Hopefully, your son or daughter does not get into trouble with the law. However, even the most responsible parent can't control all their child's decisions. Most juvenile charges do not involve criminal intent or malice but stem from peer pressure or stupidity. It's natural and easy to feel angry, frustrated, shocked, and experience self-blame as a parent. You should remember that your baby needs your love, friendship, and support. Therefore, you should remain level-headed and calm to make informed decisions since your decisions could negatively affect the minor. The legal team at the California Criminal Lawyer Group could stand with you, assess the case circumstances, and develop the best possible defense.
California Juvenile Delinquency Court
It's a court designed to adjudicate criminal charges committed by persons below the age of eighteen. The court also deals with status crimes like curfew and truancy violations. A status offense is only a criminal act when a minor commits it.
The Juvenile Division of the Los Angeles Superior Court regulates:
- The informal juvenile court that handles misdemeanors and infractions
- Juvenile delinquency court
- Juvenile dependency court that handles abandoned, abused, and neglected children
Most prosecutors try to avoid prosecuting minors and instead divert the children to programs that help them.
Under California Welfare and Institutions Code 602 WIC, the court controls crimes committed by minor children below eighteen years during the commission. If your baby committed an offense while seventeen, but it isn't tried until the child is twenty, the court could try the child in juvenile court.
Filing a Petition
A petition requests the juvenile court to get involved. It indicates what the prosecution believes the minor did, and the court should determine if the filed petition is valid.
There are two forms of petitions:
The district attorney files a 602 petition. It indicates that the minor engaged in conduct that could still be an offense if they were eighteen years. It can be a misdemeanor or felony. Should the court determine the case is true, the juvenile becomes a ward and is called delinquent. The penalties vary with the crime committed.
The probation officer files a 601 petition. It says your minor child skipped school, violated curfew, disobeyed you, or ran away. In other words, aspects that are against the law because a minor did them. Should the judge determine the petition is true, your child becomes a ward and is referred to as a status offender.
As a parent, you should obtain a copy of the petition, indicating what the child is charged with. However, it doesn't mean the juvenile is guilty.
- Moreover, you will get a notice which notifies you about a detention hearing (the first hearing).
- If the minor is above eight years, you'll receive a notice.
- If the juvenile is detained, you'll obtain a notice more than five days before the hearing.
- If the child isn't detained, you will receive a notice and the petition more than ten days before the court hearing.
- If the court hearing is not more than five days following the petition's filing, you will receive notice more than twenty-four days before the court hearing.
The judge doesn't find your child innocent or guilty in juvenile court. Instead, if it is proven that the child committed the offense beyond any reasonable doubt, a court sustains the district attorney's petition. There are various sentences, including informal probation.
Ward of the Court
The legal term "ward of the court" means the court will take over responsibility for the child's treatment and control. The juvenile could be a ward but still, serve their probation at their home.
The juvenile courts are tailored to rehabilitate youth offenders, something different from the California adult criminal system. If an adult person is sentenced, they serve time, and the goal is punishing the accused.
A ward should acquire education, services, and treatments to become diligent citizens, reunite with loved ones, and start afresh.
While the juvenile court's purpose is reintegration, that doesn't mean a minor who violated the law goes without penalty. The juvenile could be sanctioned for their behavior, but the sanction is tailored for discipline. The sanctions could include:
- Performing community service
- Paying restitution and fines
- Attending victim impact class
- Commitment to the California Youth Authority (CYA)
- Probation condition
- Spending time in a foster home
- Commitment to a ranch, camp, or juvenile hall
Issues With the California Juvenile Court
Irrespective of the goal of the juvenile courts in California, they have received criticism. In the famous 2013 Farrell v. Allen case, legal action was pressed against the state for harsh environments at the CYA. These conditions include:
- Using psychotropic medication to control the children
- Excessive application of force, such as the application of mace on minors already detained.
- Allowing children to attend school in a cage
- Confining kids for at least twenty-three (23) hours a day
In 2004, the California Youth Authority (CYA) agreed to correct the abuse. Today the Alameda County Superior Court supervises the California Youth Authority (CYA).
Realignment to the County Level
Due to sentencing preferences, cost, and litigation, the California juvenile justice system is currently undergoing a realignment process. The county probation department is tasked with rehabilitating, securing, and treating all young offenders, including the severe and violent who might be sent to the California Youth Authority (CYA).
County probation departments have also received criticism. From time-to-time violence and riots happen at the probation camps.
However, that does not mean all is lost. Both the CYA and county facilities justice system have several experienced professionals committed to rehabilitating the children.
Understanding the Juvenile Delinquency Court
The justice process starts with an arrest. The process might end here when the police release your child with a simple reprimand.
Police could also take your son or daughter to a county probation department. It could result in filing a petition against your child and detention at juvenile hall.
When Your Minor Child is Under Arrest
If the minor is under arrest, the law enforcement agency could:
- Make records of their arrest and allow the child to return home.
- Send the minor to an agency that will care for, counsel, or shelter the child.
- Make the minor return to detention (It is known as being cited back)
- Serve you and the juvenile a Notice to Appear.
- Put the minor in juvenile hall.
The juvenile could make two calls within an hour of their arrest. While one call should be to their parent, relative, boss, or guardian, the other should be to their criminal defense attorney.
If the law enforcers want to speak to the juvenile about what took place, the law enforcers should also advise the child about Miranda rights (constitutional rights), including:
- The entitlement to remain silent (The prosecutor could use anything the child says against them in a court of law)
- Entitlement to legal representation (If you can't afford a lawyer, the court will appoint a public defender)
- If your child is fifteen years or younger, they should be permitted to consult with an attorney before giving up the Miranda rights and speaking with the police.
You also have constitutional rights as a parent. The police should notify you immediately they lock your child up. They should tell you your child's whereabouts and their rights.
Acquiring a Notice to Appear
Ensure you carefully read your Notice to Appear. You might be required to meet with the probation officer.
Here are four happenings that could occur at your meeting. The probation department could:
- Lecture the child and allow them to return home
- Allow the child to do a program that could be counseling, special classes, or community service in place of going to court. If your minor child completes the program, they won't go to court. You might be required to sign a six-month contract indicating what the juvenile will do.
- Send the juvenile home and send their case to the DA, who will decide whether to bring a petition.
- Lock your child up and then send their petition to the DA, who will bring a petition within two days following their arrest.
If the petition is brought in court, the probation officer will petition the California juvenile delinquency court.
Your Parental Responsibilities After Your Child's Arrest
As a guardian or parent, you have legal responsibilities and financial responsibilities for damages your child caused. You might be required to pay the alleged victim if the judge orders restitution.
You should also inquire from the probation officer where to seek assistance. Additionally, you could get help from the local mental health departments, hospitals, schools, or attorneys.
Hearings in the California Juvenile Courts
Discussed below the most common hearings that your son or daughter is likely to undergo:
Detention Hearing in California
If your minor child is under arrest and detained, a detention hearing is the initial hearing the juvenile will attend. Whether your son or daughter is on home supervision or not, they are deemed to be in police custody and should appear at the detention hearing.
In adult criminal cases, a defendant should post bail to be released from custody. However, there are no rights to bail in California juvenile criminal cases. Should the probation department want to keep the minor detained, the only method to get the juvenile out is persuading the court at this court hearing.
The court makes the decision based on several factors, such as:
- Your son or daughter broke a juvenile court order.
- The child is a flight risk.
- The ward escaped from the juvenile court.
- It's an urgent or immediate protection necessity that the child must be detained.
- It's essential for a property's or person's protection that your child remains in custody.
Before deciding, the judge will request your input as the parent, the DA, criminal defense counsel, your child, and probation officer.
Arraignment at a Detention Hearing
Your child will also be arraigned and:
- Enter a plea
- Be advised of their constitutional rights.
- Be advised of their criminal charges.
Additionally, the court will notify the child of their entitlement to an attorney, right to subpoena witnesses, right to present proof, right to cross-examine and confront witnesses, and entitlement against self-incrimination.
The child will enter a plea to their alleged charges. However, the child doesn't enter a plea of not guilty or guilty like an adult. Instead, they could do one of the below:
- Admit their allegations
- Deny their allegations
- Deny their allegations by reason of insanity
- Not contest their allegations.
If your baby isn't in police custody and no detention issues exist, the initial hearing is called an arraignment. The court informs the juvenile of their charges, rights and your child will enter a plea to their accusations.
When Does the Hearing Occur?
If your son or daughter is detained for a non-violent or non-serious misdemeanor crime, the hearing will occur within forty-eight hours of being taken into police custody. Please note, this doesn't include holidays and weekends.
If the ward is in police custody for an offense involving violence, the hearing should happen within seventy-two hours of being detained.
Should you request a re-hearing, it should happen within three days. And if a witness is not available within five (5) days, it should happen within five days of the first hearing.
As a parent, you should be notified of the venue and time of the hearing. If you fail to receive the notice, you could request that another hearing be scheduled within twenty-four hours so that you can attend.
If the ward loses their detention hearing, your criminal defense attorney could request a Dennis H hearing (re-hearing). Your counsel will request a re-hearing of the judge's decision based on questionable proof.
If the juvenile is detained, there should be a jurisdiction hearing within fifteen days following the detention hearing. And if your minor child is not in custody, the hearing should take place within thirty days after their arrest unless the court requests more time.
During the hearing, the judge reads the filed petition and elaborates its content. Moreover, the judge advises of what is likely to happen during the hearing. You should pay restitution or fines if ordered to.
The judge also asks the juvenile if the alleged charge is correct. Your minor child can decide not to fight their charge. If they do not, they enter a plea to their charge (it means they have admitted the charge is true).
If the judge believes that petition is true, they schedule a hearing to determine how to guide, treat, and take care of your child. If the court thinks the criminal charges are not true, the petition is dismissed.
The District Attorney should present evidence that supports their criminal case against the minor.
A disposition hearing can be likened to sentencing. During this hearing, the judge declares the minor a ward of the court and determines whether the minor child will be:
- Placed in any form of custody
- Placed under supervision of the probation department
- Released on probation with terms and conditions
If the court learns that the interests of justice or the child's welfare needs it, or your child does not require rehabilitation or treatment, the judge might dismiss the case.
Sometimes the judge might feel that wardship is unnecessary, but the case should not be dismissed until the child completes counseling, among other programs. Therefore, the judge will place the minor in informal supervision for a maximum of one year, and if your son or daughter adheres with the terms and conditions set, the petition is dismissed.
When Does the Disposition Hearing Take Place?
If the court has the details it requires to make the sentencing decision during the trial, the hearing could happen immediately following the trial’s conclusion. However,
- if the court is waiting for the probation department's social study that has the suggested sentence, or
- your want to provide necessary materials that could assist portray your child's good image,
then the hearing will be postponed.
If your son or daughter is a mental health condition, the court could order a psychological evaluation.
The court cannot continue the hearing indefinitely. If your baby is detained, their disposition hearing should occur within ten days of their trial.
The minor can testify at the hearing.
The alleged victims could attend and talk at the court hearing. They can also make victim impact statements.
What Could Occur to Your Child (Different Disposition Options)
There are several sentencing/disposition options. The sentence is designed to discipline the wards and help them acquire tools to make them responsible citizens. Standard disposition options include:
- Formal probation at a group home
- Formal probation at home
- Formal probation at a probation camp
- Formal probation at a loved ones' home
- Informal probation per W&I Sec. 725
- Commitment to the CYA
If placed on probation, the minor should adhere to the following terms and conditions:
- Curfew limitations
- Not interacting with specific people.
- Removal of graffiti
- Engaging in community service
- Completing alcohol counseling
- Compulsory school attendance
Other hearings include:
- Pretrial or settlement conference — Its purpose is to solve the issue without proceeding to trial.
- Transfer hearing — This is to determine if the juvenile older than fourteen should be tried as an adult.
- Hearing on motions — They are dates that work out various aspects. These hearings could happen anytime during the case.
- Review hearings — Are designed to check the progress of your child in their placement.
Please note, for all these hearings:
- The court decides what is in the best interests of your child.
- You should attend them.
- You can be a witness, or the judge might ask you questions.
- You can request to speak with the judge.
- Both you and your child have a right to an interpreter. If you require one, ensure you request one before the court hearing date.
When Can a Juvenile Be Tried and Sentenced as an Adult Defendant?
In 2000, California voters approved Proposition 21, "The Juvenile Justice Initiative," following media reports to criminal gang conduct committed by teenagers. This law allows a prosecutor to determine whether minors above fourteen could be sentenced as adults for specific crimes like sex crimes and murder.
A minor between age 14 and 17 might be tried in the California Superior Court using one of the procedures below:
- The prosecutor might bring a petition for a fitness hearing. Should the judge find your child unfit for rehabilitation, your son or daughter will be prosecuted as an adult.
- Automatic trial as an adult for pre-determined aggravated crimes for qualified minors
- Direct file in adult court at the prosecutor's discretion
In this court hearing, the judge determines whether your minor is fit for rehabilitation. The judge makes this decision based on the factors below:
- The level of criminal complexity your son showed.
- Whether the child be rehabilitated before the juvenile delinquency court's jurisdiction expiration
- Previous criminal record
- The success of the California juvenile delinquency court's previous attempts to rehabilitate your baby
- The severity of the alleged offense and case circumstances
Should the court decide your child will not benefit from its rehabilitation efforts, the child will be transferred to an adult court and be charged under conventional criminal proceedings.
The prosecutor initiates the fitness hearing under the following circumstances:
- The child is older than fourteen years, and they committed a W&I Code 707(b) crime.
- The child is at least sixteen and has violated a California felony where they have a criminal record for committing more than two felonies while more than fourteen years.
- The child is more than sixteen years and has violated the law.
Some of the W&I Code 707(b) crimes include:
- Sodomy with the threat of severe bodily harm, violence, force
- Rape with the threat of severe bodily harm, violence, force
- Oral copulation with the threat of great bodily harm, violence, force
- Kidnapping intending to commit robbery
- Attempted murder
- Assault with the force that could result in severe bodily injury
- Voluntary manslaughter
Find Legal Representation Near Me
One of the mistakes made by minor children and parents facing juvenile criminal charges is assuming that any conviction will be non-eventful and minor since the child is below eighteen. Well, that is not the truth. While children often face reduced penalties if found guilty of a violent crime, the conviction will be on the criminal record. The minor will face incarceration, depending on the crime committed. If your son or daughter has been arrested, contact the skilled lawyers at the California Criminal Lawyer Group at 408-622-0204. We understand the California juvenile justice system and could review the case and develop a legal strategy to protect the child's freedom and rights.