Most young people think they are invisible from the law. This belief is untrue. When a minor, typically a person under eighteen years of age, runs afoul of the law, there could be serious consequences that can negatively impact his/her future. California's juvenile justice system is not strict as it aims to rehabilitate minors for delinquent acts rather than incarceration. However, some of these consequences are still unbearable for a young kid who has much to learn.
Suppose your kid is under arrest for specific juvenile offenses, for example, sexual assault. In that case, the judge might send him/her into a Division of Juvenile Justice facility, which is the most severe form of sentence for juvenile delinquency. The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm has significant experience representing juveniles facing different charges in Los Angeles. We will work with you aggressively to achieve the best possible outcome to solve this family problem.
An Overview of Juvenile Delinquency
In the eyes of the law, any person below eighteen years of age is a minor. Because minors are not young adults, when they run afoul of the law, the prosecution process is different from that of adults (someone above 18 years of age).
When a minor commits a criminal offense like shoplifting in the juvenile justice system, it is a delinquent act and not a "crime" like in the adult criminal justice system. Typically, juvenile delinquency is the act of committing an unlawful act as a minor. Even though the juvenile court's purpose is not to punish your kid for his/her wrongdoings, the rehabilitative disposition (sentence) the judge will impose will have life-long consequences on your kid's life.
If a minor commits a crime and no one discovers it until the individual is 20 years old, he/she can still be eligible for prosecution in a juvenile court. Depending on the complexity of your kid's case and previous delinquent acts, the prosecutor may also choose to file the charge in an adult court, which is not something you wish for your kid unless he/she defends his/her in a transfer hearing.
The transfer hearing aims to show the judge why the minor is a suitable candidate for prosecution in a juvenile court. A minor will be ineligible for prosecution in a juvenile court if he/she commits any of the following crimes under Welfare and Institution Code (WIC)707 (b):
- Sodomy with violence
- Kidnapping with bodily harm
- Forcible sexual penetration
- Attempt murder
- Rape with violence/force
- Voluntary manslaughter
The worst form of sentence a minor can receive for committing any of the above delinquent acts is commitment to a Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) facility for rehabilitation programs as per the offender:
- Educational needs
- Individual risks and treatment needs
Just like in adult courts, in a juvenile court, the attorney you decide to choose for legal representation must prove every evidence to counter the minor's charges above a reasonable doubt. For that reason, you must retain a skilled criminal defense attorney who understands the juvenile justice system and court processes well to fight for reduction or dismissal of the alleged charges your kid is facing to protect his/her future.
How California Law Enforcers Handle Juvenile Delinquency
When a minor receives an arrest for whichever delinquent act, the arresting officers have the discretion to send the matter to a juvenile court or not depending on the severity of the minor's offense and other circumstances surrounding the offense.
When you receive a call that your kid is under arrest for a delinquent act, you must remind him/her of his/her rights to avoid disclosing incriminating information to the investigators. Below are aspects a minor should remember when under arrest for a delinquent act to protect his/her rights:
- You have the right to retain an attorney.
- You do not have to resist the arrest.
- You can respectfully decline to answer police officer's questions.
- You don't have to discuss your alleged charge details with anyone else apart from your attorney or parent.
- If you are not officially under arrest, you can resist an illegal search and seizure.
Even if you are a minor, you should remember you have rights just like an adult to avoid unconscious self-incrimination. Therefore, if you're under arrest or investigation for a delinquent act, you should remain calm and speak less because anything you say can be used against you by the prosecutors.
Just like adults, when you receive an arrest as a minor, the arresting officers must read Miranda rights to you so that you can make wise decisions to protect your interest and legal rights following the alleged charge.
Remember, the law allows arresting officers to question you without your attorney's or parent's presence. Therefore, you must make knowledgeable decisions during this period with or without your parents to avoid the possible consequences of a juvenile delinquent act in California.
When police arrest you for a suspicious delinquent act, it doesn't necessarily mean you will automatically go to a juvenile court. Depending on the severity of the alleged delinquent act, they may choose to do the following:
- Detain you at their premises and warn you of the consequences of committing your specific delinquent act/offense before releasing you
- Detain you until your parents arrive at the station and then release you
- Take you into custody and refer you to a juvenile court.
If arresting police officers choose to refer your case to the juvenile court, the court probation officer will review your case details and decide whether:
- To dismiss the case and the charges.
- Handle the case "off the record" for an informal judgment or
- File formal charges (detaining the petition)
The outcome of an informal legal proceeding is not as strict as the possible outcome of a formal legal adjudication in a juvenile court. Therefore, your attorney will strive to solve your kid's delinquency informally with the probation officer to avoid the uncertainty of formal juvenile adjudication. However, even if your kid's case gets here, we at The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm will strive to fight for your child's mistake on your behalf to avoid severe dispositions like placement in a California DJJ facility (minor prison).
The Juvenile Court Process Before Placement in the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ)
If the juvenile court probation officer decides to file formal charges against your kid for violation of a California statute, the offense must be severe. The juvenile justice system is a bit tricky, so you must hire an attorney who has significant experience in this area to ensure your kid’s best legal representation.
Placement in a DJJ facility for rehabilitation is the worst form of disposition (sentence) a minor can receive for delinquency. As part of the juvenile court process, there are typically four court hearings or proceedings your kid will pass through before a Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) disposition ruling. These legal proceedings include:
Delinquency formal charges begin with a detention hearing where the judge decides whether the minor should remain in custody before resolving the case or going home to his/her parents. Suppose the arresting officer doesn't release your kid after the arrest. In that case, they must schedule a detention hearing within 48 hours following the arrest for determination of the case as to whether it should proceed to trial or not.
If your kid is under arrest for specific delinquent acts that qualify for trial in adult court, the prosecutor will give a fitness hearing. A fitness hearing aims to determine whether the minor is an excellent candidate to go through the criminal justice system for adults or remain under the juvenile court’s jurisdiction.
Although most delinquent acts remain under the juvenile court's jurisdiction, some offenses under Welfare and Institution Code 707(b) can make the judge send the minor to an adult court, for example, a first-degree murder.
Prosecution of a minor in the criminal justice system for adults can result in lifelong consequences to the minor. Therefore, you must find a reliable attorney to convince the judge to keep the kid's delinquency case jurisdiction under a juvenile court.
Some of the delinquent acts that the judge may consider for qualification in an adult court are the same offenses that can lead to placement in a DJJ correctional facility or other less severe dispositions in a juvenile justice system. However, your kid’s attorney carries the burden of proof to show the judge that the minor is the right candidate for adjudication in a juvenile court.
The judge will consider the following factors when determining whether the prosecution of the minor should continue in the juvenile delinquency system or should proceed to criminal court:
- The minor's age
- Severity and sophistication of the minor's offense
- If the minor will benefit from delinquency dispositions which are all about the rehabilitation of minors
- Minor's delinquent acts history
- The success of the previous attempts to rehabilitate the minor
Suppose the judge finds enough reason to proceed with the prosecution of the minor in a juvenile court. In that case, you will proceed to the next step of the juvenile court process, an adjudication (trial) hearing.
Adjudication hearing (minors' trial), also sometimes known as jurisdiction hearing, occurs in front of the court judge and not the jury. The purpose of an adjudication hearing is to determine if the minor is guilty of the alleged offense. Just like in adult courts, the judge expects your kid's attorney to demonstrate evidence to counter the charges above a reasonable doubt.
If the judge finds the allegations against your kid to be true, he/she will sustain the petition meaning your kid is guilty of the charge. On the other hand, if the judge finds the prosecutor's evidence insufficient to prove that your kid is guilty of the alleged offense, he/she will not sustain the petition.
An adjudication hearing is a chance for your kid to defend him/herself with the help of an attorney to dismiss or reduce the alleged charge to a less severe offense with less severe disposition consequences. Juvenile court operations are not the same as in adult court, but most crucial procedural safeguards apply for example:
- The minor can subpoena eyewitnesses to come to the adjudication hearing.
- The minor can retain a criminal defense attorney for legal counsel and representation.
- The minor has the right against self-incrimination, meaning he/she can choose to testify or not.
- The minor can present his/her defense.
- The prosecutor must prove his/her elements of the alleged delinquent act against the minor above a reasonable doubt.
If your kid was in custody, the adjudication hearing must occur within fifteen days following the detention order, excluding holidays and weekends. When the adjudication hearing should occur, the time-frame is longer if your minor was not in custody.
Suppose the judge finds the allegations against your kid to be true according to the prosecutor's evidence during the adjudication hearing. In that case, he/she will sustain the petition for disposition (sentencing) in a disposition hearing.
The last juvenile court process your kid will go through is the disposition(sentencing) hearing, which follows right after the adjudication hearing. Unfortunately, if your kid loses the adjudication hearing, then he/she will move to the next juvenile court process, which is the disposition hearing (sentencing phase).
During the disposition hearing, the judge will decide the suitable disposition for your kid's alleged delinquency, depending on the following factors:
- The kid's age
- The kid's past delinquent history
- The nature and circumstances of the offense
Most of the time, a disposition hearing will occur right away after the adjudication hearing’s conclusion if the judge has the necessary evidence and information for making a disposition decision. There are various disposition (sentencing) options the judge can decide to impose on your kid to violate the California statute.
The disposition the judge will craft for your kid's specific delinquent act should be able to rehabilitate the kid and make him/her an excellent law-abiding, and productive citizen. During the disposition hearing, your attorney must be present to negotiate with the judge not to send your minor to a Division of Juvenile Justice facility.
The consequences of being in a DJJ facility are severe as those of confinement in an adult correctional facility. Hence the need for an attorney's presence to negotiate with the judge for a less severe disposition option for your kid's delinquent acts like formal probation at home or dismissal under Welfare and Institution Code 782.
Consequences of Placement in a Division of Juvenile Justice Facility in California
Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), which was initially known as California Youth Authority (CYA), is a detention and rehabilitation system for minors under conviction for commission of severe California misdemeanor and felony offenses. Of all possible disposition options the juvenile system provides for violation of California statute, this disposition is the closest thing to an adult correctional facility.
The main purpose of placement of a minor in a DJJ facility is not punishment, like in the criminal justice system. Instead, a judge will send a minor to a DJJ facility to achieve the following goals:
- Community restoration of the minor
- Training and development of the minor
When the judge is considering sending the minor to a DJJ facility, he or she will first request a 90-day diagnostic study of the minor to determine the right treatment program for him/her according to his/her offense.
The commitments a minor will endure in a DJJ facility are long and severe. All minors in a DJJ must attend school on a full-time basis. Once the minor completes high school, he/she will also undertake vocational and college programs. A minor can secure a paying job in a DJJ facility, for example:
- Food preparation
In addition to the core programs a minor will undertake in a DJJ facility, there will also be other special rehabilitation programs which target a minor's individuals needs as per his/her delinquent act, for example:
- Intensive behavior treatment
- Sexual behavior treatment
- Mental health residential units
The confinement period in a DJJ facility cannot be longer than the period an adult could receive for the same criminal offense. The judge will decide the maximum time your kid will stay in a DJJ facility, depending on the delinquent act's nature and delinquency history. A minor should discharge a disposition for an offense under California Welfare and Institution Code 707(b) (with one exception) after two years or at age 23 or whichever occurs later.
Suppose the minor’s delinquent act is an offense that would be punishable with more than seven years of confinement in an adult correctional facility and does not necessarily have to be an offense under WIC 707 (b). In that case, he/she should receive a discharge from the DJJ commitments:
- After two years
- At age 25, whichever occurs later
Remember, if the judge rules a minor's disposition to be less than 90 days, the minor can escape confinement in a DJJ facility. A minor must also be above the age of 11 years for placement in a DJJ facility. However, when a minor turns 18 years, the court will order him/her to be transferred to an adult correctional facility unless he/she can complete his/her disposition before the age of 25.
Life in a DJJ facility is not something you would wish for your kid, who has a lot to learn. Growing up in a DJJ facility, even for two years, can impact a kid's future because of associating with young criminals with different delinquency charges. Consequences of placement of a minor in a DJJ facility affect his/her ability to join colleges and secure jobs, especially in the military.
Therefore, when you receive a call that your son or daughter is under arrest for whichever delinquent act, you must contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as you can because your kid's future is at stake.
Juvenile court can choose to modify a juvenile disposition or commitment to DJJ if the programs and treatment the minor is receiving are not meeting the minor's needs as per his/her delinquent act. For modification of a minor's commitment requirements to a DJJ facility, a minor’s attorney should file a resentencing motion with the court with jurisdiction over the offense ahead of time.
Lifetime Consequences of a Juvenile Adjudication
A juvenile adjudication (trial) can result in lifetime consequences to an offender, even if he/she completes his/her disposition or commitment in a DJJ facility. Therefore, your kid's attorney must try to fight these charges aggressively before they get to the adjudication stage of the juvenile court process. A conviction for a sex-related offense in California can lead to inclusion in the sex offender registry.
Inclusion in the sex offender registry database comes with severe and unbearable lifetime consequences to sex offenders. For instance, a minor must re-register his/her current information whenever he/she relocates. Apart from these consequences being shameful, they can also affect a person's ability to secure jobs and places to live even after paying his/her dues through commitment in a DJJ.
Once your kid completes his/her commitment in the Division of Juvenile Justice, he/she can file a petition with the juvenile court with jurisdiction over his/her delinquent act to seal and destroy his/her conviction records for a fresh start. The judge’s decision to seal your kid's juvenile conviction records will depend on the following factors:
- Time elapsed since sentencing/disposition
- Your minor's specific crime
- Conviction or arrest history since the last sentencing/disposition
Filing a juvenile record sealing petition can help your kid have a fresh start and pursue his/her dreams because most government jobs may consider a job applicant conviction history during recruitment.
Find a Juvenile Attorney Near Me
If there are allegations of your kid violating a California statute, you should know his/her future is at stake. At The LA Criminal Defense Attorney, we will closely investigate the case and negotiate with prosecutors to help your kid receive rehabilitation rather than confinement in the Division of Juvenile Justice facility if he/ she is under arrest for a serious juvenile offense. Contact us today at 310-935-1675 to talk to our profound attorneys with significant experience in the California juvenile delinquency system.