Under California law, juveniles can be arrested and charged with offenses ranging from minor curfew violations to serious offenses like murder, arson, and rape. If your child is between twelve and eighteen, their arrest will result in a juvenile petition in juvenile court. California law recognizes the inability of minors to make the right choices. Therefore, the juvenile court process works to educate, treat, and rehabilitate the offender.

After a series of juvenile court hearings, the judge can sustain or dismiss the juvenile petition. If the court sustains a juvenile petition against your child for a severe offense, the judge could declare them a ward of the court. Wardship shifts the responsibility of the child from the parent to the court.

If your child is a ward of the court, you can no longer make decisions about their life and daily life. Additionally, you could lose the child’s custody when they are placed in foster care or DJJ. Declaring your child a ward of the court is a decision that could impact their lives for a long time. If your child faces charges for a serious crime in Anaheim, CA, they will benefit from the legal guidance and representation we offer at California Criminal Lawyer Group.

Understanding Wardship in California

Minors facing an arrest and a juvenile petition for a crime in California are handled under the juvenile justice system. Dealing with law enforcement officers and undergoing the juvenile justice system can be challenging for a minor, and you want them to be home with you for support and guidance.

If the court declares a minor a ward of the court, the court system takes over the responsibility of making important decisions about the child’s life, education, and well-being. In this case, you cannot exercise control over your child. Sometimes, the child could be removed from your care and placed in an alternative setting.

The court will consider the following factors before placing your child in wardship:

  • The child’s age. Under Senate Bill 439, the juvenile court has jurisdiction over twelve or older children. For younger children, California law requires legislators to find alternative means of dealing with them. The court will consider their age when imposing wardship on minors under juvenile court jurisdiction.
  • The severity of the child’s offenses. Your child is at risk of being declared a ward of the court if they are found to have committed serious offenses listed under WIC 707(b).
  • The minor’s criminal history. Like in adult court, an offender’s criminal history could significantly impact the outcome of their subsequent criminal cases. The judge may declare your child a ward of the court if they have an extensive criminal history.

Wardship Probation

One of the consequences of wardship is probation. The juvenile court judge can order supervised or unsupervised probation for your child after they are declared a ward of the court. Unsupervised probation means that a probation officer will only monitor your child during their probation period.

If your child is declared a ward of the court after a sustained petition for a serious crime, the court will appoint a probation officer to supervise the juvenile probation. When your child is placed on wardship probation, the court will impose strict probation conditions.

The conditions will vary from one case to another, and they are specific depending on the nature and severity of your child’s case. They include:

  • Compulsory school attendance. Under California truancy laws, all children between six and eighteen must be in school. Unfortunately, most minors who engage in criminal acts are out of school. If your child is a ward of the court, the juvenile court will take over the child’s education decisions. Therefore, the child will have to enroll or continue attending school.
  • Adhere to curfew restrictions. When the juvenile court judge finds it necessary to keep your child indoors at specific hours, they will impose a curfew. Although curfew violations are not criminal offenses, minors could face severe repercussions.
  • Driving restrictions. Minors who have completed their driver's training can drive in California. However, the court will impose driving restrictions when your child commits a severe offense and is placed on wardship.
  • Avoid association with certain individuals. Minors are often vulnerable to the environment in which they live. Therefore, the court may determine that your child’s association with particular individuals contributes to their delinquency. Therefore, part of their probation conditions will be for the child to avoid associating with these individuals.
  • Avoid involvement in gang-related activities. Like adults, juveniles could be charged with criminal activities, including gang-related offenses. When your child is placed on wardship probation, they cannot engage in gang activities.
  • Electronic monitoring. If the juvenile court judge finds it necessary to track a minor’s movement while on probation, they will order that the child wear an ankle monitor.

In addition to these conditions, the court will require the minor and their parents to participate in counseling programs. Your child will face severe legal consequences if they violate one or more probation conditions. Since the court will have rights over your child in wardship, the prosecution can file a 777 petition when the juvenile violates their probation.

At the end of the probation disposition, the probation department must write a report on the juvenile’s probation performance. If your child is charged with a probation violation, they will need expert legal representation to navigate the hearing. Your attorney will ensure that the child’s constitutional rights are not violated. The judge can order these rulings based on the outcome of the probation violation hearing:

  • The minor is released with a warning by the probation department or court.
  • The court may impose additional programs for the child.
  • The minor may be required to perform community service.
  • The minor may be confined to a juvenile hall.
  • Placement in a group home.

Under the following circumstances, a ward of the court could be excused from truancy and some probation violations:

  • The minor is suffering from a severe illness.
  • The juvenile has dental or medical appointments.
  • The ward needs time to attend burials and pay funeral expenses.
  • The juvenile participates in the neutralization program to become a US citizen.
  • The juvenile has justifiable reasons to skip school or other programs.

Placement of Wards of the Court Out of Home

Facing arrest and criminal charges is challenging for a minor. Having a sustained juvenile petition or being declared an award by the court can take a toll on the child. While most people believe spending time with family is best for juveniles' well-being, this is not always true in California. When your child is declared a ward of the court, they could be placed outside your home.

Before your child is placed far away from home, the juvenile court system may place them on home probation. If your home is unsuitable for the child’s rehabilitation, the judge could place them in foster homes, private institutions, public agencies, or a relative’s home.

Foster Care Placements for Wards of the Court

Placement of wards of the court in foster care is a common way for the juvenile court to ensure that the child is rehabilitated in a home-like environment. This process could involve placing your child with extended family or relatives. If there is no suitable home for the child within the family, the court may order the child to be placed with a familiar non-relative.

When your child is a ward of the court, the juvenile court system will make important decisions about their lives. Some of the factors that could impact a child’s placement in a foster home include the following:

  • Whether or not the minor requires further monitoring.
  • Whether you can provide proper guidance, training, and education for the juvenile.
  • The best interests of the child. If your child has suffered physical, mental, or emotional abuse, the juvenile court may order them removed from your home and placed in a foster home.
  • The child’s performance on wardship probation.

Rights of Juveniles During Wardship

The juvenile court can place your child on probation, in alternative placement, or at a DJJ detention center. California law requires that these options be aimed at rehabilitating the child. Regardless of the type of wardship that the court imposes on your child, the minor has rights that must be respected.

All the probation requirements imposed by the court for wards of the court should not be criminal-related and should focus on preventing future criminal action. Your child will enjoy the following rights while on wardship:

  • Computer and internet access. When your child is placed in foster care, juvenile camp, or DJJ detention, they will be entitled to computer and internet access. Probation officers will violate your child’s rights by denying them computer access.
  • Family visitation. Placement of your child out of home is challenging for you and your family. Fortunately, you can visit the child while they are in foster care or alternative placement. This allows you to offer support and guidance to the child.
  • Gender Identity. Placement of wards of the court outside the home could be in foster homes, juvenile camps, or DJJ. During these placements, the probation officer must consider the child’s gender.

Detention of wards of the Court in the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ)

Detention in a Division of Juvenile Justice facility is the most severe disposition ordered by the juvenile court. This form of detention resembles adult prison in many ways. When your child is declared a ward of the court, they may be detained in a DJJ facility. The Division of Juvenile Justice(DJJ) detention could last two years or until the child turns twenty-one years old.

Detention in a Division of Juvenile Justice facility is common for minors with a sustained juvenile petition for a serious offense that could result in a lengthy prison sentence. DJJ facilities have different rehabilitation programs for the child. Often, your child will have an individualized program that addresses their specific needs.

DJJ detention is a harsh disposition for a minor. Therefore, the court must establish the need for your child to be in detention instead of other alternatives. Some of the considerations for DJJ detention include:

  • Public protection and safety. The court may place your child in detention if the minor threatens the safety of other people.
  • The child’s age. The court may prefer detaining the minor in DJJ for older children instead of placing them in foster care or wardship probation.
  • The child’s educational needs. While at the detention facility, your child must receive the necessary education and counseling.

Your Financial Responsibility When Your Child is Declared a Ward of the Court

Depending on the specific offense that sent your child into wardship, the court could order them to pay fines and victim restitution. Under California law, victim restitution is paid to a victim of a crime to cover the injuries and damages caused during the commission of the offense. If your child is charged with a crime like assault, they may be required to cover the victim's medical expenses.

Additionally, the offender may be liable for the lost wages and suffering caused. Before the court orders a fine for a juvenile offender, they will assess the situation to determine whether the child can pay. You may be liable for these costs if your child cannot pay fines and victim restitution. If you are financially incapable of paying the fines, you must present sufficient evidence to prove this fact to the court.

Court Hearings Before Wardship in California

A juvenile will be declared a ward of the court if the judge sustains a juvenile petition against them. Therefore, before this happens, the minor must undergo the juvenile court process, which takes the following steps:

Arrest and Booking

A juvenile criminal case begins when your child is cited for violating California law. A minor can be arrested for status violations like curfew, truancy, or severe crimes that could result in charges and a conviction in criminal court. After an arrest, your child can either be released with a citation or detained in juvenile hall. At the juvenile hall, the child will be handed over to the prosecution or probation department for filing a juvenile petition.

Detention Hearing

Unlike adult criminal offenders, juvenile delinquents do not have a right to bail. Instead, the juvenile court will hold a detention hearing where the judge determines whether a minor will be released to go home with a pending juvenile petition. The court considers the following factors when deciding on the detention of juvenile delinquents:

  • The child’s criminal history.
  • Community safety.
  • The juvenile's flight risk.
  • The child's history of violating court orders.

If your child is released after the detention hearing, you can take them home while they await their case hearing.

Adjudication Hearing

The adjudication hearing acts as a trial in juvenile court. The prosecution will present their evidence in the juvenile criminal case at this hearing. Your child’s attorney will be able to present evidence in the child’s defense. Additionally, your child will have the right to cross-examine the witnesses presented by the prosecution.

After assessing all the evidence presented by the prosecution and the defense, the juvenile court will sustain or dismiss the petition against your child. A sustained petition means that the minor is found to have committed the crimes for which they are charged.

Transfer Hearing

Children between twelve and fifteen years old are tried in juvenile court because they lack the mental capacity to make reasonable decisions. Unlike in adult court, where offenders are punished for their conduct, the juvenile court system aims to rehabilitate the offenders and make them better citizens. However, there are times when a child can be tried and published as an adult under California law.

If your child is over fifteen and faces a juvenile petition for a serious offense, the court can recommend they be tried in adult court. In this case, the court will hold a transfer hearing to determine the minor’s eligibility for trial in adult court. At the detention hearing, the following factors will impact the court’s decision to transfer the child:

  • The child's history of delinquency. If your child is a habitual juvenile offender, the court may decide to transfer them to adult court.
  • The severity of the child’s crime. Minors facing a petition for a serious offense like murder, arson, sodomy, or robbery can be charged as adults under California law.
  • Criminal sophistication. Under California law, criminal sophistication is the ability to make an elaborate plan for the commission of a crime and make efforts to avoid capture. A minor with high sophistication will likely be transferred to adult court.

Disposition Hearing

Under the juvenile justice system, a disposition hearing determines the type of punishment a minor will receive after a sustained juvenile petition. Your child will only attend this hearing if they are found to have committed the offense for which they were charged. Common forms of disposition in juvenile court include:

  • Formal probation.
  • Informal probation.
  • Detention in the Division of Juvenile Justice.
  • Deferred entry of judgment.

Sealing Juvenile Delinquency Records

When your child is placed in wardship, the court’s decision will enter the minor’s criminal record. In California, criminal convictions and sustained juvenile petitions are public records. Therefore, the public will continue to access these records even when the child enters adulthood. This could cause severe social stigma and impact the minor's educational and career options. The criminal records in this case will include:

  • Arrest records.
  • Delinquency court files.
  • Juvenile court probation reports.
  • Disposition reports.
  • Evidence used in the juvenile petition.

Wardship will involve placement outside the home, probation, and the payment of fines. After your child completes their wardship, you should not assume their juvenile records will disappear. The minor must take the necessary steps to have the records sealed as soon as they meet the eligibility criteria.

Your child can file a petition to seal their juvenile record under the following circumstances:

  • The child is over eighteen, or five years have passed since the juvenile court germinated their wardship.
  • The minor has not been charged or found guilty of a crime of moral turpitude.
  • The juvenile court is convinced that the minor has been rehabilitated from their delinquent acts.
  • The minor does not have pending civil cases stemming from their juvenile delinquency.
  • Unavailability of rehabilitation programs for the minor in the juvenile court.

If your child has been declared a ward of the court after a sustained juvenile petition for a serious offense under WIC 707(b), they will not be eligible for a juvenile record sealing. Your child will reap the following benefits from sealing their record:

  • The juvenile can truthfully state that they have a clean criminal record.
  • Your child cannot face discrimination from employers based on their sealed records.
  • A minor can move past their mistakes and have a clean slate.

Find a Knowledgeable Juvenile Delinquency Anaheim Defense Attorney Near Me

Cases of juveniles committing crimes in California are not unusual. Children lack the mental capacity to fully comprehend the nature and consequences of their actions. Therefore, minors who commit offenses face arrest and charges under the juvenile justice system. The juvenile court system aims at the rehabilitation of minors instead of punishment. For this reason, the dispositions imposed after a sustained juvenile petition are more lenient than the penalties of a criminal conviction.

The court declares a juvenile delinquent a ward of the court when they are found to have committed a serious felony offense. Being a ward of the court means that the court will take over your child’s life decisions, which could be tough for you as a parent. The juvenile court has many options for wardship. Your child could be placed in DJJ detention on probation or in an alternative placement.

Being removed from your home and having other dispositions can impact your child’s well-being. If your child faces felony charges in juvenile court, you must hire and retain a competent defense attorney to help them navigate their case and avoid wardship. At California Criminal Lawyer Group, we offer top-notch legal guidance for all our clients battling juvenile delinquency charges in Anaheim, CA. Call us at 714-766-0965 to discuss your case details.