Minors violate the law at times, but their actions are never deemed criminal. A violation of the law by a child between 12 to 17 years is called a delinquent act. These proceedings happen in the juvenile delinquency court instead of an adult criminal court. The juvenile courts adjudicate truancy violations, curfew violations, misdemeanors, and felony offenses.
Although a sustained petition or conviction in this court system is not supposed to affect your child’s adult life, it carries with it a lot of stigma and consequences for having a record. Thankfully, there are options in the juvenile delinquency court system your criminal attorney can exploit to prevent confinement. At The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney, we are available to help keep your child out of internment and ensure a stupid mistake doesn’t negatively affect their future.
Understanding Juvenile Delinquency Court
The California juvenile delinquency court is designed to deal with all matters of juvenile law like juvenile delinquency hearing. Juvenile delinquency cases are concerned with charges of breaking the law by minors, which are considered delinquency acts instead of criminal acts. The court handles truancy and curfew violations and misdemeanor and felony offenses involving children between 12 to 17 years.
To be precise, juvenile courts are part of civil law systems and not the criminal law system. The court system is confidential because it involves the judge and prosecutor, but there are no jurors. The case proceeding is referred to as adjudication, and at the end of the process, the judge never finds the minor innocent or guilty. Instead, if the judge is convinced beyond reasonable certainty that there was a violation of the law by the kid, they will sustain the prosecutor’s petition.
If the judge sustains your petition, different sentences can be imposed, also known as dispositions. If the minor doesn’t admit the allegations of breaking the law, the court will order informal probation. Upon successful completion of the program, the case is dismissed.
On the other end, the judge might commit the +child to the California Youth Authority (CYA), which is considered a prison for minors by many.
The California juvenile court has two folds of objectives. One of these goals is to ensure that the general public is safe and protected. The other purpose is to provide guidance, care, and rehabilitation to minors faced with allegations of breaking the law.
The Goal of Rehabilitation
Technically, the juvenile delinquency court system was put in place to rehabilitate minors who break the law. California WIC 202 says that a minor under the juvenile court’s jurisdiction as punishment for breaking the law shall, in conformism with the concern of safety and protection of the general public, get treatment, care, and guidance that conforms with their best interests. The restrictions hold the minors accountable for their wrongdoing and are imposed depending on the situation, which is different from adult court systems.
When an adult is put under arrest for breaking the law, they will likely end up with a conviction for the crime. The intention of the court when imposing the sentence is to punish them for their actions. However, if the judge dispositions a minor to informal probation or CYA, the goal is to rehabilitate.
A minor in juvenile delinquency court jurisdiction should receive a proper education, guidance, and rehabilitation intended to help them move past their delinquent acts and become responsible citizens in the future.
Wards of the Court
Under WIC 602, when a judge pronounces a minor as a “ward of the court,” it is an indication the child is a responsibility of the juvenile court. The court takes primary responsibility for the control, welfare, and treatment of the kid. Take note that a minor could be made a ward of the court and still be granted probation.
Alternatively, the minor could be taken to a foster home, county probation camp, or a group of families.
Sanctions are not for Retribution
The fact that the juvenile delinquency court system is intended to rehabilitate doesn’t mean that minors who break the law walk scot-free. The court can impose sanctions whose main goal is to discipline and not to seek justice. The sanctions the judge can set include:
- Reimbursement of the victims of your wrongdoing or fine payment
- Community labor
- Attending victim impact sessions
- Placement in foster care
- Probation or parole conditions
- Commitment to CYA
- Commitment to juvenile ranch, hall, or camp
Issues with the Juvenile Court System
Despite having the noble goal of rehabilitating minors accused of delinquent acts, the juvenile delinquency court has its shortcomings. CYA has been charged with:
- Making minors attend school while locked in confines
- Locking kids in cells for twenty-three hours a day
- Inadequate medical and mental health services for the kids
- Propagating an ethos riddled with gang-related violence
- Using psychotropic medications as a way of controlling children
In 2004, CYA agreed to remedy the abuse after the highly publicized suit in 2003.
Due to the lawsuit, the California juvenile court system has undergone a process known as realignment. County probation offices are now responsible for providing protection, treatment, and guidance to minors who engage in delinquent acts. However, juveniles accused of serious and violent offenses are committed to CYA.
As a result of the problems brought to light by the Farrell V. Allen litigation, SB 81 was passed in 2007 to realign the California juvenile delinquency system.
With the changes made in the system, all but serious and violent minor offenders are handled by the Los Angeles County probation department. Less than 1% of youth offenders who commit serious and violent offenses are committed to CYA.
Persons Eligible for the Juvenile Delinquency Court
A person will be eligible for adjudication in the juvenile court if they are a juvenile. In California, a child is anyone below 18 years, and in most cases, the upper age of a minor is 17 years. However, there are cases in which minors are tried in adult courts. A minor’s delinquent act will still be adjudicated in a juvenile court when discovered as an adult.
However, it’s crucial to understand that not all persons below 18 years are defined as juveniles. Further, some minors go to the adult instead of a juvenile court. If a minor 16 years or older commits a crime outlined under Sec. 707(b), they are subject to a transfer hearing. In this proceeding, the judge decides whether the minor should be transferred to the adult criminal court for prosecuting or not. Some of the things the judge will consider to determine whether to move the hearing or not include:
- The juvenile’s level of criminal erudition displayed
- If the child can be reformed by the end of the court prerogative
- The kid's prior history of breaking the law
- The accomplishment of any prior efforts to acclimatize the juvenile
- The nature and gravity of the delinquent act purported in the application filed to the court.
Regardless of the degree and gravity of the offense committed by a minor, if they are 16 years or younger, the case’s adjudication is not transferable to the adult court.
The crimes outlined under WIC 707(b) include but not limited to:
- Homicide or attempted murder
- Arson causing GBI or an inhabited structure
- Rape with force or threat of GBI
- Sodomy by force, threats, or violence causing GBI
- A lewd act with a minor below the age of 14 with violence, force, or threat of GBI
- Forcible sexual penetration
- Kidnapping with intent to commit robbery
- Kidnapping for ransom
- Kidnapping with bodily injury
- Assault with a firearm
- Assault utilizing force with a possibility of causing GBI
- Discharging a firearm
- PC 1203.09 violation against an elderly 60 years or older
If the prosecutor learns that the kids are 16 years or older and committed any of the crimes described under WIC 707(b), a transfer hearing will decide if the minor should be charged in the adult criminal court.
If the transfer hearing decision doesn’t favor the child, they will be transferred to the adult court and be prosecuted according to adults’ regulations.
However, it’s possible to appeal the juvenile court’s decision by filing a writ petition. The motion filing should happen before 20 days elapse after the first arraignment regarding the delinquent acts that led to the transfer.
Further, if your kid is alleged to have committed an offense involving a firearm, you need to contact a criminal defense attorney experienced in juvenile delinquency law. When a gun is involved in a felony commission, the offense is elevated to WIC 707(b) offense. If the minor is accused of WIC 707(b) offense, the District Attorney can directly charge the kid in the adult criminal court. The DA could also opt to file a transfer hearing petition for a judge to determine the matter.
In the transfer hearing, if the defense team of the minor cannot prove by a majority of the evidence in the petition against the kid should be adjudicated in a juvenile delinquency court, the child could end up facing charges in the adult criminal court.
If the juvenile court judge adjudicating the case sustains the petition, your kid will be within the juvenile court’s jurisdiction until they turn 21. After turning 21 years, the court will terminate the court’s responsibility for the minor.
Suppose the minor had engaged in an offense that led to a CYA; the judge’s jurisdiction can extend to 25 years.
California Juvenile Delinquency Court Process
When a kid engages in a delinquency act, the case against the minor is registered in a juvenile delinquency court. This court system is unique from the adult criminal court, and it has special processes and terms.
The procedure commences when your kid is apprehended for engaging in a delinquent act. If the wrongdoing isn’t severe, the arresting officer will reprimand the child before letting them go.
The arresting officer can also opt to give the minor a citation, which is a document that requires them to appear in court at a future date, but let them go home for the time being.
However, if the issue is severe, the police will have to take your child to the juvenile hall.
Keep in mind that after apprehension, the police might want to interrogate your child or the minor. For this reason, you need to speak to a criminal attorney so that they can help you understand the rights of the minor when it comes to interrogation.
If your child is taken to the juvenile hall, you shouldn’t lose hope because it’s not the end of the road. The minor might only spend some time there before being released.
Just like the arresting police officers, probation officers in charge of juvenile halls have choices. They can interview the minor and make any of the following decisions:
- Let the minor go but with a citation requiring them to appear in court in the future
- Allow the child to leave with a probation program that doesn’t let them return to court unless they
- Decide to hold the minor until a judge reviews the case
There are four hearings involved in a juvenile court that a minor may attend. These are:
- Detention hearing. In this proceeding, the court determines if the minor should be sent home or held in the juvenile hall awaiting adjudication.
- Transfer or fitness hearing. The proceeding happens to determine if the minor’s case’s adjudication will occur on the juvenile delinquency court or adult court. However, in most cases, these proceedings never happen because the hearing usually occurs in juvenile delinquency courts.
- Adjudication hearing. This is the trial hearing where the prosecutor and the judge are present but not the jury.
- Disposition hearing. In this proceeding, the judge gives the decision. If the court sustains the minor’s petition, the minor will end up with a sentence.
The juvenile delinquency court procedure is a complex one and requires that you retain a criminal defense attorney’s services in every stage of the hearing.
Sentencing the Minor
If the petition against your child is sustained, the judge will begin crafting sentences. The severity of the sentence imposed depends on the delinquent act’s nature, past juvenile record, and other considerations.
Judges have multiple choices when it comes to imposing sentences. The reason being, the core objective of the court system is to rehabilitate. They will try to find the most reasonable disposition in pursuit of the court’s rehabilitation goal. In the best-case scenario, the minor will be sent home on probation.
The various forms of dispositions in a juvenile delinquency court include:
Informal Probation Under WIC 654 and WIC 725
If your child engaged in a non-violent offense like trespassing or vandalism without a prior offense, they would be subject to informal probation and diversion programs as per WIC 64 and WIC 725.
Informal probation under WIC 654 is a no-wardship diversion program under the juvenile probation office. In this program, the petition is not reported in the court, or the probation department doesn’t seek the juvenile court’s intervention. The prosecutor never files a petition for voluntary probation because of the low-level of the delinquency act.
The probation officer then develops a six-month probation period that ensures the minor is within or will be soon within the court’s jurisdiction. During this period, the minor undergoes counseling and education. Further, they must meet all the probation; otherwise, the diversion program will be counseled and a formal petition filed by the prosecutor in a juvenile court.
On the other end, in informal probation under WIC 725, the prosecutor files a court petition. Still, it’s put on hold until the minor completes the six months’ probation period under the juvenile probation department. The petition is put on hold to give the child a second chance. However, if the minor violates probation terms, they must admit to committing a delinquent act.
Take note that under WIC 725(a) (six months deferred entry judgment), the youth agrees to the misdemeanor violation, but the judge imposes six months of probation. During this period, the minor is not a court ward unless they violate the terms and conditions of probation.
WIC 725(b) defines wardship probation. Under the section, the court declares the minor a ward of the court and retains responsibility for the minor. The probation period is six months, with terms and conditions to follow.
Some of the terms and conditions of the informal probation are:
- Observing a curfew
- Attending school
- Making compensation to the victims
- Attending counseling sessions
- Participating in community service
- Drug testing
If the youth complies with these terms of probation, the petition by the prosecution will be dismissed.
Deferred Entry Judgment (DEJ) of Probation
In a DEJ, the minor agrees to the allegations against them to dismiss the petition upon completing the deferred entry judgment program. However, there is a particular criterion the child must meet to be eligible for DEJ probation. The criteria include:
- The minor must be 14 years or older at the time of adjudication
- The offense must not be listed under WIC 707(b)
- The youth must not have been previously made a ward of the court for a felony disposition.
- The minor has not been sentenced in a DJJ or CYA
- The minor must not have any previous probation revocations by the juvenile court
- The delinquent act is not any of the offenses outlined under PC 289
Formal Probation at Home or Camp
As mentioned earlier, upon conviction, the minor is declared a word of the court and sentenced to formal probation. Sometimes, the youth might remain under the court’s jurisdiction and still be sent home for probation.
Note that the judge might send the kid to the Division of Juvenile Justice, a probation camp or living facility instead of home in some cases. However, it’s up to the judge to consider the type of probation suitable for rehabilitating the youth.
Juveniles in need of greater level structures may be committed to a probation camp for a duration of between three to twelve months in any of the 70 probation camps in California. These camps provide education and treatment programs for minors. Additionally, they provide children with vocational training, recreational activities, and an environment to acquire work experience.
Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) Commitment
Apart from adult prison, the facilities that provide the most restrictive environment or the most severe ramification a child can be subject to is DJJ or the CYA. They do not receive definite disposition, but they are subject to maximum internment in facilities imposed by the juvenile delinquency court. The Juvenile Board decides on the period of confinement of Parole.
Sentencing for Minors after a Transfer Hearing in Juvenile Court
Suppose minors are convicted in an adult criminal court. In that case, they are subject to any sentence adults can receive for the same violation of the law, including life incarceration without the possibility of parole. Additionally, a juvenile sentenced in an adult court also be sent to a DJJ facility, state prison, or the Department of Corrections and rehabilitation.
A minor transferred to an adult criminal court can be sent to the DJJ after conviction. However, this can only happen under the following conditions:
- A minor whose petition was directly filed in the adult court can petition the court to impose a juvenile conviction with the District Attorney’s permission. However, if the minor was sentenced for an offense, that could have been eligible for a transfer hearing or one that doesn’t justify direct filing.
- A minor who commits an offense that doesn’t qualify for a transfer to the adult court must face a juvenile disposition sentence.
Find a Juvenile Defense Attorney Near Me
The adolescent years can be lonely for minors forcing some to engage in delinquent acts. However, during this time, an experienced defense attorney can do a lot for your teenage child by being there for them during juvenile adjudication. At The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney, we are experienced in handling petitions in juvenile delinquency courts. Call us today at 310-564-2605 for the best possible outcome in the petition.