To err is human, and even children can make mistakes and break the law. When this happens, a child automatically becomes part of the criminal justice system, and they are considered a juvenile delinquent. A juvenile delinquent is a young offender above the age of 10 and under the age of 18. Getting arrested and being charged with a criminal offense is humiliating and traumatizing for many of us. Now imagine that happening to you as a child or your child. The experience can be devastating, with far-reaching consequences.
Small crimes are not taken lightly in America, and committing any of these offenses can significantly compromise your child's future and prospects. A juvenile conviction can negatively affect your chances of a scholarship, school enrollment, or employment. If you are arrested or charged with a juvenile offense, you can make the best decision to contact a criminal defense attorney near you. The defense attorney will help you fight those charges to an outcome that will preserve your future.
At The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney law firm, we offer professional legal representation for all types of criminal charges, including juvenile delinquency. Our vast experience and knowledge in state and criminal law help us build winning defenses for our clients’ favorable outcome. In this section, our criminal defense attorneys will highlight juvenile delinquency, the juvenile justice system, and laws governing juvenile crime.
Juvenile Delinquency: General Overview
A crime is a term used to refer to offenses committed by adults. However, crimes committed by minors under the age of 18 are legally called 'delinquent acts.' While adult offenders get tried for their crimes, juveniles can get an adjudication where they are given a disposition. Again, court proceedings for juvenile offenders are very different from trial proceedings involving adults.
There are two types of delinquent acts. The first one is an act that would be regarded as a crime if committed by an adult. Where the delinquent act is particularly severe, the minor offender may be tried as an adult. However, if they are tried as juveniles, court expenses must be catered for by the child offender’s parents.
Another type of delinquent act is one which - while it is considered an offense - it is not necessarily a crime even if committed by an adult. This Is known as status offenses, which can be attributed to the offender's age. Common examples of status offenses include truancy, violation of curfew laws, possession, or alcohol consumption. In simple terms, juvenile delinquency goes beyond mere mischief or pranks like scribbling silly words on someone's windscreen. The offenses can be severe, especially those related to drugs or property.
For this reason, efforts to conduct early detection, prevention, and intervention are essential. This will help identify and address possible factors contributing to delinquency and create protective factors to counter the risks. Some of these efforts are rehabilitative programs launched to assist young people, especially adolescents, make positive choices.
There are nonprofit organizations involved in mentoring the youths, especially juvenile delinquents and those most at risk. In case your child has shown a tendency to engage in multiple delinquent activities, you can consider consulting organizations like the Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America for guidance.
Three Strikes Laws for Juvenile Delinquency
Under California Welfare Institutions Code 707(b), a juvenile delinquent is deemed a three-strike law if:
- The minor is above the age of 18.
- The minor is a court ward.
- The offense is a serious felony and is listed in WIC 707
- The offense is serious but not listed in WIC 707.
- The offense is sustained in a WIC 707 petition by the court.
A juvenile conviction can lead to transfer to adult court for trial and additional penalties as an adult. The juvenile can also be committed to a youth authority like the Division of Juvenile Justice Authority. Our LA criminal defense attorneys explain juvenile strikes and felonies as follows:
California Three Strikes Law
Three Strikes Law is a sentencing procedure under California State Law. It can lead to additional prison sentences for repeat offenders. In California, severe and violent offenses committed by juveniles are considered strikes. People with past strike convictions are deemed to be deserving of lengthy prison sentences and lower custody credits. Juvenile strikes are listed in WIC 707 and include numerous offenses such as:
- Murder or attempted murder
- Kidnapping for ransom
- Forced rape
- Forcible oral copulation
- Forced lewd acts on a minor
- Assault with a deadly weapon
- A violent felony on an elderly person
- Witness bribery and intimidation
- Producing and selling a controlled substance
- Carjacking and drive-by shooting
- Voluntary manslaughter
Under California Penal Code 245PC, the crime of assault with a deadly weapon can be classified as either felony or misdemeanor. It is defined as an attack or an attempted attack on another person using a fatal weapon apart from a firearm. The offense attracts a four-year jail sentence. Assault with a deadly weapon (AWD), also known as aggravated assault, is the illegal attempt to inflict physical harm on another person using violence. For example:
- Attempting to stab another person with a sharp object.
- Hurling a dangerous object at a person
- Directing an animal to attack a person
An AWD charge or arrest does not necessarily lead to a conviction. Your juvenile criminal defense attorney can apply the following defenses:
- The object used was not a deadly weapon.
- The attack on the victim was not deliberate.
- The defendant acted in self-defense.
Violating Penal Code 240 and 245 PC is a wobbler offense and may be charged as a misdemeanor or felony. Misdemeanor AWD carries a maximum prison sentence of twelve months in county jail. On the other hand, you can be incarcerated for up to four years in state prison if convicted with a felony AWD. However, if the weapon used was deadlier, for example, a firearm, it can attract severe penalties.
Robbery under California Penal Code 211PC is defined as unlawfully taking the personal property in possession of another, from this person or his immediate presence and against his will through the use of force or fear. The penalties for robbery is a jail term not less than four years. Some examples of robbery felony are:
- Breaking into an occupied house and stealing the occupants' personal property with threats to cause bodily harm. This is termed as burglary under Penal Code 459 PC.
- Stealing after drugging the victim.
- Committing grand theft PC487 and petty theft PC484 with threats and causing bodily harm.
A robbery conviction attracts felony penalties, which can depend on the type of robbery you have committed, which could be either first-degree robbery or second-degree robbery. The first-degree robbery attracts a state prison sentence of between 36 months to 9 years. A second-degree robbery sentence can be a jail term of 24 months, three or five years.
The good news is that there are possible legal defenses against robbery charges. Your criminal defense attorney can argue that you did not acquire the property through force or fear or that you were wrongly accused in a case of mistaken identity. You can also prove that you were legally entitled to the property.
A juvenile facing a robbery or assault charge can be tried in an adult court if found unfit for a juvenile court and 16 they are years old and above. They can also be sentenced to informal probation, deferred entry judgment, probation at home or camp, and commitment to CYA. To fight such charges, you need a competent criminal defense attorney who is well versed in juvenile justice and adept at handling juvenile cases.
Impact of a Juvenile Strike
A juvenile strike conviction can result in confinement in a Division of Juvenile Justice Facility(DJF). It can also lead to prosecuting a juvenile offender as an adult and handing additional sentences. A juvenile conviction of an adult is considered a first strike if the strike is listed in WIC707.
Plea Bargaining a Juvenile Strike
It is impossible to add or dismiss charges in an adult or juvenile court without the judge or the DA's permission. Therefore, your criminal defense attorney can negotiate with the District Attorney in a juvenile delinquency charge. For plea bargaining cases, an offender can legally retain the same presiding judge to determine a disposition sentence.
Juvenile offenders who are facing juvenile strike charges can be transferred and tried In an adult court. The judge decides this at a fitness hearing upon ascertaining if the juvenile delinquent is unfit for juvenile court. A minor offender is deemed unfit for juvenile court if they have a felony charge at 16 or have committed an offense listed as WIC707.
At a transfer hearing, the judge may consider:
- The possibility of rehabilitating the minor before the expiry of the court's jurisdiction
- History of delinquent acts
- The outcome of past rehabilitation attempts
- Relevant circumstances of the present offense
If the minor is deemed unfit for juvenile court, he/she may be prosecuted as an adult by the District Attorney. However, there are advantages of being charged as an adult, such as rights to a trial jury, the ability to plea bargain, and short sentences for severe felonies. Benefits of Juvenile courts include speedy court proceedings, no interaction with convicted adult criminals, and expungement of juvenile records.
Deferred Entry of Judgment
Juveniles who are non-violent felony offenders can access this. However, offenders are not eligible for DEJ if their offenses are listed under WIC707 or if they had previously contested a court hearing.
Juvenile Strike Punishment
Juvenile strike penalties can be in the form of probation or confinement in a DJF (Division of Juvenile Justice System). For a DJF confinement, the juvenile must:
- Have been made a ward of the court
- Have committed a recent offense, which is listed as a WIC707
- Have committed a serious sex crime
Removing a Juvenile Strike Crime
A juvenile petition can be dismissed or sealed under Welfare and Institutions 782 statute. This is possible anytime after concluding all fact findings and is considered a general dismissal law under penal code 1385. This is the same as Romeo motion for juvenile strikes. Sealing or expunging juvenile records can be done under Welfare and Institutions Code 718.
Young offenders can get a second chance and start over in life by filing an expungement petition seeking to seal a juvenile court conviction. Expungement sets offenders free from past criminal records; hence, it gives them a clean start as if they have never been arrested or convicted.
This makes it easy, especially if your previous record is questioned in the future by your landlord, employer, or licensing agency. This, however, does not wipe out the impact of a juvenile court conviction. For example, law enforcement agencies can access your records if you apply for employment in such agencies, and they decide to conduct a background check on you.
Eligibility for Sealing Court Records
Requirements for sealing juvenile records include:
Age- Expungement petitioner has attained the legal age of 18 years.
When an offense is committed: The sealing of juvenile records can take some time depending on the circumstances at hand. The time can be between one month to 3 years.
Type of juvenile offense: There's a limit to the kinds of crimes that can be expunged. Serious juvenile felonies like rape and murder cannot be expunged.
Subsequent charges or conviction: If an offender seeking to seal juvenile records is later faced with criminal arrest or conviction, especially in adulthood, their petition seeking expungement can not be granted.
Procedure for Obtaining a Juvenile Records Expungement
There are some juvenile records which can be automatically sealed once the offender attains a certain age. Others require a delinquent to file an official petition in court. Below are some procedures a former offender can follow to obtain an expungement:
File a petition: The petitioner files a request with the county juvenile court clerk seeking to have their records sealed. Ready forms are usually available for filling and a required fee.
Wait for Expungement: Sealing usually takes between one month to 3 years. If the petition is approved and the court seals the records, the juvenile court proceedings automatically become non-existent. This means that should you be questioned about your previous history, you can confidently say you have never been part of the juvenile justice system or faced a criminal conviction.
Expungement, however, is not obsolete. There are instances where your records can be accessed where necessary. For example, a law enforcement agency may have your data in their system, making it easy for them to do a background check on you should it be deemed necessary. An instance is when you're applying for a job with such agencies.
Juvenile delinquency covers a broad scope of topics such as juvenile crime, status offenses, and juvenile justice. Let us examine some of these topics:
Some children tend to have a penchant for mischief. However, some behaviors can get out of hand and transition into criminal conduct. Because of their age and vulnerability, the state cannot incarcerate minors with adults in prison. Also, children tend to have better chances at rehabilitation, thereby necessitating special handling of juvenile delinquency. Juvenile crime is divided into subsections, such as:
- Juvenile Status Offense
- Minor in Possession( MIP)
- Juvenile Justice System
Juvenile Status Offense
There are some offenses which, if committed by children, are known as status offenses. These are truancy, purchase of cigarettes, violation of curfew laws, and possession or alcohol consumption. These offenses are based on the theory of 'parens patriae,' which implies that status offenses hurt children, and the state must protect them from such conduct.
A proposal to deinstitutionalize status offenses was conducted in the mid 20th century. It was eventually formalized by the Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act 1974. This move ensured that juvenile offenders were dealt with in the juvenile justice system through a diversion to relevant agencies. The DA was mandated to divert a juvenile offender before a portion hearing. Implementation of the move was supported by the belief that it was in the juveniles' best interests if families and rehabilitation agencies handled the issue rather than take it through the justice system.
It was apparent that handling the status offenses within the court's jurisdiction would lead to further delinquent acts, thereby affecting rehabilitation’s whole objective. Minor offenders who received adjudication for status offenses after a diversion was deemed CHINS- Children In Need of Supervision or MINS - Minor In Need of Supervision.
Types of Status Offenses: Curfew
California Curfew laws prohibit minors from being out on the streets by 11 pm. Violators of this law are usually held at a truancy center until claimed by parents or guardians. Parents involved in violating this rule by aiding or abetting risks are fined and sentenced to community service. These curfew laws remain in effect despite numerous challenges because they violate the minor's right to freedom of association. The court appeals maintained that the kaws were legal and served to protect citizens.
California state laws prohibit prolonged school absenteeisms. Truant juveniles are subject to the juvenile justice system, and parents can be held liable for their children's truancy. The sentence is a hefty fine or a jail term.
MIP - Minor in Possession
Drugs and alcohol obtained from minors are governed by state law. The state of California is strict when it comes to enforcing such laws and prosecuting juvenile offenders. The following are some objectives of California state laws on MIP:
- Educate minors on the dangers of drunk driving
- Offer help and treatment for minors involved in drug and chemical addiction.
- Include minors in community service
First time MIP offenders usually get a twelve-month suspension of their driving license. They also get a court order barring them from applying for one until the suspension period. Also, owning an unopened alcohol bottle can get you a MIP conviction unless you can prove you are 18. You can also get an additional DUI charge.
Defenses for Minor in Possession Charges
Your criminal defense attorney can raise defenses against MIP as per state laws. He/she can argue that:
- The container in the defendant's possession had no alcohol. This will require valid proof.
- The minor had attained the legal drinking age. You can have a strong defense if it can be established that the minor is above 18, thereby proving that they legally consumed alcohol
- The minor drunk alcohol in a religious event such as sabbath wine or sacramental wine
When children commit juvenile delinquent acts, such as shoplifting, violence, or DUI, their cases may be formally processed through a juvenile court. The goal is usually to help them turn their lives around through counseling and rehabilitation rather than hard time conviction. The belief is that minors stand a better chance to mature and become productive members of society. This is supported by the fact that juveniles do not belong in adult prisons due to their vulnerability.
California state law defines a juvenile as a person under the age of 18. However, upper and lower age limits apply in juvenile court jurisdiction. Children under ten years are considered as juveniles lacking criminal intent due to their young age. They also cannot determine right from wrong. Jurisdiction is determined by the child offender's age at the time of committing the offense.
Trying Juveniles As Adults
A minor offender can be tried either as a juvenile or an adult. This is because some youths develop and mature at a different rate than others. This discrepancy gives juvenile court judges the discretion to transfer juveniles to adult courts for trial. In rare instances, the court is also mandated to emancipate a minor offender in a civil proceeding to turn them into adults to enjoy some adult privileges. For example, a 17-year-old orphan can be liberated to assume custody of other dependents left behind by the parents.
Contact a Criminal Defense and Juvenile Attorney Near Me
Juveniles need special assistance and extra rights from the juvenile justice system. Therefore, it is to your advantage that you must have professional representation if you are facing adjudication. A delinquent act can affect a minor's future and prospects if not professionally and adequately handled.
Hence, a criminal defense lawyer can push to have the minor's delinquency records expunged or sealed once they legally become adults. This procedure explains this procedure leads to deleting past offenses. The child offender’s age determines jurisdiction, thus granting a child offender a new start in life. The consequences of a juvenile conviction are way severe, and you and your child cannot afford to have them.
At The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney law firm, we are ready to hold your hand if you or your loved one is facing a juvenile criminal charge. With over two decades of legal practice and vast experience in criminal defense, we will ensure your case ends with an expungement. Contact us today at 310-564-2605 and let us help you avoid the consequences of a juvenile conviction.