Juvenile delinquency court is a court obligated to handle crimes committed by minors below 18 years. Crimes committed by minors are referred to as delinquency acts. Unlike adult courts, where they focus on punishing offenders, the juvenile justice system prioritizes rehabilitating children for their delinquent acts.
Although this sentencing is not strict, minors go through traumatic experiences when they are arrested. The severity of the charges can also have a long-term impact on their lives, so it is advisable to seek legal help from an experienced criminal attorney. At Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we are well versed with the California Juvenile system, and we aim at providing legal services to minors and parents seeking help on juvenile delinquency matters.
Juvenile Delinquency Court
Every minor who commits a crime in California (apart from severe crimes like murder) is tried in delinquency court. The juvenile court handles status offenses, for instance, curfew violations and truancy. When juveniles commit criminal acts, they constitute status offenses.
The L.A Superior Court runs the juvenile delinquency court, the juvenile dependency court (which handles abandoned, neglected, and abused children), and the informal juvenile court (which handles low-level and infraction misdemeanors. Juvenile prosecutors aim at diverting the juveniles to community programs instead of pressing juvenile charges on them.
The juvenile court jurisdiction is for minors between 12 and 17 years, with exceptions of certain children below 12 years.
The probation department files the 601 Petition, and it states that; if a child disobeyed their parents, broke curfew rules, skipped school, or ran away – these things are mainly done by minors, but they are against the law. If the minor is prosecuted and the judge finds the petition to be accurate, the minor will be referred to as a status offender and made a ward of the court.
The DA files this petition, and it states that the minor committed a crime that would still be prosecuted as an offense even if they were above 18 years. This can be murder, rape, drug trafficking, car theft, or any other felony crime. Misdemeanors like DUI or assault also fall under this category. If the judge concludes that the petition is true, the minor is made a ward of the court as a “delinquent.” The minor’s punishment will be determined by the severity of the crime and their criminal history.
Juvenile Court Lingo
According to the California juvenile court system, the judge cannot rule if the minor is innocent or guilty of the crime they are being accused of. The judge will sustain the petition filed by the DA if they find that the minor was in some way involved in the alleged crime beyond a reasonable doubt.
Juvenile court has several dispositions, including informal probation, which is at the end of the continuum. In this case, the minor denies all the allegations, and their charges are withdrawn when they complete the program.
On the other end of the continuum is California’s minors’ prison, “CYA” (Commitment to the California Youth Authority). Today, “CYA” is known as the Division of Juvenile Justice, which is covered under the California Corrections and Rehabilitation Department.
Ward of the Court
When a minor is made a ward of the court, it means that the minor is now a responsibility of the court. In other words, the court has primary responsibility for and treatment of the youth. In some cases, the young one may be allowed to serve their probation at home even if they are a ward of the court.
At times, the minor may be placed in a probation camp, group home, or in foster care to serve their rehabilitation.
What is the Purpose of Rehabilitation?
As stated above, the philosophical difference between the California juvenile justice system and the adult system is that the juvenile system aims to rehabilitate minors who are caught violating the law.
When a minor is convicted for an offense, they are placed on DJJ or probation because the goal is to place the minor under rehabilitation. But when adults are convicted for a crime, they are sentenced to prison or jail because the goal is to punish the adult offender.
In the juvenile justice system, minors are obliged to get treatment, education, and other necessary services to help them overcome their criminal habits and be better humans.
It is important to note that, even though the California juvenile system aims at rehabilitating the offender, it does not mean that a minor who violates the law will get off without being punished. The child can be approbated for unlawful conduct with sanctions meant to discipline them and not punish them.
Some of these sanctions are:
Placement in a foster care facility
Commitment to CYA
Commitment to juvenile hall
Attendance in victim impact class
Restitution (paying fines)
The Juvenile Court Process
The California juvenile court system can be complex for a parent going through it for the first time. Although the juvenile court has many stages, it moves faster compared to the adult court system. Here is a guide to help you understand the entire juvenile court process.
Arrest and Intake
Police officers have the right to arrest and detain a minor without a warrant if they have probable cause that the minor violated the law. It is upon the arresting officer to decide what to do with the minor, but they will take the minor to the probation officer in most cases.
The arresting officer should also write down the probable cause and issue it to the probation officer. The probation officer will check all the aspects of the crime in question and decide whether to set the minor free or have them detained. If the case lacks enough evidence, the probation officer will release the minor to their parent or guardian.
If the probation officer finds enough evidence to move forward with the case, the probation officer may decide to detain your minor or put them under home supervision. But note that in California, your child can only be detained if:
Your minor violated a juvenile court order
Your minor is a flight risk
Detention is an urgent necessity to protect the minor or to protect other people or property
If your child is put under home supervision, they are expected to abide by the rules set by the court and appear at the detention hearing, which may be set weeks or days to come.
Petition in Juvenile Court or Informal Disposition
After the probation officer decides that there is enough evidence for your minor to face charges, they must also decide if informal probation is fit for the case or whether a prosecutor should file a petition.
If the probation officer chooses informal disposition, it means your teen will not go through the entire juvenile court system. Instead, your child will be under your supervision, and you both have followed specific rules for up to six months. If you both follow the set rules for the specified period, your child will be free from any proceedings. But, if your teen fails to follow the set rules, the prosecutor can file a petition against them, meaning the criminal charges will not be dropped, and they will have to go through the juvenile court process.
If the probation officer chooses to detain your child for a particular reason, a detention hearing will be arranged to decide whether your teen should be set free or remain in custody. If the arrest was warrantless and the minor is not actively on parole or probation, and the crime in question is a misdemeanor with no use or possession of weapons, the threat of violence, or violence, the detention hearing must be scheduled within 48 hours after the arrest.
If the prosecutor decides to continue with the detention of your child, he/she must support his decision by proving that by setting your child free, they will be going against the rules and that either of these is correct:
Your teen is likely to evade the authority
Your teen fled from the detention facility
Your teen disregarded a juvenile court order
Custody is vital to protect another person or property
Custody is essential to protect your child and keep them away from danger
Regardless of whether your teen was released or detained, as long as the prosecutor filed a petition against your child, they must appear at their arraignment. During this hearing, your teen will be informed of the charges filed against them and be notified about their rights. At times, the prosecution may decide to combine the detention and arraignment hearings.
The judge is also supposed to ensure that your child understands the allegations and every step of the proceedings. If the judge ascertains the understanding of your child, they are allowed to submit a plea.
Your child is expected to:
Deny the allegations
Accept the allegations
Deny the allegations with insanity as a reason
Plead no contest to the allegations
If your teen denies the allegations, they will have to attend a jurisdiction hearing. It is crucial to hire a skilled juvenile attorney to help fight for your child’s justice and to walk with them through the entire process. Also, note that the jurisdiction hearing is similar to a trial.
At times, after the arraignment hearing, your child’s case may go through some pre-trial proceedings before the jurisdiction hearing. Some of these proceedings may include:
A motion to terminate any evidence obtained illegally
A motion to move the case to adult court
A hearing regarding an insanity plea
A motion to determine the competency of the minor by suspending the proceedings
Discovery motions for the prosecutor to your child’s attorney the evidence being used against the minor
Motion to dissolve the case in case of insufficient evidence or retaliatory prosecution
A motion to dismiss statements obtained from your child illegally
Negotiations of Plea Bargain
Your teen’s juvenile attorney may suggest negotiations with the prosecutor before the jurisdiction hearing and after a petition has been filled. If your child’s attorney gets to a conclusion with the prosecuting attorney, your child may face reduced charges, and they may be able to obtain a favorable plea bargain.
This hearing is presided over by a judge who concludes. If your child were being tried as an adult, this hearing would have been the trial. According to the juvenile court system, there are no jury trials. Jurisdiction hearings usually take place within 15 days after the detention hearing or 30 days after filing the case.
During this hearing, the prosecutor issues the judge the evidence against your child. After the prosecutor presents all the evidence, your teen’s juvenile criminal attorney can take over with the defense they prepared. In most cases, the minor’s attorney requests the court immediately to dissolve the case due to insufficient evidence. If the motion to dismiss the case is dismissed, your teen’s attorney will present the judge with evidence fighting the charges on behalf of your child.
At the end, when all parties are done providing their evidence, the judge will decide if the criminal allegations against your teen are true or false. True finding occurs when the judge finds the evidence presented against your child true, meaning they believe that your child committed the crime.
If the court ends up with a true finding at the end of the jurisdiction hearing, another hearing is set to determine the punishment fit for your child. In adult court, this hearing is referred to as a sentencing hearing, but it is the disposition hearing in the juvenile court system.
The judge may schedule the hearing immediately after the jurisdiction hearing or delay it for these reasons:
If your child is detained, disposition hearing may be delayed for ten days
The judge may postpone the disposition hearing to get your child’s social study from the probation officer
If your child is not detained, disposition hearing may be delayed for up to 30 days since the filing of the petition and additional fifteen days if the judge has a good cause
The judge will look at all the factors surrounding the case and their social study to determine the punishment that best suits your teen.
Juvenile cases do not always end after the jurisdiction and disposition hearing; your child’s juvenile defense attorney may decide to file an appeal to re-examine the judge’s decision. This appeal must be filed within 60 days.
If something new has emerged as a piece of new evidence, your teen, their attorney, or another party can file a modification petition. The petition may request the court to dismiss the case or to change its judgment and punishments.
If your child completes their penalty, they can wait for five years or till they turn 18 years and file for a petition requesting the sealing of their records by the court.
Common Penalties in Juvenile Delinquency Courts
If the judge finds without a reasonable doubt that your teen committed the crime, also known as “true finding,” they have various options of penalizing your child. There are three main types of dispositions used in the juvenile justice system: Dismissal, Wardship, temporary probation with no wardship.
Dismissal of the Case
Even though the judge found “true findings,” he may decide to dismiss the petition. They may choose to set aside the evidence and find and dismiss the case if they find that your child does not require any rehabilitation or treatment. This is common if the judge finds that the best interest of justice and welfare of your teen is dismissal. A skilled attorney can help you determine if this is a likely outcome in your child’s case.
This happens when your child is made a ward of the court by the judge. When your child becomes a ward of the court, the court takes over the authority and responsibility of the parent. When your child is made a ward of the court, they may be removed from their home or allowed to stay with you at home. Here are some of the punishments a judge can use under wardship:
Juvenile Camp, Hall, or Ranch Wardship — If your minor is made a ward of the court, the judge may decide to transfer them to a juvenile hall, ranch, or camp for some time. Once their time in the facility is complete, it’s upon the judge to decide if your minor should go to foster care, return to their home, go to a community care institution, or a relative’s home.
Removal from Home Wardship — The judge may ask your minor to be taken away from home. This mainly happens if your minor has undergone home probation in the past with no reforms, or if the judge thinks you and the other guardian are not capable of providing your child with appropriate care, or the welfare of your minor requires that they be separated from you or other guardians. Your child may be taken to a juvenile camp, hall, ranch, or juvenile detention institution. If they are not committed to either, they are transferred to a community care facility, foster care, or taken to live with a relative.
Confinement Wardship – If your minor committed a serious offense, and they are 11 years and above, the judge can decide that the best penalty is to move them to the juvenile justice facility for some time.
Supervised probation or unsupervised wardship — If your child is a ward of the court, the judge may order that they go through supervised or unsupervised probation either in a facility or at home. If your minor is put under supervised probation, they are supposed to check in with the court or the probation officer consistently. As the parent, you may also be asked to attend an education program or counseling with your teen.
Fines and Restitution
If your teen committed a crime that caused injury to other people or property, the court might order him to pay the victims some restitution. Your child may also be required to pay a wardship fine and restitution to the court. Depending on the severity of the damage caused, the fines could be hundreds if not thousands of dollars. At times, your teens may also be asked to pay fines as they would if they were being tried in an adult court. As a parent, you are liable for these payments if your minor cannot raise the required amount.
Additional Penalties in Juvenile Delinquency Court
Your minor may also be subjected to other penalties like:
Registration — If your child is convicted or the judge finds the “true finding” of some crimes, your child will be under registration. For instance, your minor may be registered as a gang, arson, or sex offender if they are found to have committed either of these crimes without a reasonable doubt. Registration can have a significant impact on your child’s education and future career opportunities.
Three Strikes Law — If your minor has committed a violent or serious crime in California, they will likely receive a strike. If they are convicted again for another severe or violent crime, they will receive a second strike, and their penalty will be twice as much. If they are convicted again for an extreme or violent crime, they will receive a third strike, and their punishment will be harsh.
Firearm Restrictions — If your minor is convicted for a crime under PC 29820, they will likely be restricted from owning or possessing a weapon or firearm until they are thirty years old.
Find a Juvenile Delinquency Attorney Near Me
Having your child arrested and prosecuted for violating the law can be overwhelming to minors and their parents. The punishment your child may receive can significantly affect their education and their future. That is why you need to seek help from an experienced juvenile delinquency attorney to ensure that they develop solid legal defenses and protect your child’s rights. At Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we are well versed with the California juvenile delinquency court system and are dedicated to offering professional services to all our clients. Call us today at 951-946-6366 and let us help you.