When an underage individual commits a crime, they face a juvenile court. In California, juvenile courts are special courts set up to protect minors from adult courts’ harsh conditions. The law believes that when a minor commits a crime, he/she is not wholly aware of the crime or its repercussions.

The law assumes that the minor’s thought process is not fully developed. This makes the court view the case differently. Therefore, juvenile courts handle juvenile cases, and they are designed to rehabilitate the minor instead of punishing them. In most cases, a minor can rectify their behavior and have a crime-free adult life.

There are, however, some instances where the courts may consider the crime as severe and have the minor sentenced under the three-strike law and as an adult. When your child is facing such charges, it is advisable to hire a lawyer who is well versed with three-strikes juvenile cases. Your lawyer should help your child build the best defense while ensuring that your child receives the best rehabilitation services available. At The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm, your child is in the best hands and will achieve the best possible outcome in the case.

The legal definition of Juvenile Delinquency

California defines juvenile delinquency as the act of committing a crime by a minor. There are two types of crimes that a minor can commit:

Status offense. The status offense is a crime that a minor can commit due to age; this type of violation does not carry a massive penalty.

Delinquent act. A delinquent act is a crime committed by the minor and would remain a crime even if the said minor was above the legal age of 18 years. Juvenile delinquent, therefore, refers to a minor who commits a delinquent act willingly. When a minor commits an offense that the court deems a misdemeanor, they might lose; therefore, they are charged under juvenile delinquency law. If the same minor commits a crime that the court considers to be a juvenile felony, they might be implicated in adult courts depending on their age.

Examples of juvenile delinquent offenses

Examples of juvenile delinquent acts include but not limited to:

  • Petty theft
  • Vandalism
  • Fighting
  • Trespassing

When you face juvenile charges in California for committing delinquent acts, you have a right to face a judge in the trial. Your case’s outcome depends on whether you take a plea bargain and the judge handling your case. Therefore, you can lose the case if the judge finds you guilty of the charges against you. With a plea bargain, you could end up with a lenient penalty, which depends on the offense’s facts and the judge handling your case.

Legal Definition of the Three-strikes Law in California

In California, three-strikes law is a way to sentence individuals who are repeat offenders. The law includes most of the severe and violent crimes in California. This law ensures that repeat offenders receive harsh punishments like longer sentences and reduced credits.

When is a juvenile felony considered as a strike?

Juvenile strikes are listed under WIC 707(b); these crimes are considered strikes under California’s three-strikes law. The court will judge your juvenile felony as a strike against you when:

  • The crime is on the list under code 707(b) of the California Welfare and institutions.
  • You are at least 16 years of age when you commit the crime.
  • You commit a crime that the California penal code defines as a serious or a violent felony.

What Constitutes California Juvenile Three-strikes law?

When you receive a felony conviction for a juvenile crime, it does not necessarily count a strike against you under California’s three-strike law. A felony conviction will count as a strike against you when you commit a serious or violent crime when you are legally underage (16 or 17 years). Sometimes, the prosecution can have you charged in an adult criminal court even when you are aged 16 years. If you commit the crime at the age of 18, you will be tried in an adult criminal court.

A prosecutor can have your case transferred to an adult criminal court if your crime is severe enough and you are above 16 years. When the prosecution gets you charged in an adult criminal court, you will receive an adult judgment passed on your case if the charges against you are of a violent or a serious crime. Your conviction will count as a strike against you.

Does Age Matter When it Comes to The Three-Strike Law?

California statute requires the minor to be above 16 years when the offense took place; this means that you will have to face a conviction for the offense you committed when you are aged 16 years and above.  If you committed the crime before you attained age 16, the prosecution could not have your conviction count as a strike against you even if you are 16 years and above when the conviction is issued.

Conditions for Three-Strike Law

Under California Welfare and Institutions code 707(b), a juvenile felony will count as a strike against you under the three-strike law when you meet certain conditions. These conditions have to be met for any juvenile felony conviction to count as a strike against you. The prosecution must prove to the court beyond a reasonable doubt the following to ensure that your sentence counts as a strike:

  • Age

The prosecution must prove that the minor was at least 16 years old when they committed the crime. This means that you must be 16 years and above when you committed the offense that gave rise to your conviction.  If you commit a crime when you are under the age of 16 and are convicted later on when you have attained the age of 16 years and above, this conviction can not count as a strike on your records.

  • Nature

The prosecution must prove that the offense was a violent or serious felony and is listed under California penal code 667.5 or 1192.7.  The offense can also be listed under WIC 707(b). If the prosecution can prove that the felony could be convicted and count as a strike for an adult, this will be sufficient for you to receive it as a strike in your record.

  • Fit

The prosecution must prove that you are a proper and a fit subject to be judged in a juvenile court. Section 602 of the California and Institutions code requires you to be less than 18 years of age when you committed an offense against federal or state laws to be considered a ward of the state and therefore fit to be judged under the juvenile courts.

The court can conclude that you are not fit to face juvenile court and that you would not fare well under the juvenile treatment, training programs, or care under section 707(b) of the California Welfare and Institutions Code. This decision will be based on the following factors:

  • Previous delinquent record,
  • The success rate of your previous rehabilitation programs by the juvenile courts,
  • The seriousness of the offense that the prosecution has against you,
  • How sophisticated your crime was,
  • The circumstances and seriousness of your current crime,
  • If the minor’s rehabilitation can be accomplished before the jurisdiction time of the juvenile court expires.

If the court determines that you are not fit to be convicted under the juvenile court system, you will have to face conviction in an adult criminal court.

Ward of the court

 A ward of the court means that the court has appointed a guardian to take care and take full responsibility of you. The court can get you a guardian because of the crime you have committed.

Examples of Juvenile offenses that Counts As Strikes

A minor can commit several offenses in California and count as a strike in the minor’s records. These  offenses are severe and violent; they include:

  • Sex crime like child molestation.
  • Murder and attempted murder
  • Arson involving an inhabited structure, or that leads to severe bodily harm,
  • Voluntary manslaughter
  • Discharging a firearm in an inhabited building,
  • Carjacking,
  • Kidnapping for ransom, which is violent and causes significant bodily injury,
  • Kidnapping for sexual assault purposes,
  • Home robbery
  • A violent crime where the minor uses weapons like guns to cause bodily harm.
  • Assault with a firearm, or any destructive weapon that causes bodily harm,
  • Lascivious act
  • rape that involves violence, force and causes severe physical injury,
  • Violent felonies
  • Forcible sodomy
  • Some gang-related crimes that enhance gang activities
  • Some drug crimes where the minor is engaged in the manufacture, compounding, and selling of controlled substances
  • A violent crime against a disabled or older person who is over 60 years old,
  • Bribing or dissuading witnesses.
  • Escaping a county facility and injuring an employee of the facility in the process,

The court will pass its judgment depending on the difference in age between the victim and the perpetrator. Also, the conduct of the accused minor at the time of the crime plays an important role.

Out-of-State convictions

Suppose you have an out of state felony conviction. In that case, it can act as a strike against you in California if the crime you had committed could qualify as a serious felony in California.

You could have a strike record against you in California, even if you committed a crime in another state, where the offense is not treated as a strike against you. Under California’s penal code 667.5 and 1192.7, your previous conviction can be treated as a strike even if your record has been removed under another state’s different laws.

The California three-strike law allows the court to use previous evidence against you to ensure you receive severe punishments. The prosecution will provide proof of your last juvenile convictions, and this will be the basis on which the juvenile court will give you a strike in your record. You should note that though it is rare for a minor to obtain three-strikes against them, a juvenile strike will be used against the minor when they commit a crime in their adulthood.

Juvenile Delinquent Penalties

The main goal of the California juvenile system is to rehabilitate the minors who have committed the offenses. Rehabilitation, however, does not mean that a minor will not be punished for the crimes they have committed. The penalties are designed so that they should discipline the offender and not seek retribution from the minor.

The penalties can include on or all of the following:

  • Attending a juvenile camp, hall, or ranch
  • Going under probation
  • Attending victim impact classes
  • Community service
  • Fine payment,
  • Foster home placements,
  • Spending time in juvenile prison (California Youth Authority).

Any severe felony that you commit as a minor will be counted as a strike against you once you are convicted, and if you receive three-strikes on your record, you could face a life sentence in prison.

Juvenile strike’s Impacts

When you receive a juvenile strike, your conviction will result in:

  • Your case is being transferred to an adult criminal court.
  • You will receive severe penalties when charged as an adult.
  • Incineration in a Youth Authority or DJF (a division of juvenile justice facility). You will face confinement in DJF when :
  • Your recent offense is committing a serious sex crime.
  • Your recent crime is under WIC 707(b) list,
  • when the juvenile court has made you it's ward.

A juvenile strike could impact you negatively; later on, the conviction will be used against you as an adult to increase your sentence. A prior juvenile strike will be considered in your case as an adult if:

  • You were a minor aged 16 years and above at the time of the crime.
  • The court had made you its word at the time of the conviction,
  • You committed an offense listed under WIC 707(b), or it was a severe crime.

Juvenile strike and three-strike law, in general, have an exciting twist whereby, if you had received a robbery strike and later on committed a non-strike crime, the non-strike felony can be treated as a second strike against you. For example, if you are adjudicated for robbery as a minor and then, later on, commit a robbery as an adult, the prosecution can double up your conviction due to the first strike. If the court finds you guilty of the robbery crime and sentences you to two years imprisonment, the prosecution can have your imprisonment doubled up, and you will end up serving a four-year jail term.

Plea Bargain for Juvenile Strikes

You can have your defense attorney plea bargaining with the prosecution on your charges. This negotiation between your defense attorney and the prosecutor can include a judge as well.  You have the right to ensure you have the same judge who admitted you, determine your disposition.

Can your Juvenile Strike Be Removed?

Yes, you can have your juvenile strike records sealed under WIC 781, but if your previous juvenile records are not sealed, they can be used against you later on in an adult court. Your strike can also be dismissed under WIC782 after you receive a factual finding.

When your juvenile records get sealed, they virtually cease to exist. The public can not access your records. Record sealing helps against stigmatization that accompanies former offenders. With a sealed juvenile record, you can confidently say that you’ve never been arrested, have no criminal record, and you have no sealed records.

A criminal record includes; arrest reports, exhibits, probation records, and any court record that has anything to do with a criminal offense that you committed while underage.

The Process of A Juvenile Strike Removal in California

A juvenile strike can be expunged in California, depending on the type of offense committed. A juvenile strike cannot be removed if:

  • the offender had committed the crime when he or she was 14 years or older,
  • The minor is required to register as a sexual offense perpetrator,
  • If the strike was received for a serious sex offense listed under WIC 707(b).

Serious sex offenses under WIC 707(b) includes:

  • Rape which is carried out by violence, the threat of bodily harm, or even force,
  • Violent oral copulation, where violence, menace, the threat of bodily harm is issued,
  • Lewd acts listed under PC 288,
  • Sodomy where force, the threat of bodily injury, and violence is used.

All other strike offenses can obtain removal though the records are not destroyed. They can still be accessed by the probation, prosecution, or a juvenile court if you commit other felonies later on.

The court has the right to deny or grant a removal request.

Juvenile Strikes that the court can expunge

When a juvenile is adjudicated of a crime and receives a strike, they can request the court to remove or expunge the offense. For this to take place, the juvenile must:

  • Be 18 years and above, and they should have completed their probation time.
  • Be 21 years, and they must have completed supervision carried out by the DJJ (Department of Juvenile Justice).
  • Let the required time for a record to be sealed to pass.
  • Have committed a crime that allows for record sealing in California.
  • Not commit any subsequent crimes as an adult; if you do so, the court can deny your request to have your juvenile records sealed.

The court can not have your juvenile records sealed if:

  • You faced conviction as an adult for an offense that involves moral turpitude like murder or even sex crimes.
  • You were convicted in an adult criminal court and received an adult conviction.

Benefits of Sealed juvenile felony Records

When the court agrees to have your records sealed, you will reap the following benefits:

  • You will get employment quickly without having your juvenile records acting against you. Most employers will hesitate to employ you if they think you have a juvenile record.
  • You will not have to disclose to have a juvenile record. This means that you can tell prospective employers, licensing agencies, and landlords that you have never been convicted of a crime.

You should note that federal agencies and the military will always have access to your records even if they happen to be sealed.

The process of sealing your Juvenile Records

You can have your juvenile record sealed under WIC 781, and it takes an average of eight to ten months to complete it. You file your petition at a Californian juvenile court in the county where your conviction took place. You can have your attorney apply and appear in the court on your behalf, but sometimes the judge might decide to have you in court and interview you.

Once your attorney files a petition, the judge sets up a hearing date. During the hearing, the judge reviews the evidence you have provided and any other relevant information provided.  The judge will decide to deny your petition to have your juvenile record sealed or grant your petition to have your records sealed. When the judge gives your petition to have your record sealed, they will send a copy of this order to other agencies who are in a position to access or possess your juvenile records with instructions to have those records sealed.

Contact a Juvenile Delinquency Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

When a minor faces criminal charges, the court process can be painstaking. The court sessions could take most of their time, which can negatively affect their life and studies. The repercussions of a juvenile crime are far-reaching and can affect their future. You must hire an attorney who will dedicate their time to ensuring your child receives justice. An attorney with intimate knowledge of how juvenile court systems work. And one who guarantees the best possible outcome in your child’s case. You can find an experienced lawyer at the LA Criminal Defense Law Firm. Call us at 310-935-1675 to further discuss your case.