Ward of the Court

Having your child as a ward of the court is the worst-case scenario for any parent. Probably, you have a lot of questions and concerns. Will the child be incarcerated? Is the delinquency system different from the adult criminal procedure? A juvenile crime carries severe penalties that can affect your child's future and rights now and in the future. The qualified lawyers at The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney will help you answer these questions and navigate the process.

What Does Ward Mean?

The legal phrase "ward" refers to the court taking over primary responsibilities for the juvenile's treatment and control. When determining wardship, the judge should put into consideration:

  • The minor's age
  • The gravity and circumstances of crimes the juvenile committed
  • The prior delinquent history of the minor

The judge might order the wardship to last until a further court order or a given probation period has passed.

  • Supervised probation: Most juvenile offenses need supervised visitation. You could be placed on supervised probation for possession of a controlled substance like cocaine, hallucinogens, opiates, peyote, burglary, or any crime outlined in the Welfare and Institutions Code 707 (b).
  • Unsupervised probation: Sometimes, the court could permit you to be on probation without probation officer supervision. The judge will impose appropriate and reasonable terms and conditions on you.

Additionally, the court could order a non-resident minor to return to their parent's custody in another country. Nevertheless, the judge should make the order in the minor's best interest.

What are Terms of Probation in California?

When a judge places a minor on probation, they could impose necessary terms and conditions. The set terms should:

  • Be associated with the offense committed, and
  • Prohibit or require conduct that's linked to future crime.

Common conditions imposed include:

  • Maintaining curfew
  • Going to school and adhering to the truancy law
  • Driving restriction
  • Prohibition on activities related to gang
  • Putting on a monitoring gadget
  • Restrictions on interacting with specific individuals
  • Participating in counseling programs (the ward's family might also enroll in the program)

Placement from Home

From time to time, the court might remove the minor from their home for appropriate placement to another place. The judge should find that:

  • it's in the juvenile's best interests to be taken from their parents' custody, and
  • home probation did not work.

A probation officer determines the appropriate placement, and you could be placed in:

  • Your relative's home
  • Private institution
  • Public agency
  • Foster home

Ward's Confinement

The judge could also order you to be confined. Confinement is not designed to punish you but to rehabilitate you. You could be physically confinement by placement in:

  • A camp or ranch
  • Forestry camp
  • A secure juvenile home
  • Division of Juvenile Justice Institution
  • Juvenile hall

If you committed a California violent felony using a gun, confinement is compulsory. If you have a severe mental condition, the judge might place you in an alternative treatment program.

Generally, a minor offender is sent to a county facility in his or her home community. For juveniles with alcohol, drugs, or mental challenges, placement could be at private institutions.

What Takes Place If the Police Takes a Ward to Juvenile Hall?

If taken to the juvenile hall, it's not the end. It does not always mean you will stay in the juvenile hall for very long. The probation officer will interview you and can do any of the below:

  • Send you home with a citation to appear in court later.
  • Send you a probation program which doesn't need returning to court unless you fail to comply with the probation terms.
  • Keep you in juvenile hall until the judge reviews your case.

Division of Juvenile Facilities Commitment

The California Division of Juvenile Justice offers treatment to juvenile offenders who engaged in severe and violent felonies.

When placing a person at the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), the public agencies and courts should consider:

  • The public's protection and safety
  • The significance of redressing injury to a victim
  • The child's best interests

There should be proof of:

  • the probable advantage to the juvenile, and
  • less restrictive options are not appropriate or effective.

Length of Commitment

The judge should determine whether the crime is a California misdemeanor or a felony. It determines the length of your confinement. The term might be up to the maximum permitted per the law for an adult defendant facing the same offense.

Restitution, Fees, and Fines

The judge might impose fines against you, and they might be the same as a similar adult offense. The judge should find that you can pay the fines. Please note, these penalties are paid alongside restitutions.

Victim Restitution

If the alleged victim incurred economic losses, you should pay restitution. The victim could include:

  • A government authority accountable for replacing or repairing damaged assets
  • Immediate family members of the alleged victim

Typically, reimbursement includes payments for:

  • Medical bills
  • Mental health service
  • Profits or wages the victim has lost
  • Damaged or stolen property

You are entitled to restitution hearings to contest the restitution amount.

Restitution Fines

You should pay restitution fines based on the severity of the crime.

A California felony attracts restitution fines that range between one hundred dollars and one thousand dollars. On the other hand, a misdemeanor offense is punishable by restitution fines that do not exceed one hundred dollars.

Do Parents Have Financial Duties?

The parents of the ward are jointly responsible for all fines, fees, and restitution. However, the capability to pay should be considered.

The guardian or parent should prove:

  • The incapacity to pay
  • Not present at the time of proceedings and hearing associated with fees, fines, or restitution, or
  • No notice of possible responsibility before the petition is sustained.

What is the Purpose of the Juvenile Delinquency System?

The primary purpose of the juvenile justice system is rehabilitating offenders. It is different from the adult criminal process. When an adult is found guilty and sent to prison or jail, the objective is punishing the defendant.

Children in juvenile delinquency should acquire treatment, services, and services they require to move past the offense, become industrious citizens, and reunite with their family.

Challenges with the Juvenile Court System

Notwithstanding the objectives, the juvenile court system has received criticism for its failure. In the 2003 lawsuit known as Farrell v. Allen, California was sued for deplorable conditions at the California Youth Authority, including:

  • Use of excessive force such as using mace on restrained minors
  • Making children go to school in locked cages
  • Confining juveniles in cells for twenty-three hours a day
  • Using psychotropic medication as a form of control
  • Failing to offer minor enough mental and medical health services
  • Perpetuating a culture characterized by extreme violence

In 2004, the California Youth Authority agreed to remedy the above abuses.

Realignment to Counties

Due to litigation, sentencing, and cost preferences, the California juvenile justice system has been realigned. County probation departments are now tasked with securing, rehabilitating, and securing all youth offenders, including the violent offenders who could be sent to CYA.

The litigation's systemic failures caused the legislature to pass Senate Bill 81 in 2007 to realign the system from the state level to the county level.

Who is Tried in a Juvenile Court?

Persons below eighteen years are tried in juvenile court. However, sometimes a minor could be tried in an adult court.

Minors Go to Juvenile Court

Under Welfare and Institution Code 602 WIC, the court has power over crimes committed by the minor during the crime. If you are seventeen years of age and commit an offense, but it's not tried or discovered until you are twenty, you could be tried in a juvenile court.

You Could be Tried in an Adult Court

If you are sixteen years and above and have committed a 707(b) offense, you might be subjected to a transfer hearing. The judge determines when you should be transferred to adult court founded on:

  • The level of criminal sophistication you exhibited
  • Whether you can be rehabilitated before the juvenile court jurisdiction expires
  • Your prior criminal record
  • The success of the previous attempt to rehabilitate you
  • The gravity and circumstances of the alleged offense

Please note, children below sixteen don't get tried in adult court.

You can be tried in adult court if you have committed any of the following offenses outlined in the W&I Code 707(b):

  • Robbery
  • Arson of an inhabited structure or severe bodily injury
  • Murder
  • Rape with violence, force, or threat of severe bodily injury
  • Sodomy by violence, force, or threat of severe bodily injury
  • Lascivious or lewd conduct on a minor under fourteen with violence, force, or threat of severe bodily injury
  • Oral copulation by force, violence, or threat of severe bodily injury
  • Kidnapping for ransom
  • Forcible sexual penetration
  • Kidnapping causing bodily injury
  • Kidnapping for robbery
  • Assault with a dangerous device or firearm
  • Assault using force likely to result in great bodily harm
  • Violation of Penal Code Section 1203.9 against an individual living with disabilities or above sixty years
  • Attempted murder
  • A felony where the juvenile used a weapon outlined in PC 16590a
  • Violation of PC 137 (bribery of a witness) or PC 136.1 (dissuading a witness)
  • Compounding, selling, or manufacturing at least ½ ounce of a solution in controlled substances under HS 11055e
  • Violation of PC 186.22b (criminal street gang sentencing enhancement)
  • Torture
  • Carjacking
  • Aggravated mayhem
  • Kidnapping at the time of the carjacking
  • Escaping from a juvenile hall, ranch camp, or home if severe bodily harm is deliberately inflicted on a worker of the detention facility
  • Kidnapping with the aim for commit sexual assault
  • Drive-by shooting (PC 26100)
  • Voluntary manslaughter
  • Exploding destructive device intending to commit murder

Termination of the Jurisdiction

The juvenile court system terminates once the minor attains 21 years of age.

However, if you were charged with a 707b offense and was sent to CYA, the jurisdiction can last until you are twenty-five.

Different Court Hearings a Ward will Attend?

As your case proceeds, you will attend the following seven hearings:

  • Detention hearing: It is the first hearing after your arrest. The hearing aims to determine whether you need to stay in police custody awaiting your case outcome.
  • Hearings on motions are dates that work out various things. They can happen at any time throughout your case.
  • The settlement conference or pre-trial is a court date that solves the case without proceeding to trial.
  • Transfer hearing is a hearing that determines if you will be tried as an adult. If you were above fourteen years when you committed the offense and the judge believes you aren't fit for juvenile court, you might be tried in adult court.
  • During the jurisdiction hearing, the judge determines if you violate the offense.
  • Review hearings: From time to time, there are hearings to see how you are doing in your placement.
  • Disposition hearing: Should the judge determine you committed the offense, the disposition hearing will be scheduled to determine your punishment. It could be on the same day as your jurisdiction hearing. Should the court determine you didn't violate the law, there won't be a disposition hearing.

For the above hearings:

  • The court will determine what is best for the minor. If you could establish to the judge that the juvenile is obedient, the court could allow the child to remain at home.
  • The minor should attend all the hearings.
  • You could be a witness in your case, or the judge might ask you questions.
  • You are entitled to an interpreter. If you require an interpreter, request one before your court hearing date.
  • You could ask to speak with the judge. Your criminal defense attorney should represent you.

Can You Seal Juvenile Records?

When a court grants the petition to seal the juvenile record per WIC 781, the petition closes the files, and the documents stop existing. That means the public cannot access the documents. The rationale for sealing the record is alleviating the stigmatization of the minor. Once the criminal records are sealed, you could deny claims that you:

  • Were ever arrested
  • Have a sealed criminal record
  • Have a juvenile record

The juvenile records include reports and court records such as probation reports, exhibits, court rulings and findings, and arrest reports.

Generally, a  juvenile court proceeding is not criminal. That means even if you were convicted, you do not have a conviction on the criminal record. Additionally, even when the criminal record isn't sealed, you can still lawfully say you have never been found guilty of an offense.

There are several benefits of sealing criminal records, including:

  • Potential employers will not inquire about the sealed record or discriminate against you.
  • You won't be required to register as a sex offender per PC 290.
  • You have a fresh start in life and will not be haunted by your mistakes.
  • You can legally state that you do not have a criminal record. It opens doors for licensing, educational, loan, and employment opportunities.

Do You Qualify for Juvenile Record Sealing?

You qualify for criminal record sealing if all the statements below are correct:

  • You are at least 18 years of age or the juvenile court jurisdiction terminated five years ago,
  • You haven't been found guilty of a felony or a California misdemeanor that is a crime of moral turpitude like drug offenses, sex offenses, fraud offenses, and theft crimes,
  • You do not have any civil litigation stemming from the juvenile occurrences, and
  • The judge thinks you've been rehabilitated.

Nevertheless, you are not eligible to have the record sealed if you were sentenced for a crime listed in WIC 707(b) after turning fourteen years.

Can the Juvenile Record Be Reopened Once It is Sealed?

Listed below are situations where the record could be reopened even after it has been sealed:

  • If you're involved in a defamation civil claim, the record can be opened and admissible as proof during the court proceeding. After the claim is settled, the record will be sealed again.
  • The Department of Motor Vehicles could permit an automobile insurance adjuster to review the driving record to analyze your insurance risk and eligibility.
  • The prosecution could access the sealed record when locating and revealing exculpatory proof in your criminal case.

Critical Benefits of Engaging a Juvenile Defense Lawyer

One of the challenging experiences you can go through as a parent is having your child as a ward of the court. It can originate from a wide range of criminal charges such as theft, vandalism, murder, manslaughter, or sexual assault. Severe criminal charges can have dire and long-term consequences to the minor and your family. Therefore, it is essential to hire a lawyer. The lawyer will not only fight the charges in court but also:

Review the Child's Constitutional Rights During the Arrest

The juvenile criminal defense's initial step is determining if the police met all requirements during the arrest. Since children do not know their constitutional rights in most cases, they might face penalties under procedures that break their rights. The circumstances are:

  • Not being read Miranda warning during their arrest
  • Unlawful search and seizure of evidence, with no legal warrant or probable cause
  • Not being notified of the entitlement to have a parent or defense lawyer present during questioning

Irrespective of infraction terms, these rights can make evidence inadmissible in a court of law or have the charges dismissed.

Juvenile Cases Proceed Quickly

Adult crimes, including felonies and misdemeanors, can take time between the date of charge, hearings, and trial, while juvenile cases can move more quickly. The procedures process juvenile defendants punctually and have them go back to their daily activities and school. Since the court dates move faster, you should begin building a defense strategy once your child is considered a ward of the court.

High Stakes at the Disposition Hearing

Many juvenile cases are held before the judge, but you could request a jury trial. The jury or judge determines if the charge or petition is proven or not proven. It is similar to a verdict of innocence or guilt or a review of proof.

If it is concluded that the charge is proven, the subsequent phase is disposition hearing. The judge determines what punitive measures to impose at the hearing. It can be a fine for restitution, placement in juvenile hall, or probation.

The court ordered action or disposition varies on factors like the seriousness of the offense, the child's demeanor, and the criminal record. If your child is repentant and shows acknowledging accountability for the first criminal charge, the disposition could order community service or probation.

Your attorney should build a case that influences the decision about penalties. That way, you can assist your child in preventing long-term financial and legal consequences.

Your Child Could be Tried as an Adult

In most severe offenses, your child can serve time in an adult facility at the court's discretion. As a result, it significantly increases the consequences and penalties your child might face.

A Juvenile Criminal Record Isn't Automatically Erased

It is commonly mistaken that juvenile charges will be sealed when a minor turns eighteen years of age. A juvenile record is held securely to avoid prejudice against the minor. Employers, police, and schools cannot access the criminal record.

If you wish to seal the record, you should file a petition. The process is complicated and requires a skilled defense attorney.

There isn't Bail in the Juvenile Delinquency System

Since there isn't bail in the juvenile court process, it is wise to immediately engage an attorney. The attorney will convince the judge to release the minor at the detention hearing.

Find a Los Angeles Juvenile Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me

In Los Angeles, a juvenile or minor is a person below the age of eighteen. The juvenile is treated differently from an adult offender, and the main goal of the juvenile delinquency is rehabilitating the ward of court instead of punishment. However, the penalties can still be severe, and sometimes your child can be tried in an adult court. The judicial system proceeds more quickly. Do not wait to engage a skilled defense attorney. Contacting The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney at 310-564-2605 protects your child's future and rights. We can walk you and your child through the judicial system, listen to you, and explain the different options.

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Call 310-564-2605 24/7 if you want to retain excellent attorneys.

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