The state of California is among the many states in the country today that report high cases of juvenile crimes every year.  Contrary to the expectations of people, minors are also engaging in the same crimes committed by adults, including crimes of violence and sex-related crimes. For any person who is facing arrest for any offense in the state, they will know how traumatic it can be. It will be worse for a child, which is why juvenile defense services exist.

At The Law Offices of Fountain & Hattersley, we know how traumatizing any criminal charge would be for a minor. We also understand the consequences of keeping a criminal record from the time a person was still a minor. That is why we offer quality defense services to ensure that courts prosecute any child facing an unlawful arrest fairly, and their rights are protected. Therefore, if you are in Pasadena, and you would like us to help your loved one, get in touch with us.

California Juvenile Delinquency Courts

It is not uncommon for young people to commit crimes in California. Although some of these offenses take a similar form of those committed by adults, some juvenile crimes are based mainly on such factors as the age of the minor offender. When it comes to the commission of both a misdemeanor and felony offense, California laws are stringent on offenders, whether it is a child or an adult. For that reason, there are juvenile delinquency courts, specially designed to prosecute a misdemeanor and felony offense committed by minors.

The state of California has such courts for adjudicating all manner of offenses supposedly committed by individuals below the legal age. Such courts will handle status offenses such as curfew violations and truancy. Status offenses are general criminal acts that have been committed by minors.

The Superior Courts operate California juvenile delinquency courts in their respective counties through the Juvenile Court Division. The juvenile courts deal with infractions along with low-level misdemeanor offenses. Juvenile delinquency courts, on the other hand, deal with criminal offenses involving neglected, abandoned, and abused minors.  The age limit for children tried in juvenile courts is usually between twelve and seventeen, although sometimes certain minors below twelve can be tried there, based on the nature of the offense committed.

Generally, juvenile courts in California are not related to the state's criminal law system; they are usually related to the civil system. The proceedings are what we call Section 602, named after an applicable portion of the state's law, which governs juvenile legal proceedings. In these courts, some judges hear and determine the outcome of the cases brought before them. There are defense attorneys and also prosecutors. The only thing lacking in juvenile courts, which is present in criminal courts are juries. It is because juvenile court processes should be confidential.

The signing into law of SB 439 by Jerry Brown, a California governor in September 2008, allowed juvenile courts to try certain juvenile cases if committed by minors below the age of 12. These are mainly cases involving crimes such as violence, oral copulation, sodomy, sexual penetration through fear/force, threats to severe physical harm, murder, and rape. Otherwise, there should be no trials for children below that age in any court.

Lingo Used in California Juvenile Courts

There is the use of a particular type of language in California criminal courts that cannot be applicable in juvenile courts. The judge cannot, for instance, find the minor innocent or guilty of the offense for which they are facing charges. If there is enough evidence to show that the juvenile indeed committed the offense, and the prosecutor proves the case beyond a reasonable doubt, the judge is only allowed to sustain the petition presented by the prosecutor.

If the judge sustains the petition, there are two main sentences for the minor in a juvenile court. The least of these sentences is the informal probation. Note that the child is not required to admit to any wrongdoing, even if there is sufficient evidence to support it. Once he/she completes the program, the court dismisses all their charges. The other sentence option is the state's Youth Authority, abbreviated as CYA. It is a prison for juvenile offenders. Today, it is what they call a Division for Juvenile Justice. It is located within the state's Corrections & Rehabilitation Department.

Wards of Juvenile Courts

The judge sometimes makes juvenile minors wards of a court. What this means is that the court will take over the main responsibility for the treatment and control of that minor. Note that the child can be a court's ward and still face a sentence to serve probation at their home. Alternatively, the court can place juvenile offenders under foster care, or in a probation camp or group home.

The most important thing to note is that the main aim of juvenile courts is to rehabilitate minor offenders. It is different from adult judicial systems, whose main objective is to penalize other than restoring or correcting offenders. When children receive their sentences, they are expected to get treatment, education, and any other service they require to get over their crimes. By the end of it all, they will have reunited with their relatives and also become productive members of society.

This, however, does not mean that a juvenile offender will go without punishment for the offense committed. There are sanctions in the juvenile court system, too, to ensure that the juvenile will think twice before committing the same crime in the future. Juvenile courts sanction offenders for their conduct, though these sanctions are to discipline other than getting back at the offender. 

Some of the common sanctions in juvenile courts include:

  • Taking part in community service
  • Payment of fines or restitution to their victims
  • Placement in foster care
  • The requirement to attend victim impact classes
  • Parole/probation terms
  • Commitment to CYA
  • Commitment to juvenile ranch, camp or hall

Are There Problems in California Juvenile Court Systems?

California juvenile court systems are designed with very noble objectives, to help minors who may find themselves on the other side of the law. While this is a good thing, it is one of those justice systems that have faced criticism for years for its letdowns. Some of the faults that have been mentioned in the past are, for instance:

  • There are deplorable conditions at CYA
  • Confinement of children for up to 23 hours per day
  • Children attending schools while they are locked in their cages
  • Use of excess force on children, even when they are still restrained
  • Inadequate mental health and medical services for the children
  • Use of psychotropic medications to control children
  • Extension of a culture of gang violence

There was an agreement decree signed in 2004 by CYA to correct the issues mentioned above, to ensure that juvenile courts were serving their mandate and meeting their objectives without risking the lives of minors. Today, there is a special master that oversees CYA. Again, juvenile courts in California are getting realigned from California State to its counties. It is as a consequence of sentencing preferences, litigation, and cost. Through this realignment, probation departments in various counties will be responsible for securing, treating in addition to rehabilitating violent and the gravest juvenile offenders, only those they can commit to CYA.

Who Can Face Trial in a California Juvenile Court?

Normally, juvenile offenders below the legal age of eighteen are the ones supposed to face trials in juvenile court systems in California. However, there are instances when minors below the legal age are tried in an adult criminal court system. Section 602 of the state's Welfare and Institutions law gives juvenile courts jurisdiction over crimes supposedly committed by children less than 18 years of age.

Note that the age at which the offender was at the time of the commission of the crime is the key determining factor where the offender will be tried. It means that if a person committed a crime at the age of 16, but they were not discovered until they were 22, the offender will still face trial in a juvenile court despite their age.

However, minors of the age of 16 or above who have committed offenses under California laws Section 707b are subject to a hearing transfer, in which case the judge chooses whether to try them in a juvenile or adult court system. The basis for the judge's decision in such a situation is on:

  • The severity of criminal superiority displayed by the offender
  • Whether or not the minor needs rehabilitation before the end of the juvenile court’s jurisdiction
  • The offender’s delinquency history
  • How successful former attempts to restore the offender by the court have been
  • The gravity and circumstances of the alleged offense committed by the minor

Note that juvenile offenders below the age of 16 cannot face trial in an adult case despite the seriousness of the crime committed.

Minors who have committed Section 707b offenses will always face trials as adults. These offenses include:

  • Arson resulting in severe physical injuries or arson of an occupied building
  • Murder
  • Robbery
  • Rape by violence, force, and the threat of grave bodily harm
  • Lascivious or lewd acts with a child below 14 by violence, force, and the threat of physical harm
  • Sodomy by violence, the threat of physical harm or force
  • Kidnapping for a ransom
  • Sexual penetration by force
  • Oral copulation by violence, the threat of physical harm or force
  • Kidnapping for robbery
  • Kidnapping resulting in bodily injury
  • Attempted murder
  • An assault through force, which is likely to cause severe bodily injury
  • Assault by use of a gun or a destructive device
  • Discharge of a dangerous weapon into an occupied or inhabited building
  • Torture
  • Carjacking
  • Aggravated mayhem
  • Kidnapping in a carjacking incidence
  • Kidnapping for sexual assault
  • Offenses provided under Section 1203.09 of California laws against the disabled or older adults
  • Crimes provided under Sections 12022.5 and 12022.53, involving individual use of a gun
  • A felony offense whereby a minor individually used a weapon as provided under Section 16590a
  • A felony provided under Section 136.1 of California laws against dissuading witnesses of under Section 137 against bribing witnesses
  • Section 26100 offense for drive-by-shooting
  • Voluntary manslaughter
  • Use of an explosive destructive device to commit a murder offense
  • production, selling or compounding at least ½ ounce of controlled substances provided under Section 11055e of California Health and Safety laws
  • A felony offense involving violence, and a felony crime provided under Section 186.22b involving criminal street gangs
  • Escaping through use of violence or force from a juvenile camp, home, hall, or ranch or from a forestry camp, when such an escape has caused severe physical injuries on a worker of that facility

Note that prosecutors have total discretion in initiating the transfer of a particular trial and have the judge choose whether or not the case should be tried in an adult or juvenile court. This jurisdiction is terminated once the court ward attains twenty-one years of age. If the minor had committed any of the offenses listed above and was sentenced to CYA, the jurisdiction can go on until he/she attains the age of 25.

Juvenile Court Proceedings

Juvenile courts in California start with the arraignment of a juvenile offender. Depending on the nature of the offense, the police can choose to end the process there, by merely reprimanding the minor and releasing him/her, or taking the matter further. If the offense is more severe and requires more than a simple admonishment, the arresting officer can refer the child to the county's probation department. From there, the department can detain the offender in juvenile law, and at the same time, file an appeal against him/her in a juvenile court. The appeal is the same as the one filed against an adult offender in a criminal court.

Once the filing of the petition is complete, there are several other processes the minor might have to go through, including several hearings. The minor's parents/guardians should get in touch with a juvenile defense attorney as soon as possible. It makes the process smooth and also improves their chances of a fair ruling. The most common hearings the minor might have to go through include the following:

  • A detention trial for those minors already in custody
  • An arraignment hearing for minors who are out of court custody
  • A transfer heating for minors facing charges for offenses under Section 707b
  • A jurisdiction hearing for children undergoing a trial
  • A disposition trial for children awaiting sentencing

California law provides all the procedures and timelines for all these hearings to guide people responsible for these minors on how and when the trials will take place. Your defense attorney and prosecutor may come into an agreement and get straight to the sentencing. Also, there may be errors in any of those hearings, which means that there could be re-hearings. Caregivers or guardians have a right to be present in each of these hearings.

Sentencing Options in a California Juvenile Delinquency System

It is usual for a parent/guardian to wonder what will happen to their child after an arrest. It is worth noting that juvenile courts provide several sentencing options, which are what we call dispositions. They all depend on the kind of offense the minor has committed, their age, and delinquency record. The most common of these sentencing options include:

Informal Probation

It is the main sentencing options for those cases that are not deemed dangerous. If your child is facing charges for such an offense, he/she qualifies for unstructured probation on top of a diversion under Sections 654 or 725 of the state’s Welfare and Institutions law. Informal probation is usually provided for offenders who are facing charges for first non-violent offenses such as vandalism as provided under Section 594 or trespassing as provided under Section 602 of California laws.

A case can be diverted to probation under Section 654 of the state's Welfare and Institution law. The type of diversion happens before an appeal is filed in a juvenile court.

Example: A minor is arrested for petty theft or shoplifting in California, violating Section 484 of California laws. Since this is a low-level offense, the minor’s juvenile defense attorney will do his/her best to get a diversion under Section 654 or 725 to informal probation. What this means is that if the attorney is successful, the minor will avoid their case being filed in a juvenile court, or they could have the charge dismissed altogether once they complete the probation.

Since the minor will have to face a situation where they will be within the court's jurisdiction, their probation officer can devise a plan, which will have the juvenile serving probation for not more than six months. This plan will include a program where the minor will have to undergo counseling and education. If the juvenile fails to do well in this program, their probation officer could still file a formal petition whereby the child will have to undergo a juvenile court proceeding.

Diversion to informal probation under Section 725 of California Welfare and Institutions law can also occur. In this kind of diversion, it is the judge who decides to send the offender on informal probation. 

The difference between the two diversions here is that in W&I Sec. 725, a petition is filed in court against the minor. However, the appeal is delayed to allow the minor to serve his/her probation. It means that the judge gives the offender a second chance. As long as he/she complies with all the probation terms, the minor will not be required to admit guilt pot the offense. Once the probation period is over, the petition is dismissed. 

Some of the probation conditions the minor gets in this kind of diversion include counseling for the minor, curfew for his/her caregivers, and school attendance, among others. If the offense committed was related to the use of drugs, drug testing could be included in the list of conditions. There might be a requirement to pay court fines and restitution too.

Similarly, this type of diversion lasts for a maximum period of six months.

Formal Probation

A juvenile court can sentence a young offender to formal probation if he/she is declared a court’s ward. In this kind of probation, the child can be allowed back home, from where he/she will be expected to go through their probation successfully. In other scenarios, the court might send its ward to an appropriate place. It could be a group home or a relative's home. California has several group homes designed for minors that are emotionally disturbed.

Formal probation will also come with a list of conditions, by which the minor must abide. Some of these include:

  • School attendance
  • Counseling or substance abuse
  • Curfew restrictions
  • Community services
  • Payment of restitution
  • Removal of graffiti

If the court realizes that the child requires a higher level of structure, he/she is sentenced to a probation camp. The period of probation, in this case, will be between 3 months and a year.

CYA Commitment

It is the most severe penalty a juvenile offender can get after sentencing. Getting committed to a CYA is the same as sending an adult offender to prison, although the conditions are different. There are specific offenses that could cause the court to sentence a minor to CYA commitment, including sex-related crimes that require him/her to register as a sex offender.

Find a Juvenile Defense Attorney Near Me

If your child has been arrested for breaking the law, you might be confused about what to do and what will become of them. We at The Law Offices of Fountain & Hattersley will help ensure that the rights of the minor are protected throughout their prosecution. We also provide a strong defense against their charges to ensure a fair ruling. Call us at 626-793-4111 if you are in Pasadena, and let us fight on behalf of your child.