statute rather than a curfew, it will grant your child a wardship. However, the decision of the court hinges on many factors:

  • Your juvenile’s age
  • The case’s circumstances
  • Your child’s delinquency record

The wardship lasts for a particular duration determined by the court or until another order comes from the juvenile court.

Once the court finds your child a wardship, they decide what will happen to them. They can opt to put them on probation or commit them to the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). Sometimes, the court will not only take away primary responsibilities from you. In the event they prove the following, they can remove the ward from your physical custody:

  • You cannot train, maintain, or educate the child
  • The delinquent has been previously placed on probation without success
  • The ward’s welfare is better-taken care of when they are away from you, the parent

A ward’s life undergoes many changes, including being taken from your custody. Therefore, when your child faces the juvenile court system for a delinquent act, you should understand what to anticipate if the court finds a wardship. We can walk you through the juvenile delinquency process at Los Angeles Criminal Attorney. Our attorneys understand the juvenile justice system and the various legal options you can explore for a favorable outcome.

Consequences of a Wardship

Once declared a court ward, the judge adjudicating the case can place them on supervised or unsupervised probation. Supervised probation means the court must appoint a supervisor to oversee the ward. However, for the court to impose this kind of probation, the minor must have committed a burglary, controlled substance possession, or an offense listed in WIC 707(b). If the ward is from a foreign country, the court can order them to be returned to their foreign parents’ custody, but only if it is in their best interest.

Alternatively, the wardship can be placed on unsupervised probation. Here, your child is allowed to be on probation without the watch or supervision of a probation officer. Nonetheless, the court will impose conditions they must follow while on juvenile probation.

Juvenile Probation Conditions

When the court finds your juvenile under wardship and places them on probation, they must adhere to particular requirements. The conditions imposed on the ward must be suitable and specific. The requirements are based on the crime in question and the goal the court wants to achieve at the end of the probationary period. So, the conditions should be geared towards discouraging or prohibiting future conduct linked to criminal activity.

One condition your child must abide by while on probation is obeying driving restrictions. California allows its minors to operate a motor vehicle only when they meet a particular criterion, including successfully undergoing driver’s education and training. Nonetheless, the ward could be subject to stricter driving restrictions if they committed a severe crime.

Similarly, the court can order your juvenile to attend school without contravening the truancy statute. Per truancy laws, any child aged 6 to 18 must attend an elementary, middle, or high school in their district. The court will find your child chronically truant if they skip at least 10% of their classes annually. However, the law will excuse your minor’s truancy if:

  • The child is sick
  • The minor has medical or dental appointments
  • A health officer has ordered the minor to quarantine
  • The ward needs time to attend a funeral activity involving a family member
  • The ward wishes to participate in a naturalization program to acquire U.S. citizenship
  • The juvenile wants to interact with a family member on military duty
  • The minor is about to serve as a precinct board member during the elections
  • The management approved the justifiable reasons for the ward to skip school

The court will declare them truant when you have adequate evidence to explain why your child skipped school.

Adhering to curfew regulations is another requirement your delinquent must fulfill while under wardship. If a judge determines that your juvenile must be confined to the home during a specific period, they can impose curfew restrictions. Usually, your child will be prohibited from being outside or in a public setting after 10 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on weekends.

When the juvenile court deems it necessary to prevent your minor from interacting with a particular set of individuals during probation, they will order the child not to associate with them until probation is over.

Also, when you need to track your child’s movements, the court will order them to wear an electronic monitor.

Sometimes the court can instruct you and the child to participate in a treatment program if they believe it will help with the child's rehabilitation.

Your juvenile is already in trouble with the law because they have been declared a court ward. Therefore, they will face even harsher consequences when they violate the terms of probation. When a child violates these conditions, the prosecutor files a 777 petition. The court then sets a date for the hearing.

The probation officer prepares a comprehensive report on the ward’s performance during probation, which they present to the court at the hearing. Also, your child will have a chance for legal representation during this proceeding to counter the probation department's claims and protect their rights.

After the hearing, the court or supervising officer can issue a warning and allow the child to leave without consequences. Alternatively, the judge can impose extra programs while the minor continues on probation. If the child was not wearing an electronic monitor, they could order the minor to wear one for the remainder of probation. Other conditions include:

  • Compulsory community labor for a given duration
  • Mandatory inpatient alcohol or drug treatment school
  • Juvenile hall confinement
  • Commitment to a ranch or group home

As the minor's parent, you should take the time to understand these probation terms or ask your Los Angeles Criminal Attorney to explain them to you. This will guarantee that you watch over your child and that they abide by all the rules the court sets.

Your Minor’s Rights During Wardship

Even while on probation, California law protects your child's rights. The court can impose conditions, but these terms should not impede your minor’s rights. The probation requirements should be geared towards rehabilitation and education. Therefore, any probation terms imposed by the juvenile court should not relate to criminal behavior but should relate to the child’s offense and should focus on prohibiting future criminal conduct.

Additionally, your child has the right to family visitation. You should be allowed visitation if the ward is in foster care.

Again, the gender identity of your juvenile should be respected when being committed to a probation facility. Gender must be a consideration during placement in an external facility.

Lastly, your juvenile has a right to internet access. It is illegal for probation officers to prevent the ward from using a computer or the internet.

Away or Far from Home Placement

Aside from home probation, the court can find an appropriate placement for the ward away from your home. The decision is informed by adequate evidence showing that home probation has not been fruitful or that the ward's welfare will be better if they are far from your home. Besides, if your child has been chronically truant or does not receive proper training or education at home, the court will consider placement away from home.

The following facilities are available for placement:

  • A foster family or home
  • Group home
  • Public agency
  • Your relative’s home
  • A private institution

It is the probation department’s responsibility to determine where to best place your child. The ideal placement should be in a family-like setting that meets the ward’s needs and does not infringe on their rights.

Usually, a hearing occurs to determine the child’s placement. The court’s decision is informed by the probation officer’s social study report, the victim’s impact statement, or any proof you or the child submitted.

The court can adopt or reject the probation department’s placement recommendation. If they decline the suggestion, they should consider the other options provided.

The length of time your child will be away from home is determined by your needs or those of the child, the juvenile's risk to the community, and whether or not they have completed all court-ordered treatment programs.

Ward Confinement

The court can also instruct the ward's confinement not to punish them but to instill productivity and responsibility. A conviction for a violent felony involving a firearm will see the ward placed under compulsory detention. However, if the court establishes that the minor engaged in the crime because of a mental illness, they will not be confined but placed in a psychological treatment facility. The facilities the court will use to detain your juvenile are:

  • Forestry camps
  • Juvenile halls
  • Camps or ranches
  • Safe juvenile homes
  • Juvenile justice facilities

The confinement happens within the county or community, so in your case, you should expect the ward to be confined in a facility within Los Angeles. The goal is to keep the child close to home. Nonetheless, when your child has mental illness, alcoholism, or controlled substance abuse, the court confines them in a private facility, which does not necessarily need to be within the local community.

The confinement duration depends on several factors. The judge must consider the severity of the delinquent act or offense. The length depends on the nature of the crime and whether it is a felony or a misdemeanor. Your delinquent will face maximum confinement for a felony, which is equivalent to the criminal sentence for the same offense committed by an adult.

DJJ Commitment

A commitment to DJJ is another consequence of having your child designated as a court ward. The treatment facility handles wards who have sustained petitions for violent felonies. The court must consider certain factors before committing a delinquent to the DJJ. There should be a precise reason why a DJJ is the best option over all the other choices. The factors that the court takes into account are:

  • The need to address the injuries of the ward’s victim
  • The need for public safety
  • Your child’s age
  • Your minor’s welfare
  • The ward's educational needs

Furthermore, the court must demonstrate that DJJ's commitment is more appropriate and effective than the alternative, less stringent placement strategies.

Restitution and Fine Payment

Another implication of the court finding your minor under wardship is the payment of court-imposed fines and fees. The fees and fines can be as high as those paid by an adult when convicted of the same offense. The court must establish that the ward can afford the fine before imposing it. You will pay the fees and victim restitution if you can afford it.

Restitution is the money you pay to the court to reimburse your child’s victim for the economic losses stemming from the juvenile's delinquent conduct. In this case, a victim can be the estate or an immediate family member of a deceased person who was the actual victim. It could be a government agency charged with repairing the damaged public property. Restitution usually offers compensation for:

  • Medical expenses incurred by the victim
  • Damaged or stolen property
  • Lost profits or income by the victim or their immediate family
  • Mental health services

Your child can challenge the restitution fees in the restitution proceeding. The restitution funds hinge on the circumstances and severity of the baseline offense. If the sustained petition were for a felony, the court would impose a restitution fee ranging from $100 to $1,000. Alternatively, if the ward was adjudicated to have engaged in a misdemeanor, the restitution fee is $100.

Parental Financial Liability

The juvenile court holds you and your juvenile joint liable for the fines and restitution fees. However, very few children can afford to pay these fines, meaning you, the child’s guardian or parent, are responsible for paying these fees. The amounts are subject to your financial capacity. As a result, you can only avoid paying the money by demonstrating your inability to do so or claiming that the juvenile court did not give you notice before sustaining the petition against your child. Furthermore, you can assert that you were absent from the court proceedings and other hearings that led to the imposition of the fines and restitution.

Sealing Delinquency Records

The public will continue to have access to the records once the child is placed under wardship, which will haunt them in the future if they apply for a job or college admission. The criminal records include the following:

  • Delinquency court files
  • Juvenile court reports, orders, and records

Once your child has finished their wardship, you should not assume that the records will be automatically sealed. You must take action with the help of your attorney at Los Angeles Criminal Attorney. Once the documents are closed, the child can confidently say to colleges, employers, landlords, or public licensing agencies that:

  • They have never been apprehended for a crime
  • They have a clean criminal record
  • They have never sealed their records

Making these statements when the child has not sealed their record could result in perjury charges.

Even after the record is sealed, governmental organizations like the Department of Motor Vehicles will permit insurance companies to access the sealed files to assess the liability risk posed by the minor and set premiums accordingly.

The court can also order the records to be opened and admitted as evidence in a civil defamation case where your child is a defendant. Once the suit is concluded, the files are sealed.

  1. Pros of Sealing Juvenile Records

Per WIC 781, the benefits of sealing your juvenile’s records are:

  • The minor can truthful state they have a clean record without committing perjury
  • Prospective employers will not ask about or disadvantage the minor based on the sealed records
  • There is no requirement to register as a sex offender
  • The sealed records give your child a clean slate without being haunted by childhood mistakes
  1. Destroying Sealed Records

If chronic truancy or habitual disobedience were the basis for the sustained petition, the court would order the sealed records to be destroyed after five years. Alternatively, if the petition was maintained for a criminal offense, the court will order your minor's records to be destroyed when they turn thirty.

However, the records will not be sealed if the minor commits any of the crimes listed in WIC 707(b). The offenses listed under the statute include but are not limited to arson, homicide, voluntary manslaughter, and assault with a firearm.

  1. Eligibility for Juvenile Record Sealing

Your juvenile is eligible for record sealing if:

  • They are 18 or older, or the court terminated the wardship over five years ago
  • They have not been sentenced for a moral turpitude offense
  • The juvenile court is convinced the rehabilitation has been effective
  • There are no pending civil defamation suits stemming from the delinquent act

If the sustained petition resulted from an offense under WIC 707(b) that the minor committed when they were 14 or older, they would not be qualified for record sealing.

  1. Sealing Arrest Records

Per PEN 851.7, your child can seal their juvenile record if:

  • They were only apprehended and released due to inadequate evidence
  • The petition against them was dismissed or discharged without being sustained
  • They were acquitted of the petition

Under these circumstances, your juvenile does not need to wait for five years or turn eighteen to seal their records. The procedure followed here is the same as deleting adult criminal records.

You must hire an attorney to defend your child against the petition. An attorney can bargain for a light sentence and submit a record-sealing request even if the court upholds the petition and finds wardship.

Why a Defense Attorney is Necessary

Allowing your child to navigate the juvenile justice system is risky. Even if they read books and blogs about juvenile delinquency, they still do not understand how to navigate the process and the challenges that will arise. You will need to hire an attorney to safeguard their rights and interests.

An attorney is essential because they have cultivated relationships with prosecutors over their years of practice, which can be a massive advantage during negotiations for a favorable outcome.

Additionally, lawyers are familiar with the arrest and investigation procedures and can spot any violations of your child's rights or improper behavior by an officer. They could ask the court to dismiss the evidence against them if it had been obtained unlawfully.

Other benefits of having an attorney in your child’s case are:

  • They will negotiate for reduced wardship implications
  • Design a disposition geared toward rehabilitation
  • Help the ward overcome anxiety, self-blame, and fear
  • Provide you with a reality check to decide on the best plea for your child
  • Give the child’s case the attention you cannot afford to give

Find an Experienced Juvenile Delinquency Attorney Near Me

A serious decision that could affect all facets of your child's future is finding your minor a wardship. Also, your responsibilities towards the child are limited, and sometimes you could lose physical custody. If the juvenile court has sustained your minor’s petition and is about to declare them a court ward, you must talk to a defense attorney. At the Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, we are willing to negotiate other legal options to prevent wardship. Call us today at 424-333-0943 to talk to an attorney.