The California juvenile justice system is very different from its adult criminal justice system. Minors are not charged in a criminal court when they commit an offense like adults. They are sent to juvenile courts, where their cases are heard and determined by a judge. The jargon used in a juvenile court is very different from what you will find in an adult court. A child that is found guilty of a particular offense will have their juvenile petition sustained in a juvenile court instead of facing a conviction.

Juvenile court procedures can be complicated, especially for a person experiencing them for the first time. That is why you need an experienced criminal lawyer to take you through. Therefore, if you are in Los Angeles, and the police have arrested your loved one, you can contact us. At The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm, we have sufficient skills and experience to help you through the process.

Understanding Sustained Juvenile Petitions

It is not unusual to hear of a minor committing an offense in California, just like all other parts of the country. Minors can commit both a felony and a misdemeanor offense, just like adults. However, because of their age, underage offenders are never treated the same as adult offenders. There are two types of crimes minors in California can be accused of committing:

  • Status offenses: These are offenses juveniles commit because of their age. They are relatively minor offenses that do not carry severe penalties
  • Delinquent offenses: these are more serious offenses that would qualify as criminal offenses if an adult committed them.

California law is very considerate in punishing minors, despite how grave the offense committed is. The state has a juvenile justice system whose mandate is to determine minors’ cases and give a considerable verdict, based on the severity of the offense and the minor’s criminal record. The juvenile justice system is all about the rehabilitation of minor offenders as opposed to punishments and incarceration. Only in extreme cases will you find minors facing confinement in a juvenile detention center. Generally, penalties for California juvenile offenders are less severe.

However, before a verdict is pronounced, the minor offender has to appear before a juvenile court judge for the hearing of their case. It starts with an arrest, just like with adult offenders. But when the police arrest a minor, the police decide whether to refer them to a juvenile hall or release them. Their decision is based on the severity of the offense and how often the minor has been in trouble with the law. If the police decide to send the child to a juvenile home, they feel that the offense committed is severe and that the minor needs help prevent a similar occurrence in the future.

In the juvenile hall, the prosecutor will study the minor’s case and decide whether or not to file a petition against the juvenile. Note that filing a petition against an offender in a juvenile court is the same as filing charges against an adult offender in an adult criminal court. The petition the prosecutor files against the minor could be for either a felony or a misdemeanor, based on the case’s facts. The judge is expected to conduct the hearing and announce his/her verdict. If the minor is found guilty of committing the offense at the end of the trial, the judge will sustain the petition against the minor.

Therefore, sustained juvenile petitions are the same as guilty verdicts in a criminal court. Note that in a juvenile court, there is no jury. The judge is the only one that will hear the case, and all evidence presented against the minor in an adjudication hearing. Also, the judge is the only one to decide whether the evidence is sufficient to find the juvenile guilty. But the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the minor committed the alleged offense. If all evidence is accepted and there is no doubt that the minor committed the crime, the judge will sustain the petition against him/her.

Example: The police arrested a 16-year-old boy for maliciously damaging his neighbor’s property. He is taken to a juvenile hall, from where a prosecutor files a petition for vandalism with the juvenile court. The judge calls in for an adjudication hearing in the juvenile hall. The prosecutor presents strong evidence against the minor. He manages to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the minor indeed committed vandalism. The judge finds the allegations to be valid from the evidence presented. He sustains the petition against the minor.

Note that if the evidence presented against the minor does not satisfy all the offense elements he is accused of committing, the judge will dismiss the petition.

Typical Penalties for California Juvenile Offenders

When the judge sustains a petition against a minor, what follows are the consequences of the offense. It could be rehabilitation, probation, or punishment, depending on the nature of the crime committed and whether the minor is a habitual offender. The California juvenile justice system offers judges plenty of sentencing choices, also called disposition orders. They fall under two main categories, namely:

  • Incarceration
  • Non-incarceration

Incarceration sounds like a prison or jail sentence that an adult offender may get, but it is a different thing for minor offenders. Some offenses usually call for confinement, and the judge in a juvenile court has several options to choose from if he/she chooses this type of punishment. Below are the incarceration levels for young offenders that you might find in California:

House Arrest or Home Confinement

In this kind of confinement, the judge will order the child to stay at home for a specified period. He/she may be able to go out only when necessary, for instance, attending a counseling session or school. In this case, the minor is sent back to his/her parents or guardians, who are expected to ensure that the child serves his/her time without fail.

Placement with Another Person

The judge can also place the young offender with another person other than the parents if he/she feels that it will not be for the child’s best interest or justice if the young offender is sent back home.  Here, the minor can be sent to live with a relative or a foster home.

Juvenile Hall

Some minors are sent to juvenile detention for a specified period. Note that children can only be in incarceration for a short period.

Juvenile Probation

A judge could send a minor on probation after a short stay in a detention facility. More about juvenile probations will be discussed below.

Juvenile Facilities

These are singled out for only high-risk offenders. Juvenile facilities are usually secured places where minors found guilty of committing serious offenses are kept for an extended period.

Adult Jails/Prisons

Again, minors who have committed more serious offenses may be tried in an adult court, from where they are sent to adult prison jail once they are convicted. The minor will be expected to serve his/her time together with adult offenders though sometimes for shorter sentences.

Blended Sentences

In some instances, the judge may order a minor to stay in a juvenile facility until they attain a legal age, after which they will be sent to an adult jail/prison. This, too, will happen if the minor is charged with the omission of a serious offense.

Non-Incarceration Punishment Options for Juvenile Courts

Juvenile courts have total discretion in determining the kind of punishment to give to minor offenders, based on the severity of the offense committed and their past criminal history. In addition to the above confinement punishment options, here are those that don’t include incarceration:

  • Verbal warnings — for minor offenses, the judge may dismiss the child with a mere verbal warning
  • Fines — The minor may be required to pay fines to the government or restitution to the victim if the offense includes a victim
  • Counseling —The child may be required to attend counseling sessions if the judge feels that counseling could help straighten his/her behavior
  • Community Service — The court could punish the minor to community service, whereby he/she is required to perform a particular task for a specified number of hours in a week as service to the community
  • Electronic Monitoring — A juvenile court can order a young offender to wear an ankle or wrist bracelet throughout for a specified period to monitor his/her whereabouts.
  • Probation- The court can also send a minor offender to probation straight away, instead of incarceration then probation.

Adult Criminal Punishments

As earlier mentioned, juveniles can also face trial in an adult court, from where they will be sentenced just like adult offenders. It happens if the minor is accused of committing a more serious offense, and the crime was committed when he/she was at least 14. Some of the crimes considered serious and could be transferred to an adult court include:

  • Rape
  • First-degree murder
  • Forcible sexual penetration with a foreign object
  • Forcible sex acts with another person
  • Forcible lascivious and lewd acts with a minor below 14
  • Oral copulation, or sodomy by force, menace, or violence

When the police arrest a juvenile for the commission of a serious offense as above, the prosecutor may request the judge in a juvenile court to transfer the case to an adult court. If the judge grants this request, the minor will stand trial like an adult and could face the harsh penalties of the offense as provided by law. If the child is found guilty in an adult court, the punishment he/she receives is the same as what an adult offender in his/her shoes would get.

California Juvenile Probation

Section 725 of California Welfare & Institutions Code allows a juvenile court judge to send a minor on probation if the judge sustains the petition against him/her. Probation can be supervised or unsupervised, and the maximum period is six months. While on probation, the minor will have to adhere to some conditions that will be given by t juvenile court. Failing to comply with those probation conditions will cause the juvenile court to order and adjudge the minor to become a ward of the court.

The juvenile court judge has total discretion to decide on the reasonable probation conditions to give the minor. The most common probation conditions for most juvenile probations include:

  • The minor is required to attend school without fail
  • The minor’s parents are required to participate fully with the minor in education and counseling programs
  • The minor is under a curfew of between 2200 and 0600 0600hours. The child can only be outside their home between those hours if they are in the company of their parents, guardian, or an adult custodian

Probation conditions can be more or less based on the following:

  • The circumstances surrounding the minor’s case
  • The minor’s social history

The court will also impose severe drug and alcohol conditions on the minor on probation. Note that California law does not tolerate the use of drugs and alcohol among minors. Conditions regarding drugs/alcohol will only apply if the minor’s underlying case involves:

  • Use, possession, or furnishing of illegal drugs by the minor
  • Possession or consumption of alcohol by the minor

If the underlying case involves drugs or alcohol, the juvenile court judge will order the minor to complete a drug or alcohol education program as part of their probation. The judge may also order the offender to have regular checks for alcohol or drugs through the probation department.

Remember that if a minor fails to comply with all the conditions of his/her probation, the judge will declare them a ward of the court.

If the minor is declared a ward of the court, it means that the juvenile court will take authority and jurisdiction over the minor. Simply put, the court will act as the minor’s parent/guardian. When this happens, the parents or guardian will still retain their custody rights over the minor, though with either supervised or unsupervised probation. Sometimes the court may be forced to limit the amount of control the minor’s parents or guardian have over the child. Other times the court will remove the minor from their parent’s or guardian’s custody.

Consequences of a Juvenile Criminal Record

Once a juvenile petition has been sustained, it means that it will appear in your criminal record. Many people think that juvenile criminal records do not impact their lives in any way, which is untrue. All types of criminal records will affect your life’s various aspects, be it your education or job. Thus, it is good to avoid having a sustained juvenile petition by all means, as it can significantly affect you in the future. Here are some of the aspects of life that a California juvenile criminal record can impact:

College Applications

Most colleges are wary of applicants with a juvenile criminal record. They may not turn down your application but will check out the length of your criminal record, the kind of offense you committed, and whether or not you made a positive change in your life. But even after admission, college authorities will keep an eye on the applicant to ensure that their past behavior is not repeated while in college. It does not feel good to be treated with suspicion all the time.

Applicants who have an ongoing problem with the law may have a hard time getting admitted to colleges. The college of their choice will want the applicant to straighten their lives first before seeking admission.

Job Search

Just like in college admission, employees would like only to hire people of credible conduct. A gloomy criminal record will make it hard for a potential employer to trust that you have reformed and can be trusted. Many employers in California will ask job applicants to report their previous convictions, including those they received while still minors. Others will run a background check on a person before they can consider their job application. Most employers will disqualify a potential employee if they find out that he/she has a criminal record. It means that a person can miss out on an excellent job because of an offense they committed while young.

Applying to Join the Military

Juvenile criminal records can also affect your application to join the military. Every branch of the United States Armed forces has its set of rules on how a juvenile criminal record can affect an applicant’s eligibility. Note that the military tends to be stricter on applicants than any other company. For a long time, applicants with a juvenile criminal record have been disqualified from joining the military. Only those whose records show minor and non-violent offenses can obtain a waiver and be allowed to enlist. It becomes hard for those that have a severe past criminal record to join the military.

The only way out for a juvenile offender wishing to join the military in the future is to fight their charges with the help of an experienced criminal attorney.

Enhanced Penalties in Future

An adult offender who has a dismal juvenile criminal record is likely to receive enhanced penalties if convicted. If you have a criminal record from when you were a child, the judge will be harsher with you if you receive a conviction as an adult. A judge will always consider your juvenile record and past criminal convictions before sentencing you for a current offense in California. It means that you are likely to receive more time behind bars and/or heftier penalties if you have a previous criminal record. The judge may even give you some jail time even if your current offense calls for probation.

The Role of a Criminal Defense Attorney

If your loved one, who is a minor, has been arrested in California, it will help a great deal if you hire a criminal defense attorney from the start of the legal process. Most parents do not have the faintest idea of the juvenile justice system and what options their loved ones have. An attorney who is familiar with juvenile court processes is the ideal one to hire. Some of the issues the attorney can handle are:

Getting the case handled informally or diverted

 An attorney can influence the police to handle the case without sending the offender to the juvenile hall. When this happens, your loved one will not be incarcerated, and subsequently, will not have a juvenile criminal record.

Keeping the juvenile’s case from being referred to an adult court

If the minor is accused of a more serious offense, there is a chance that the judge in a juvenile court will refer their case to an adult court for proper hearing and determination. It means that the minor will face trial and punishment like an adult if found guilty. Their punishment will be harsher than they could get if they are tried and sentenced in a juvenile court.

Defending the minor

An experienced criminal attorney will put together a strong defense for the minor and convince the judge to give a creative and more compassionate disposition. If successful, the judge will not sustain the petition against the minor.

Sealing of Juvenile Criminal Record

If the minor’s petition is sustained, it means that the minor will have a criminal record. As mentioned above, a juvenile criminal record will affect various aspects of his/her life. However, the law allows for the sealing of criminal records. When this is done, a background check on the minor will not show the criminal record. An experienced attorney can start this process immediately if the offender is done with probation.

Find an LA Criminal Defense Law Firm Near Me

A sustained juvenile petition means that the minor has been found guilty and will face the consequences of their actions. Consequences here include a criminal record that could significantly affect their future. However, the help of an experienced criminal attorney can help you avoid this. If your loved one has been arrested, we could help you understand the entire juvenile court process and influence the judge for a more favorable outcome. Call us at 310-935-1675 if in Los Angeles for quick, and quality legal services.