Indeed, being under investigation or arrest for an alleged crime can be a traumatic and stressful experience, especially for someone under 18 (minor). Sometimes, even minors can make mistakes when lonely or due to peer pressure, but these wrongdoings do not have to follow them in adulthood.
Although the juvenile delinquency court system is different from that of the adult criminal court, it is vital to retain the services of an attorney if your child is in trouble with the law. When your child starts down the wrong path, it does mean they are criminals.
With the help of a skilled attorney, you could manage to convince the juvenile court that your child deserves a second chance to fix his/her mistakes and grow as a law-abiding citizen. At California Criminal Lawyer Group, we understand the stigma and dishonor of having a juvenile criminal record.
If your child is under investigation or arrest as a suspect in a delinquent act in Anaheim, our attorneys can help him/her secure the best possible outcome in every stage of the court system.
Juvenile Delinquency Court at a Glance
When police officers arrest a minor for allegedly violating a law, they will take him/her to a juvenile delinquency court, where a judge will determine whether or not the allegations against him/her are true. Unlike what you would expect in an adult criminal court, the key purpose of the juvenile delinquency court system is to rehabilitate a minor and make him/her a law-abiding citizen.
Technically, juvenile delinquency court is part of the civil law system, not the criminal justice system. When a minor is under the jurisdiction of the juvenile delinquency court, he/she should receive guidance, counseling, and rehabilitative services to help him/her change his/her behaviors and become an upstanding citizen.
Although the ultimate goal of the juvenile justice system is to rehabilitate a minor after violating a law, it does not mean your child will walk away scot-free. The juvenile court presiding over the case could impose particular sanctions to discipline the child and seek justice, including:
- Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) commitment
- Placement in a foster home
Since there is no bail in the juvenile justice system, it is wise to consult an attorney as soon as you receive a message that your child is under investigation or arrest for allegedly violating a law. A reliable defense attorney could convince the court to release your child at the first court proceeding to avoid the possible consequences of a sustained petition or conviction.
Juvenile Delinquency Court Lingo
The language you should expect in the juvenile delinquency court differs from that of an adult court. For instance, below are some of the notable differences between the juvenile court lingo and adult court lingo:
- Instead of "guilty" or "innocent" verdicts, the juvenile court will "sustain the prosecutor's petition" against your child if the allegations against him/her are true beyond a reasonable doubt
- Instead of using the term "sentence," the juvenile court will use the term "disposition."
- Instead of using the term "crime," the juvenile court will use the term "delinquent act."
- Instead of using the term "trial," the juvenile court will use the term "adjudication."
- If the court decides your child is a "ward of the court," it will assume the minor's control and treatment responsibility.
Age Eligibility for Juvenile Delinquency Court
According to Welfare and Institution Code (WIC), 602, the juvenile delinquency court system has jurisdiction over delinquent acts or offenses where the suspects are people aged 18 or below. If a child commits a crime and the law enforcement officers do not discover it until he/she is twenty years old, the juvenile delinquency court can still handle the case.
Since the enactment of Senate Bill 439 on 30th September 2018, juvenile courts can now assume jurisdiction over a child aged under twelve (12) years if he/she is facing charges for any of the following delinquent acts:
- Sexual penetration by force
- Oral copulation
- The threat of severe bodily injury
Otherwise, the juvenile court cannot take over a case where the culprit is under twelve years since lawmakers typically consider them mentally incapable of distinguishing right from wrong.
Under particular circumstances, the adult court could also take over the jurisdiction of your child's case. That would be possible if a minor is sixteen years or above and the alleged crime falls under section 707 (b) of the Welfare and Institution Code (WIC).
However, the court will hold a transfer or fitness hearing to determine whether or not your child’s case should proceed to adult court. During this court hearing, the judge will consider the following factors:
- Your child's delinquency history
- The nature of the alleged delinquent act
- The success of previous efforts to rehabilitative the minor
- The degree of creativity or criminal sophistication the minor had when committing the alleged offense
- Whether or not the minor could benefit from rehabilitation programs
Below are common offenses that could make your child subject to a transfer hearing under WIC 707 (b):
- Forcible sexual penetration
- Attempted murder
- Kidnapping for ransom
- Aggravated mayhem
Types of Cases the Juvenile Delinquency Court Handles
Unlike what most people think, the juvenile court does not handle cases involving delinquent acts only. Below are other types of cases the juvenile court will handle:
Several cases in the juvenile delinquency court involve the commission of status offenses. Status offenses differ from delinquent acts because they are only unlawful because of a child's "status" as a minor in the eyes of the law. That means a status offense would not be unlawful to an adult. Below are examples of status offenses:
- Truancy from school
- Underage alcohol consumption
- Violation of curfew
- General ungovernability
- Running away from home
Juvenile Dependency Cases
Also known as juvenile protection cases, juvenile dependency cases involve neglected or abused minors. In a dependency case, the juvenile court will determine whether or not a minor should stay away from a problematic or abusive home environment.
Juvenile Delinquency Court Procedure
Generally speaking, the juvenile delinquency court process begins with an arrest. If the allegations your child is up against are non-severe, the arresting officers will give the minor a stern warning before allowing him/her to go home. The officers could also decide to give your child a citation to show up in court later on the scheduled date.
If the alleged case is severe, the officer will retain your child in the juvenile hall with other arrestees pending the first court date, also known as the detention or arraignment hearing. At the juvenile hall, your child will meet with the probation officer, then he/she will decide how to proceed with the alleged case.
Typically, the probation officer could decide to proceed with the alleged case informally, file formal charges (petition the case), or dismiss the case. In determining how to handle your unique case, the probation officer will consider
- The severity of the alleged delinquent act
- Your child's social history
- Your child's age
- The strength of the evidence against your child
- Your child's past delinquency record
- Your ability as the parent to control the child
If the officer decides to proceed with the alleged case informally, your child must appear before a judge or probation officer. Although the probation officer will not file any formal charges against your child, he/she should do the following:
- Attend counseling
- Pay fine
- Pay restitution
- Attend after-school classes
- Listen to a stern lecture
- Enter probation
- Community service
On the other hand, if the probation officer decides to handle your child’s case formally, he/she will file a petition with the juvenile delinquency court. When that happens, your child's attorney should prepare to attend the court hearings explained below to fight for his/her best interests:
Like an arraignment hearing in an adult court, a detention hearing will be your child's first court proceeding. The ultimate purpose of this juvenile court proceeding is to determine whether or not your child should remain in the juvenile hall before the adjudication or verdict on the alleged delinquent act.
It is wise to have a skilled juvenile defense attorney on your child's side during this hearing because he/she will have to stay in custody when he/she loses the hearing. At this hearing, the court will also inform your child of the allegations he/she is facing and his/her legal rights. The judge will allow your child to enter a plea of his/her choice.
In the juvenile justice system, a child does not enter a not guilty and guilty plea like in an adult court. Instead, your child can do any of the following:
- Deny the allegations
- Accept the allegations
- Deny the accusations based on insanity
- Not contest the accusations
As a parent or guardian, you have a legal right to attend this hearing with your child's attorney. If your child is still in custody, his/her attorney can help convince the court to allow him/her to go home before the verdict of the alleged delinquent act.
Although it does not occur in most cases, it could be necessary in your child’s case if the alleged delinquent act is one of WIC 707 (b) offenses. As mentioned above, the goal of this juvenile court proceeding is to decide whether or not your child's case should remain in the juvenile justice system.
The court will consider the facts mentioned above when determining whether or not your child should remain in juvenile court. If the court concludes that your child is unlikely to benefit from the rehabilitative services available in the juvenile justice system, the case could proceed to the adult court.
Having an attorney by your child's corner is essential to prepare a preponderance of evidence to show the juvenile court that his/her case belongs in the juvenile justice system.
Typically, an adjudication hearing in the juvenile justice system is like a "trial hearing" in the adult criminal justice system. At the adjudication hearing, the prosecutor and your child's defense attorney must have adequate evidence to support their arguments. Like the trial hearing, the standard of proof in this juvenile court procedure is beyond a reasonable doubt.
If the prosecutor cannot prove his/her evidence against your child convincingly beyond a reasonable doubt, the court will not sustain the petition against your child. Your child’s defense attorney should be very keen in hearing to notice loopholes in the prosecutor's case for the best defense arguments to counter the alleged charge for the best possible outcome.
Unfortunately, when the court sustains the prosecutor's petition against your child, meaning he/she is guilty, the case will go to the next court procedure, the disposition hearing. Generally, this hearing can occur immediately after the trial if the juvenile court has all the information and evidence necessary to make a sentencing decision.
At the disposition hearing, the court will decide the best suitable disposition or sentence for the sustained petition against your child. Typically, the judge presiding over your case has several disposition or sentencing options to impose if the allegations against your child are true beyond a reasonable doubt.
When deciding the appropriate disposition for your child's case, the juvenile court judge will consider the following factors:
- Your child's age
- Your child delinquency record
- The gravity and circumstances of the alleged delinquent
Available Disposition Options in the Juvenile Delinquency Court System
Below are possible disposition options the juvenile court judge could order at the disposition hearing after sustaining the prosecutor's petition against your child:
If the sustained petition against your child was for a non-violent offense like vandalism or trespassing, he/she could qualify for informal probation under WIC 654. During the probation period, your child will receive relevant education and counseling from qualified experts.
If the minor fails or refuses to abide by the probation conditions, the prosecutor could file a petition to the juvenile court. When that happens, your child will become a ward of the court, meaning the court will take responsibility for his/her control and treatment. Generally speaking, if your child is eligible for informal probation, the court will require him/her to abide by the following conditions:
- Attend school
- Keep a curfew
- Make restitution to the victim
- Attend counseling sessions
- Participate in community service
- Submit regular drug test results
- Graffiti removal
- Stay away from particular people
If your child is on informal probation, the court expects you to help the minor fulfill the above conditions. When the minor violates any of the above requirements, the probation officer will notify the court by filing a probation violation notice.
If the juvenile court finds the accusations are true, it will revoke the probation and impose a stricter sentence, like confinement in a detention facility.
The juvenile can declare your child a "ward of the court" and put him/her on formal probation. Even when the minor is a ward of the court, it is possible to complete the probation at home, foster home, at a relative's home, or county probation camp. The conditions the court will require the minor to abide by are similar to those listed above for informal probation.
Commitment to a DJJ Facility
Aside from incarceration in an adult court, the most severe disposition your child can face once the court sustains the petition against him/her is DJJ commitment. If your child's case is a WIC 707 (b) crime or any offense requiring an offender to register as a sex offender under PC 290, the court can send him/her to a DJJ facility.
A DJJ facility is typically a locked and caged institution designated for serious juvenile offenders. Generally speaking, when the court sends a minor to a DJJ facility, he/she will face lengthy and severe commitments. The maximum duration your child will stay in a DJJ facility is similar to the one an adult could spend in an adult court when guilty of the same charge.
The primary goal of confining a minor in a DJJ facility is not to punish him/her. Instead, the court will send your child to a DJJ facility to achieve the following goals:
- Victim restoration
- Offer relevant training to the child
- Community restoration
The DJJ facility the court will assign your child will depend on his/her:
- Maturity level
- Individual treatment needs
- Educational needs
Deferred Entry Judgment (DEJ)
Under the DEJ option, the court will require your child to enter a guilty plea in exchange for acquittal of the alleged delinquent act once the minor completes the court-ordered program successfully. According to WIC 790, your child could qualify for this disposition as long:
- The minor is a first-time offender
- The alleged case against the minor is not a WIC 707 (b) offense
- The minor does not have a felony history
- The minor does not have past DJJ sentencing
- The minor is fourteen years old or above
- The minor does not have a record of violating probation conditions
Although the ultimate goal of the juvenile justice system is to rehabilitate a minor, some disposition options like commitment to a DJJ facility can affect your child's entire life, even in adulthood. Hence, having an attorney at every stage of the juvenile justice system is essential to increase the chances of beating the allegations your child is up against for the possible outcome.
Even when the court sustains the petition against your child, his/her defense attorney can raise bullet-proof mitigating arguments during the disposition hearing for a lighter disposition like informal probation.
Common Offenses That Could Land Your Child in the Juvenile Delinquency Court
Below are some of the most common crimes or delinquent acts that most minors commit:
Section 240 of the Penal Code is the statute that makes it illegal to willingly perform an act that would most likely result in the application of force on another person. Even if there was no physical contact, the prosecutor could charge your child with simple assault under PC 240. A conviction for a simple assault offense is a misdemeanor carrying a jail term of up to six (6) months.
That means if your child could end up in the DJJ facility for the same period an adult would spend in jail for this offense conviction under PC 240.
Another delinquent act common among minors nationwide is petty theft. Undoubtedly, most minors take other people's property or items without thinking about the consequences they could be up against when the owner decides to press charges against them. According to PC 484(a), you commit a petty theft offense when you take another person's goods or items worth $950 or less.
A conviction for a petty theft offense under PC 484(a) will make an adult subject to up to six (6) months in the county jail.
According to PC 594, you commit the crime of vandalism when you willingly deface, damage, or destroy another person's property. If the value of the damage is less than $400, the prosecutor will file the vandalism charge as a misdemeanor.
However, if the value of the damage exceeds $400, the vandalism will become a wobbler offense meaning the prosecutor can file your case as either a felony or misdemeanor. A misdemeanor conviction for vandalism under PC 594 will attract a one-year jail term.
If the prosecutor files your case as a felony, a conviction for PC 594 violation will carry not less than three (3) years of detention in the state prison.
Other crimes that are prevalent among minors include (but are not limited to):
- Possession of graffiti tools
Find a Anaheim Juvenile Defense Attorney Near Me
Being informed that your child is in police custody for allegedly violating a law can be confusing, but you have options. Instead of worrying about what the alleged case could turn out to be, it is advisable to retain the services of a credible attorney to protect his/her best interests for the best possible outcome.
Attorneys at California Criminal Lawyer Group are knowledgeable and well-versed with the juvenile delinquency court system. If your child is in trouble with the law for an alleged delinquent act in Anaheim, our attorneys can represent his/her best interests in every stage of the legal justice system for the best possible results.
Call us at 714-766-0965 to discuss your child's case with our attorneys for the excellent and aggressive legal representative he/she deserves through the juvenile justice system to attain a favorable outcome.