A lot has changed within the juvenile justice system over the past decades. Most of the reforms in place took place between the late 19th century and the early 20th century. The involved reformers had a desire to design separate juvenile courts aimed at rehabilitating delinquent youths. If your under-18 child is caught on the wrong side of the law, you should immediately seek legal assistance. The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm is a leading LA criminal defense law firm that specializes in juvenile delinquency cases. Our expertise in the field can help reduce your child’s risk of being charged as an adult and subsequently subjected to destructive punishments.
Given the complexity of California's Juvenile Court System, you cannot afford to take any chances. This is irrespective of the nature of your child's legal trouble. Even charges like petty theft can attract long-lasting consequences, more so if the case is not handled correctly right from the beginning.
Common Juvenile Crimes in Los Angeles, California
The majority of juvenile crimes are undertaken in youthful fun. For instance, it is not unfamiliar for well-raised kids to be caught in possession of alcohol or narcotics because they think such substances are for cool people. While this may be the case, even "minor" legal trouble can hurt your kid's future.
Depending on the legal issue and how a case is handled, minors risk negative repercussions on their college admissions, chances of working in the military, and other job prospects. It is also possible for a kid to end up behind bars. Our skills and knowledge enable us to foresee the potential damage a juvenile delinquency case can cast on your child's future. This allows us to prepare for the worst and keep our guards up during each step of handling a case.
Some of the common juvenile crimes in Los Angeles County include:
- Petty theft, shoplifting, burglary, robbery
- Gang crimes
- Assault and battery crimes
- Driving under the influence
- Alcohol consumption
- Gun possession
- Marijuana or other kinds of drugs possession
- Reckless driving or speeding
- Solicitation of prostitution and other sex crimes
- Murder or attempted murder
Even though California's juvenile system ought to focus mainly on rehabilitation, things could take a nasty turn. If the prosecutor opts to take an unexpected aggressive approach, your child could suffer harsh legal penalties, including incarceration. This is a more likely scenario if the minor is almost an adult, happens to be a flight risk, and he or she already has a criminal history.
Understanding California's Juvenile Delinquency Law
In Los Angeles, California, juvenile delinquency laws are "criminal laws" for minors. However, the juvenile delinquency system is not part of the criminal law system but a fragment of the state's civil law system. In most cases, offenses committed by kids below 18 years are not technically considered criminal offenses.
Nonetheless, certain offenses force a judge to forward a case to an adult court. These are crimes under California Welfare & Institutions Code Section 707(b). While a juvenile conviction, also referred to as a sustained petition, should not have any repercussions later in life, there are cases where the aftermath of an arrest can drag on into adulthood.
The Goal of Rehabilitation – Welfare & Institutions Code 202
Adult criminal systems are designed to focus on punishing an offender. However, the juvenile delinquency system is aimed at rehabilitating a minor.
According to California's Welfare & Institutions Code 202, minors charged in the juvenile court for delinquent conduct should be rehabilitated to ensure the public's protection and safety. These minors should receive treatment, care, or guidance to ensure accountability for their actions and provide appropriate reformation.
The delinquency system holds convicted minors accountable for impermissible conduct through sanctions that may include:
- Informal probation
- Community service
- Attending victim impact class
- Payment of a fine
- Placement in a foster home
- Commitment to CYA (California Youth Authority)
- Commitment to a juvenile ranch, hall, or camp
Wards of Court – Welfare & Institutions Code 602
The California Welfare & Institutions (W&I) Code 602 dictates the jurisdiction of the juvenile delinquency court. According to the section, minors (kids under 18 years) are within the juvenile court jurisdiction if they are charged with a criminal offense.
The same section provides that a judge can make the minor a "ward of court." The court assumes the primary responsibility of the welfare and accountability of the minor. Even as a ward of court, a minor can still be allowed to go home to serve out probation. It is also feasible for a judge to deem it fit to place the minor in a group home, county probation camp, or foster care.
Crimes Tried In Adult Court— California Welfare & Institutions Code 707(b)
Any crime listed under California's Welfare & Institutions Section 707(b) is automatically tried in an adult court as long as a minor is 14 years or older. Crimes under the section are considered serious offenses. They include:
- Attempted murder
- Voluntary manslaughter
- Forceful rape, violence, or serious bodily harm
- Lustful or lascivious acts to a kid under 14 years
- Forceful sexual penetration
- Forceful oral copulation or sodomy
- Kidnapping, aggravated mayhem, torture
- Assault with firearm
- Discharging a firearm into occupied premises
- Offense against disabled persons or persons over 60 years
- Felony offense using prohibited weapons
- Bulk peddling or manufacture of substances listed under Health & Safety Section 11055(e)
- Forceful or violent escape from county juvenile camp, ranch, hall, or home
If a minor is charged with these offenses, the prosecutors decide how the case is handled. Some cases go straight to adult court, although there are instances where a prosecutor may request a fitness hearing.
Fitness Hearing Overview
When a prosecutor finds it fit to request for a fitness heating, this means a judge has to decide whether the case should go to an adult court or the minor is suitable for the juvenile court system. Fitness hearings are only scheduled when dealing with crimes listed under California's Welfare and Institution Code 707(b).
Numerous factors are considered before a judge can decide on the best course of action. For instance, the judge will note the seriousness of an offense and the likelihood of a minor benefiting from rehabilitative services instead of incarceration. If the facts tabled during the fitness hearing show that a minor is likely not to benefit from rehabilitative services, the case is transferred to an adult court.
Other aspects considered during a transfer hearing include:
- The gravity of an offense
- Degree of criminal sophistication portrayed by the minor
- Possibility of rehabilitating a minor before he/she hits 18 years
- Past delinquent history
- Degree of success in previous attempts to reform the minor
A Look at California's Juvenile Court Process
The juvenile court process is set in motion from the instance a minor is arrested. Depending on the committed offense and the available evidence, a case could end station where the cops will reprimand the minor before release. If this doesn't happen, the police will transfer the minor to the county probation department. This could result in detention in a juvenile hall before a formal petition is filed against the accused. The petition is similar to the criminal complaints filed in an adult court.
While we recommend hiring a lawyer immediately after your child is arrested, there is no need to panic if the minor ends up in the Juvenile hall. Most times, an accused will not be there for long, and the probation officers could make one of the following choices after conducting a brief interview:
- Send the minor home with instructions to appear in court at a specified future date.
- Give a probation program and send the minor home (it's not required to return to court unless the minor disobeys the probation terms)
- Keep the minor in the juvenile court until a judge reviews the case.
Types of Hearings Within the Juvenile Court
If a judge concludes that a minor can indeed benefit from rehabilitative services, the case is handled by the juvenile court. There are seven types of hearings to expect when dealing with cases not listed under California's Welfare and Institution Code 707(b). They include:
There are instances where the probation officers may find it best to keep a minor within the juvenile court. In this case, the child will be detained for not more than two court days. On the third court day, a detention hearing is scheduled where a judge decides whether the accused can go home and come back for the next hearing. Note that court days are considered days when the court is open.
The juvenile court system is complex. If a crime is under the W&I Code 707(b), certain variables are considered to decide whether a minor will be charged under the juvenile court or an adult court. The transfer hearing is reserved for minors above the age of 14 years.
It is during the jurisdiction hearing that California's W&I Code 602 comes to play. As mentioned earlier, this code dictates the juvenile delinquency court's jurisdiction, and a judge decides whether a minor committed a crime.
If a judge concludes that a minor is guilty of committing a crime, the courts schedule a disposition hearing. During the hearing, the judge decides the best way to punish the child for offenses committed. Sometimes, a disposition hearing is held right after the jurisdiction hearing (on the same day). However, this hearing will not be necessary if the judge concludes that a minor is innocent of accusations made against him or her.
When a judge concludes that a minor committed a crime and imposes the most appropriate punishment, a review hearing may be scheduled later. This is when the courts review how a minor is fairing on in his/her placement.
There are timelines and procedures provided by the law that dictates when and how each hearing is conducted. During each phase of the process, you need a competent defense attorney who can work with the prosecution to accelerate the course of justice, resolve, and hopefully jump straight to the disposition hearing. Another essential duty of your lawyer is to review everything and point out any errors made along the way. If any, the courts may schedule for a re-hearing. As the parent of the accused minor, you are entitled to attend each of the court hearings.
Possible Outcome of the Disposition Hearing
It is typical of a parent to wonder what will happen to a minor once his/her fate is under the heel of the juvenile court system. Well, the California Juvenile Delinquency System has various sentencing options (dispositions). We mentioned the possible sanctions in the Welfare & Institutions Code 202 section but let's analyze them in more detail.
California's W&I Code Section 654 allows for a case to be "diverted" to probation right before filing a petition. For instance, low-level offenses like petty theft and shoplifting are punishable through diversion or informal probation. If a case is diverted, the minor can dodge a petition being filed against him or her. Alternatively, Penal Code 484 PC allows the charge to be dismissed if probation is completed.
If a case is diverted, the probation officer needs to develop a plan to bring the minor into the court’s jurisdiction. This could involve a program aimed at providing education and counseling. Typically, the program in question should last for a maximum of six months. If a minor is not seen to have reformed, the probation officer can approach the juvenile court and initiate a formal petition proceeding.
W&I Code 725 allows a minor to be punished through informal probation, which can last up to 6 months. The difference between diversion and informal probation is that in the latter, a petition is filed. However, the petition is put on hold, giving the minor a second chance to reform.
In this case, it is not required of a minor to admit guilt. The minor will need to comply with the probation terms and conditions for the petition to be dismissed. These terms and conditions may involve:
- Ensuring perfect school attendance
- Attending counseling (both minor and parent)
- Adhering to a curfew
- Drug testing and restitution, etc.
Note that only if a case is not too serious, a minor can qualify for diversion or informal probation under W&I Code section 654 or section 725, respectively. Furthermore, these options are only available in first-time offenses that are nonviolent such as trespassing or shoplifting.
Deferred Entry of Judgment
If a minor admits guilt as per the petition's assertions, an option the courts may explore is the deferred entry of judgment (DEJ) under W&I Code 790. Successful completion of a DEJ program may lead to dismissal of charges.
Like W&I Code section 654 and section 725, this code is only available for first-time offenses. It is also not a deal on the table when dealing with offenses under section 707(b). Compared to both diversion and informal probation, DEJ lasts longer and could take between 12 and 36 months.
Formal Probation at Camp or Home
If a California juvenile court judge makes a minor a ward of court, the term of probation could be carried out from home. However, the court could also find "suitable placement" in a group home, camp, or relative's home. The terms of probation may include various demands necessary for successful rehabilitation, including:
- Graffiti removal
- Compulsory school attendance
- Counseling for substance abuse
- Community service
- Restrictions on people to avoid
- Making amends with the victim (restitution)
Probation camps are only considered if a minor is seen to require a greater structure level to reform. California has 70 probation camps where a minor can be confined for 3 to 18 months. The majority of these camps have structured daily routines and dormitory based environments designed to ensure minors get proper education and treatment programs. Apart from probation camps, California also has other types of camps, including fire/wilderness camps, family-style camps, and military-style boot camps.
California Youth Authority (CYA) Commitment
The harshest penalty a minor can face is adult court and imprisonment. The second harshest penalty is a commitment to CYA. The only minors sent to CYA commitment in California are those found guilty of committing 707(b) offenses or those that require sex offender registration.
It is not rare for kids, more so teenagers, to do stupid things out of emotion, anger, or the mere need to feel cool. While it may feel like you are watching a marionette show where your child is doomed for the worst, all is not lost until a case is determined. We have a top-rated criminal defense team in Los Angeles and can help give your child the best chances of having a future filled with possibilities, even after an arrest.
What to Do If Your Child Is Arrested and Charged
Even with juvenile delinquency laws focusing more on rehabilitation than punitive action, juvenile crimes are still considered serious offenses. When a child is arrested and charged, this could put to motion a series of events capable of causing negative consequences in the future. This makes it imperative to depend on an aggressive and seasoned juvenile criminal defense lawyer in California who is well familiar with the state laws and the local courts' requirements. The sooner you can seek reliable legal counsel, the better.
Generally, juvenile offenders are persons under the age of 18 who commit actions forbidden by law. This could be well-known offenses like murder, theft, assault, or vandalism, just to mention a few. They could also be less apparent offenses like violation of curfew laws or truancy laws.
While it is perfectly normal to panic when approached by the police, juveniles, just like adults, need to remain calm all through and invoke their rights. Here are a few things a minor can do to prevent a situation from going from bad to worse:
- If an arrest is yet to be made, don't agree to a search
- Remain calm and don't resist arrest
- Don't volunteer any information, irrespective of how harmless it may sound
- Answer no questions and insist on talking to your attorney
- Avoid discussing details of your case with any person except your lawyer
Process of Sealing Juvenile Records
If a minor is convicted of committing a juvenile crime, one way to save his or her future is to seek the sealing of juvenile records. You qualify for this process if:
- You have attained the age of majority (at least 18 years)
- Five years have gone by since the conviction.
- The case was closed
- You were declared successfully rehabilitated by a judge after probation.
- You have not committed theft, fraud, or sex crimes as an adult.
If you are eligible, we can help you file a petition to destroy or seal your conviction and sentencing record. Whether the court will grant the petition or not will highly depend on the nature of the juvenile crime you committed and the time that has eloped after the sentencing.
A juvenile record can hurt your future. It could limit your chances of:
- Getting certain job opportunities
- Getting accepted into certain well-ranked colleges
- Receiving credit approvals
- Obtaining immigration status
Sealing the records is beneficial because it allows you to seal certain truths in your employment or school applications. You can legally claim that:
- You have no criminal record
- You have never been arrested
Find an LA Criminal Defense Law Firm Near Me
It is of paramount importance to seek legal counsel when you or your loved one is charged with a juvenile crime. You owe yourself the favor of having a skilled lawyer in your corner, irrespective of whether you are guilty as charged or innocent of a crime. As a leading LA criminal defense law firm, The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm has built a solid reputation from our dedication and aggressiveness in defending our clients against juvenile criminal charges. Our familiarity with the law has afforded us a proven track record of achieving the best possible results. Call us today at 310-935-1675 for a free consultation.