It is not uncommon for minors to commit crimes in California. Minors may be involved in various criminal activities ranging from simple violations like a violation of curfew and truancy to serious crimes like murder and robbery. When a child under eighteen engages in criminal activity in California, they are tried under the juvenile justice system. Since minors are considered incapable of thinking through their decisions, the state offers a wide range of protections for juveniles charged with criminal violations.

Senate Bill 439 is one of the bills passed on juvenile delinquency as it aims at pushing the juvenile court system closer to rehabilitating young offenders instead of punishing them. After the bill was passed, children under twelve years are no longer handled by the juvenile delinquency system unless they commit serious offenses. If your child is arrested and charged, you need to seek the services of a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney. At Riverside criminal defense Attorney Law Firm, we understand the California juvenile justice system and will guide your child to ensure the best outcome in their case.

Overview of Senate Bill 439

Senate Bill 439 is a set of laws signed in 2018, preventing the juvenile justice system from assuming jurisdiction over children under twelve. Studies have shown that children below twelve are incapable of comprehending their actions. Additionally, this group of individuals cannot have meaningful interaction with the justice system.

California law encourages families and schools to deal with less severe offenses involving children under twelve by using age-appropriate consequences. This helps promote learning and reconciliation without needing to take the minor through the complicated juvenile justice system. When the child’s behavior requires advanced corrective measures, appropriate support can be sought from agencies like child welfare and community-based organizations.

It is essential to understand that your child will not be exempt from the juvenile justice system if they commit serious crimes like:

  • Murder
  • Rape
  • Oral copulation by force
  • Sodomy
  • Other offenses committed using force, violence, or menace

Before SB 439, the juvenile court had jurisdiction over all minors regardless of their age and the nature of their crimes. Things have changed significantly after SB 439, with the juvenile justice system being allowed to only deal with juvenile offenders between twelve and eighteen years.

The main reasons why the lawmakers passed SB 439 are because:

  • Studies have shown that a child’s early interaction with the justice system could harm their education and developmental outcomes.
  • When a child enters the justice system before twelve years, their delinquency behavior will likely worsen.
  • The laws imposed on SB 439 help in the development of the minor. This allows them to learn about their mistakes and make the right decisions.

Steps Involved in The Juvenile Justice System After Senate Bill 439

In addition to ensuring the general public’s safety from juvenile delinquents, the juvenile court system seeks to guide, treat and rehabilitate minors who exhibit delinquent behavior. After Sebat Bill 439 was passed, the juvenile court must follow the following steps when charging minors between twelve and eighteen years with violations of the law:

Arrest and Processing

A juvenile delinquency case starts when a law enforcement officer finds your child committing crimes or suspects that they are involved in criminal activity. If the officer believes that the child broke the law, they can take any of the following actions:

  • Release them with a warning 
  • Refer the child to a sherry service or diversion program
  • Issue the juvenile with a notice in court
  • Detain the child and take them to juvenile hall

If the police officer takes your child to juvenile hall, the probation officer will assess them and recommend a release or filing of a petition against the child.

Detention Hearing

The initial appearance that your child makes with the court is at a detention hearing. The minor’s petition is read at this hearing for them to accept or deny. A detention hearing is similar to a bail hearing in adult court. However, no monetary compensation is required to secure the child’s release. When deciding on your child’s release before adjudication, the court may consider these factors:

  • Threat to the safety of others. Although the juvenile court system aims at rehabilitation, they seek to ensure that the members of society are protected from dangerous minors. Therefore, if your child is a threat to the safety of others, the judge may order that they remain in the juvenile hall awaiting adjudication.
  • Flight risk. When the court releases your child following a detention hearing, the child must report to the court on a specific date for adjudication. The court will evaluate the child to determine their likelihood of fleeing to avoid the juvenile court proceedings.
  • Child’s history of obeying court orders. If a juvenile has violated any court order before this arrest, the court will not trust them to show up in court for adjudication. This may compel the judge to order that the child remains in juvenile hall.
  • The minor’s home is not safe. Protection of minors is critical in juvenile court proceedings. Therefore, the court assesses whether your home environment is conducive for the child before releasing them following a detention hearing.

Adjudication Hearing

An adjudication hearing serves as a trial in juvenile court. Whether your child is released or detained after a transfer hearing, they must appear in court for the adjudication hearing. Unlike adult criminal cases, minors are tried before a judge instead of a jury. California law sets deadlines for adjudication hearings after a minor’s arrest. If your child is detained in juvenile hall, they have a right to have their adjudication hearing in fifteen days.

However, if your child goes home following a detention hearing, the adjudication hearing must be scheduled in thirty days. The prosecutor will present the case against the minor at the adjudication hearing. Your child’s attorney can also present the evidence in the child’s favor.

After listening to the prosecution and defense sides of the juvenile case, the judge will determine whether or not the minor violated the law. If your child is found to have committed a crime, the petition against them is sustained. However, the court will dismiss the petition if insufficient evidence supports the prosecutor’s claims. The adjudication hearing is your child’s chance to defend themselves. Following a sustained juvenile petition, a juvenile delinquent is sentenced in the disposition hearing.

Disposition Hearing

If the judge has all the evidence required to make a sentencing decision, they will hold the disposition hearing soon after the Adjudication hearing. When determining your child’s disposition, the judge considers the following factors:

  • The child’s age
  • The severity of the minor’s crimes 
  • The child’s criminal history

Rights of Minors Under SB 436

Before Senate Bill 436 was passed, minors facing criminal charges in juvenile courts enjoyed limited rights. After SB 436, juvenile court proceedings are considered formal. Although the juveniles do not have equal rights to adult defendants, they can exercise the following rights:

     1. Right not to be Arrested or Searched Without Probable Cause

A probable cause for arrest or search is a reasonable belief or justification that an individual is involved in criminal activity. According to SB 436, the police officers and other law enforcement officers have no business searching your child without probable cause. If this happens, the evidence collected in the illegal search is not admissible in juvenile court.

However, it is crucial to understand that this right only applies when law enforcement is involved. If a teacher or other public official suspects them of criminal activity, they have the right to detain them.

     2. Right to Know About their Charges

Police officers cannot just arrest a child and detain them without informing them why they were arrested. When your child is taken to police custody, they have a right to know the crime for which they were arrested. If the prosecutor files a petition against them, they should be informed of their charges. This allows a minor to relay the correct information to a guardian parent or attorney when allowed a phone call.

     3. Right to a Phone call

If your child faces an arrest and is detained in juvenile hall, they have a right to at least one phone call. The phone call can be used to contact you or their attorney. Sometimes, police officers delay upholding this right to collect more information from the minor. If a juvenile is denied the right to make a phone call while in police custody, any evidence or information obtained through police interrogations cannot be admissible in juvenile court.

     4. Right Against Self Incrimination

One of the reasons why minors are handled in a less strict court system is their inability to make the right decisions. A child facing criminal charges can be easily coerced to confess to a crime they did not commit or provide false information. For this reason, if your child faces charges in juvenile court, they have a right against self-incrimination. This means that the child cannot make confessions or statements to incriminate themselves.

     5. Right to Legal Counsel

One of the essential rights that your child has and you should encourage them to exercise is the right to have legal representation. Although you don’t have a right to attend your child’s interrogations, they have a right to remain quiet until their attorney arrives. If your child calls you from juvenile hall to inform you of their arrest, you should not hesitate to contact a criminal defense attorney to go down and guide your child through the legal procedures. 

Some of the reasons you want your child to have an attorney even in the initial stages of the juvenile case are that:

  • The minor needs to understand their rights. Most children are unaware of their legal rights, especially when it is their first run-in with the law. After an arrest, the minor will not know how to act or what to say so they can protect their rights. Your child’s lawyer will help them understand their constitutional rights and exercise them through the juvenile court process.
  • Juvenile delinquency cases are handled quickly. When compared to adult criminal cases, juvenile court proceedings move faster. The idea is to ensure that the child returns to their normal life. A skilled defense attorney can keep up with the pace of the juvenile court and obtain the best possible outcome in the child’s case.
  • A minor can be transferred to adult court. If your child has committed a serious offense and is sixteen years or older, they could be transferred to adult court. This can be very detrimental to their well-being. This is because minors charged as adults can be convicted and sent to jail or prison. Your child’s attorney can convince the juvenile court that the dispositions spelled out in juvenile court are enough to rehabilitate the child.

     6. Right to Confront Witnesses

Like in adult court, your child and their attorney have the right to cross-examine witnesses brought against the child. Although the adjudication hearings are not formal, the juvenile can ask questions to the persons testifying against them, including the arresting officer.

     7. Right to have their Charges Proven Beyond a Reasonable Doubt.

Before your child’s juvenile petition is sustained and they face juvenile disposition, the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the child was involved or committed the alleged violations.

While your child has the following rights, they cannot exercise these rights unless they are transferred to criminal court and charged as an adult:

  • Right to Bail

Unlike in criminal court, where all defendants are entitled to a release on bail with a pending trial, there is no bail in the juvenile court. Whether your child will remain in juvenile hall or be released before the judge determines trial at a detention hearing, a judge will release your child if they determine that the minor is not a threat to the safety of others and the home environment is conducive and safe for them. If the judge decides to hold the child in juvenile hall, you cannot use the money to secure their release.

  • Right to Trial by a Jury

The fate of a minor in juvenile court is determined by a judge who sustains a petition or dismisses it. Although the judge may consider the insight of the probation officer or district attorney, the decision to sustain the petition is made by the judge. The trial of a child by a jury is not an option in California.

Role of a Probation Officer in the Juvenile Justice System

In addition to the prosecutors, the judge, and the defense attorney, the county probation department plays a significant role in a juvenile court case. When your child is arrested and charged with a crime in California, the court appoints a probation officer to monitor their case moving forward. Probation officers are involved in the following stages of the juvenile court proceedings:

Arrest Phase

After a minor is arrested for committing a misdemeanor or a felony in California, the first law enforcement official with whom they come in contact after the police is a probation officer. When the arresting officer feels that the violation is serious, they will take the minor to the juvenile hall, which acts as the county jail for minors. During their stay at the juvenile hall, the child will have interviews with the probation officer.

After assessing the minor, the probation officer will determine if they are a threat to society. Following the first interaction with a juvenile delinquent, the probation officer can recommend that they be released to go home on a probation program, place them away from home or detain them in juvenile hall.

Adjudication Phase

During the Adjudication phase of a juvenile case, your child’s probation officer will recommend that the prosecutor files a petition against the minor. Additionally, the probation officer’s recommendation is necessary for the court’s decision to transfer a child to adult court.

After Disposition

When a minor is found to have committed a crime in juvenile court, the judge sustains the petition filed against the child. Since the juvenile system is aimed at rehabilitation instead of punishment, the probation officer is responsible for monitoring the child and overseeing the various dispositions signed by the judge. If your child receives formal probation as their disposition, one of the probation requirements is to check in with their probation officer.

In addition to monitoring the conduct of the minor while on probation, the probation officer has the responsibility to report any probation violations to the court.

Sentencing Options for Minors After Senate Bill 439

Although SB 439 has put an age limit on minors who can be tried under the juvenile justice system, the juvenile dispositions remain the same after a sustained juvenile petition. Some of the common juvenile dispositions that remain the same after SB 439 include:

  • Diversion

A minor can benefit significantly from a diversion program. Under WIC 654, the diversion involves enrollment in a treatment or education program for up to six months or placement in a community facility. The court will dismiss the case if the child completes these requirements successfully. Often a diversion is common for minors who are first-time offenders and are facing charges for less severe offenses.

Deferred Entry of Judgment

The DEJ is a form of probation where the juvenile delinquent must accept liability for their crimes as indicated in the juvenile petition. In return, the court postpones its judgment. If the child on DEJ complies with all the probation conditions, the judge will dismiss their case. The probation program for DEJ in juvenile court lasts up to three years and is often used to deal with minor, non-violent offenses.

Informal Probation

Informal probation Under WIC 725 and 654 is a common disposition in juvenile delinquency cases. Like the DEJ, informal probation is only available for non-violent juvenile offenders, and it lasts for a maximum of six months. While on informal probation, a juvenile must:

  • Enroll in an alcohol or drug treatment program
  • Adherence to curfew restrictions
  • Payment of fines and victim restitution

Formal Probation

After a sustained juvenile petition, the judge could sentence a minor to formal probation. Formal juvenile probation is mainly served at home. If the home environment is a significant factor in the child’s delinquency, the judge could order the child to be placed at a relative’s home, juvenile camp, or group home. While serving formal probation, your child must adhere to these terms:

  • Mandatory school attendance
  • Drug abuse counseling
  • Enrollment in anger management classes
  • Victim restitution
  • Community service
  • Avoid contact with victims of your crimes

Jail or Prison Sentence

The signing of SB 439 did not change the fact that a minor can be transferred to criminal court and charged as an adult. However, this is only applicable to minors between sixteen and eighteen years. The juvenile court could seek to transfer your child to an adult could if they are involved in committing serious offenses such as:

  • Attempted murder
  • Manslaughter
  • Murder
  • Rape
  • Sodomy
  • Assault using a firearm
  • Kidnapping for robbery or ransom

If a minor is tried in adult court, they can face a conviction and spend time in jail or prison.

Find a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

One of the most challenging events you can experience as a parent is learning that your child has been arrested. In most cases, minors are not mature enough and may be unable to comprehend the severity of their actions. The state of California understands that imposing criminal justice and punishment on minors may not benefit the child or society. For the best interests of minors, the state passed Senate Bill 439, allowing the justice system to be lenient on minors.

Although the juvenile delinquency court systems aim at rehabilitation, the dispositions from a sustained juvenile petition could impact your child’s life and future. Therefore, if you learn of your child’s arrest, you must hire a skilled criminal defense attorney for them. At Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we view children as developing members of the society who must receive all the benefits of the law, including Senate Bill 439, for their rehabilitation. We serve clients seeking legal guidance and representation to beat juvenile court cases. Call us today at 951-946-6366.