If your minor child is deemed a ward of the court, you should understand essential elements of juvenile charges, how they are handled, and their penalties. Although the California juvenile justice system focuses on instilling responsibility and rehabilitation, that does not mean the consequences of a conviction are not severe. A wrong decision, misunderstanding, or false allegation might affect your child's current situation and future opportunities. However, accusations are by no means a presumption of guilt. Your child is entitled to present their version of the story and protect their freedom and right. At the California Criminal Lawyer Group, we have built a stellar reputation over the years on an outstanding representation that we afford young offenders and the unwavering guidance and support that we offer their families.
Who is a Ward of the Court?
The legal term "ward of the court" refers to the juvenile court taking over the responsibility for a minor's control and treatment. When finding the wardship, a judge considers:
- The child's age
- The severity and facts surrounding the offense committed.
- The minor's prior criminal record
The judge can order that wardship will last until another court order or for a precise probation duration.
The ward could be subjected to either unsupervised probation or supervised probation.
If placed on unsupervised probation, the judge will allow your child to be on probation without the probation department's supervision. However, the California juvenile court will enforce practical and rational probation terms.
Your child will be placed on supervised probation for burglary, any WIC 707(b) offense, and possession of a controlled substance such as hallucinogens, peyote, opiates, or cocaine.
The juvenile delinquency court could also order a young immigrant offender to be returned to their parents' custody in their home country. Nonetheless, the judge might make an order if it's in the minor's best interests.
When the judge places your child on probation, he/she imposes terms. The conditions imposed should be linked to the alleged offense and ban or require behavior reasonably related to the future criminal behavior.
Common conditions include:
- Not breaking truancy law and attending school.
- Adhering to curfew provisions and conditions
- Driving restrictions
- The minor should not interact with specific people.
- Putting on a monitoring device
- Refrain from participating in any gang-related activity
- Requiring the ward to engage in a counseling program alongside their family members
Truancy law requires all minors aged between six and eighteen to attend school within the district, regardless of whether the juvenile is in elementary, high, or middle school. A child might be deemed a truant if they fail to attend school for three (3) consecutive days within their school year. Moreover, the ward might be truant if they are tardy thrice a year. Should your minor child miss at least ten percent of their school year, the juvenile is a chronic truant.
Nevertheless, there are exemptions of truancy, including:
- The child is sick
- The juvenile is undergoing vision, dental, chiropractic, or medical treatment.
- Local health practitioners have ordered a quarantine.
- Your juvenile requires time to go to their immediate family member's funeral service.
- To participate or serve in a precinct board in an election.
- Jury duty
- The child was supposed to attend naturalization programs for them to be U.S citizens.
Suitable Out-of-Home Placement in California Juvenile Justice System
Out-of-home placement is when your child is removed from your home and ordered to stay in a foster home. It is also known as a foster care, level 14 group home, or suitable placement. Before removing your child from your custody, the judge should first discover that:
- You did not offer your child proper education, training, and maintenance.
- Your son or daughter is chronically truant.
- The juvenile was on probation in your custody but did not reform.
- The child's welfare needs to remove the juvenile from your custody.
The probation department is tasked with determining the best placement of a young offender. The probation officer should place wards in suitable out-of-home placement in family-like and least restrictive settings that best meet the minors' needs.
During a suitable placement court hearing, the court reviews the minor's social study provided by the probation department. It could also include the victim impact statements or any material proof submitted by the minor or parents.
The court might reject or accept the probation officer's recommendations. Should the judge reject the placement suggestion, the judge will put into account other placement recommendations.
The Length of Suitable Out-of-Home Placement
Typically, the California juvenile delinquency court works to take your child home. The following factors determine the duration of their stay:
- If the minor has completed their treatment services
- Your needs and those of your child
- The juvenile's risk level to the community
The judge should schedule a placement review hearing every six months. The judge should also hold a permanency planning hearing after every twelve months during the placement duration. If you still have involvement with your child, you will participate in the permanent placement hearings.
Various Forms of Foster Care
The California probation department should provide a case plan to the court during a disposition hearing following a sustained petition. The aim is to safely return the ward home and permanent placement outside their home if that isn't possible. The probation department should consider all the minor's and their family's recommendations.
Typical forms of foster care include:
- A relative's home — If your child is placed in your relative's house, the juvenile delinquency court might authorize the loved one to function as the parents for lawful consent purposes. It might involve approval for the juvenile's education and dental, medical, and surgical care.
- A foster and resource family home — If placement with loved ones is impossible, placement might be in the resource family of foster agencies, groups care placement, certified treatment homes, or foster family homes.
- A group care home and treatment center — Typical group care options include group homes and community treatment centers.
Confinement of the Ward
The judge might order your child to be confined. While punishment isn't the primary goal, confinement is a method to make the minor responsible and a productive citizen.
If the ward committed a California violent felony with a gun, confinement is compulsory. If the wards have a mental health condition, the judge might place them in an alternative treatment program.
Your baby could be confined in either:
- A camp or ranch
- A Division of Juvenile Justice institution
- Secure juvenile home
- Forestry camp
- Juvenile hall
Children with mental, alcohol, or drug challenges could be placed at private institutions.
The judge determines whether the crime committed is a misdemeanor or felony; this determines the confinement's length. The term might be a maximum permitted according to the law for an adult defendant facing similar charges.
Sealing a Juvenile Criminal Record
A juvenile criminal record consists of court orders, reports, and documents in the juvenile delinquency court files. Moreover, it includes documents related to the criminal charge in possession of the police, Department of Justice, and Probation Department.
If your child violated the law, you might assume that their record will be automatically sealed, destroyed, and members of the public cannot access them. Unluckily, you've to take action and seal the criminal record, or when they become adults, the records remain on the public database.
While adult criminal records could result in significant life challenges, the same is true for individuals who committed juvenile crimes even if they did not face criminal penalties. Potential employers, educational institutions, and landlords might not appreciate or know the alteration and deny you opportunities based on a crime committed while a minor.
Sealing the record is in your child's best interest because it allows them to indicate on rental, employment, school, public licensing applications that:
- They do not have a criminal record.
- They have never been under arrest.
- They do not have a sealed record.
They might indicate this per penalty of perjury.
Nevertheless, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will permit auto-insurance providers to analyze your child's driving records as a minor when determining the liability risk and premiums.
If your child is a party to a civil defamation suit, their record might be opened and used as admissible evidence during their proceeding. After the case is concluded, their juvenile record will be sealed again.
The prosecutor might also access the sealed record when searching for and revealing exculpatory proof in the criminal case.
Advantages of Sealing Your Juvenile Criminal Record
According to the California Welfare and Institutions Code 781 WIC, there are many advantages of sealing a juvenile criminal record, including:
- Your son or daughter can truthfully state that they do not have a criminal history, opening doors for licensing, educational, loan, and employment opportunities.
- Employers won't ask about or discriminate against your child due to their sealed criminal record.
- The child will not be required to register as a sex offender according to PC 290
- A sealed criminal record comes with the gratification of knowing that your child can start their life afresh without being haunted by their juvenile mistakes.
The Juvenile Criminal Record Will be Destroyed After It's Sealed
An individual could have the juvenile record ultimately destroyed unless they violated one of the 30 crimes under the Welfare and Institutions Code 707(b). Some of these crimes include murder, voluntary manslaughter, rape with the threat of severe bodily injury or violence, arson, carjacking, lewd conduct with a minor below 14 with the threat of severe bodily injury or violence, and assault using a firearm.
The juvenile court will order the sealed records to be destroyed at any of the following:
- Five years have elapsed since the court sealed the criminal record if the juvenile was deemed a ward of the court for being truant or habitually disobedient.
- When the person turns thirty-eight, if they were declared a ward of the court for committing an offense
Who Qualifies for California Juvenile Criminal Record Sealing?
Your child will qualify for juvenile criminal record sealing if every statement below is correct:
- Your minor child is at least eighteen years, or the juvenile court's jurisdiction terminated more than five (5) years ago.
- Your daughter or son hasn't been sentenced for any California misdemeanor or felony, which involves moral turpitude such as theft, fraud, and sex crimes.
- The judge thinks the child has been rehabilitated.
- There isn't a pending civil lawsuit stemming from any juvenile incident.
However, your child is not eligible to have their record sealed if they were found guilty of a Welfare and Institution Code 707(b) offense while at least fourteen years.
Sealing a Juvenile Criminal Record Where the Accused Was Not Convicted
California PC 851.7 permits person arrested for misdemeanors to have the juvenile criminal record sealed under the circumstances below:
- The person was released due to insufficient evidence.
- The criminal charge was dismissed, or the accused was discharged without being convicted.
- The individual was acquitted of their charge.
Under these conditions, you can file a petition to seal the juvenile criminal records at any time without waiting for five (5) years to pass after the juvenile court's jurisdiction was terminated or waiting to turn eighteen. In this case, the process is similar to that of destroying and sealing an adult criminal record.
Sealing a Juvenile Record Process
Generally, the process takes approximately eight (8) to ten (10) months. You should bring the petition to the juvenile delinquency court.
Your child doesn't need to appear in court. Your criminal defense lawyer could go on their behalf. Nonetheless, the judge might choose to interview the minor in person.
After filing the petition, a court hearing date is set. During the court hearing, the judge will review the petition and proof presented by the DA (district attorney), the minor, probation officer, or any person with relevant details.
Finally, the judge will either:
- Grant your petition (This will seal the criminal record and then send a copy of the order to every agency that has or can access the juvenile record asking them to destroy and seal them), or
- Deny your petition.
If the petition is denied, the filer can file another one later. It is always advisable to engage a skilled juvenile offenses defense lawyer who is well-versed with the juvenile justice system.
How to Prevail in a Juvenile Criminal Case
Prevailing in a juvenile criminal case does not have to be something that is a million miles from you. If you desire your baby to present their case professionally, there are numerous options, including:
Be Honest With the Criminal Defense Attorney
More often than not, juvenile criminal cases involve personal matters. Your child might be ashamed or embarrassed about things that have taken place in their life. The juvenile must be honest with the defense lawyer. The counsel cannot divulge any information you or your son or daughter provide the lawyer without your consent.
Nothing makes a case lose its credibility than when an advocate has been blindsided because a client lied about facts that looked unimportant then. If you or the child lie to your lawyer and testify, there is a likelihood that the prosecution team will know of your statement's inconsistency and use this to disgrace you.
Ensure Your Proof is Admissible
Ensure you know the case facts you have to establish to win and then figure out what proof will help you. However, the prosecutor could use not all evidence in court. Some rules determine whether a specific statement, item, or document is admissible in court. While you don't have to master all these details, you should research to ensure your evidence helps you win.
Bring Your Trial Notebook
During the court hearings, your child will probably question witnesses (both supporting the minor and those supporting the alleged victim), testify, and present arguments for why they should prevail in their case. To keep track of the questions they want to ask, points they wish to use in their statements, and elements of the case, they should have a trial notebook.
Pay Attention to Other Trials
If you want a favorable case outcome, you should focus on court hearings that are happening. Doing this could help you get ready for the process and anticipate things with ease. Remember to take note of the suitable attire and conduct.
Wards who prevail in their case are people who hold other people in high esteem. Your child should not act like they are too good for the court. They should be respectful to all persons, including witnesses, the alleged victim, the prosecutor, and the judge.
It could be challenging to remain calm when the alleged victim, their lawyer, or the judge make arguments that imply either you or your child is lying. Regardless of how devastating you might feel, you should not interrupt.
Moreover, address the judge as "your honor," instead of "Mr. John" or "Judge John."
Take Time Answering Questions
Remember to advise your minor child to always take their time before answering any questions in their court hearing. They should think their answers through in detail and avoid making the mistake of saying anything they do not mean. They should talk with a rational, patient, and calm approach when handling any questions. Fighting their juvenile criminal case is not a race, and they should speak subtly and slowly. The more eloquent they are, the higher the chances of realizing the outcome they desire.
The Juvenile Should Express Themselves Clearly
Your child needs to express themselves straightforwardly and clearly. If they are discussing anything in general, they should be concise. They should avoid waiving their statements. Additionally, they should be truthful and ensure whatever they say is simple to comprehend.
Why You Need a Criminal Defense Attorney
Young offenders charged with crimes are always best served by engaging a criminal defense attorney.
Representing yourself is hard. In books, you will find laws defining criminal conduct, penalties, and the criminal justice system. Most people think they will understand the system by taking the time to read the books. Alas, criminal law practice cannot be comprehended by reading books and blog posts. An established criminal defense attorney has previously handled a juvenile case like you and knows the ropes.
With the role played by community values and politics, you cannot underestimate pressure. A judge should stand for re-election, law enforcers want the crimes they reported to be charged, and a prosecutor wants to be successful. The public might be fired up about specific offenses and want justice. The system should be immune to the pressure, but that does not always happen. Only a criminal defense lawyer understands how the pressure could affect your child's case and how to navigate through them.
In layman's language, the California juvenile justice system is changing, hidden, and vast, and young offenders navigate it alone at their own risk.
Your Attorney Has Built a Relationship With the Prosecutor
After working in the legal field for years, criminal defense lawyers start developing relationships with prosecuting attorneys. Although it might seem funny to have a good relationship with an adversary, all parties understand that they will have a better experience when they are familiar with one another. The relationship might help them negotiate better, resulting in a more favorable case outcome.
Analyze Police Conduct
No amount of observation through social media or TV could help you understand the legal limits of what police could do when gathering evidence in your child's case. A seasoned lawyer has spent years learning the rope, procedures, and identifying gaps. They know what the police officers are permitted to do during case investigation and can tell when police violate the accused's constitutional rights. If the evidence collected is improper, your attorney should work to ensure the proof is inadmissible and the case is dismissed.
What Else Your Attorney Will Do for You
As previously mentioned, irrespective of how well-educated and smart you're, the California juvenile criminal system makes it almost impossible to self-represent. Every criminal charge is unique; only an attorney experienced in reviewing the case's elements and handling several variables in the case could offer the representation your son or daughter needs to obtain justice.
What the attorney could do is beyond asking witnesses in the juvenile court questions. Your lawyer will also:
- Negotiate a deal for your child with the prosecution for a lesser sentence or reduced charge. On the other hand, a prosecutor could be adamant with a self-represented young offender.
- Formulate a disposition program designed to your child's precise needs, often rehabilitating the minor.
- Help the ward cope with feelings of self-blame, reduced self-esteem, anxiety, and fear.
- Offer you a reality check — An objective and knowledgeable perspective on the situation and what's likely to occur. It is essential when deciding what plea to accept.
- Understand and tell you of the hidden costs of a criminal charge
- Advise you of California legal procedures and customs that aren't written in books. Your counsel should provide you with a detailed guide of the justice system during your initial consultation.
- Spent time on your child's case that you can't afford to spend
- Gather information from prosecution witnesses
Find Skilled Juvenile Defense Attorney Near Me
If your child is a ward of the court and you think that community service might teach them a lesson, you should reconsider your decision. A minor juvenile charge could have life-altering effects for the child, including the inability to secure employment, education, and housing opportunities and facing stigma. Contrary to popular belief, a juvenile criminal record isn't automatically sealed after the minor reaches maturity and could become a permanent criminal record. As a result, it is essential to act promptly and protect your child's freedom, future, and rights. At the California Criminal Lawyer Group, we have many years of combined experience ensuring all decisions benefit your child today and in the future. To schedule a free and confidential initial consultation with one of our knowledgeable criminal defense attorneys, contact us today at 408-622-0204.