In California, juvenile delinquency courts are those that adjudicated misdemeanor and felony offenses committed by minors. Minors include children aged 12 to 17 years. The minor faces various sentence options ranging from informal probation to commitment in the CYA. In Los Angeles, the main purpose of the juvenile delinquency courts is to rehabilitate the minors.
However, when your child is arrested for committing a crime, seek assistance from The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm. We aggressively defend your child's legal rights and look for other alternatives like counseling and rehabilitation instead of incarceration. As professional defense lawyers, we have many years of experience and knowledge in defending juvenile offenses.
The Legal Meaning of Juvenile Delinquency Court
Juvenile delinquency courts are special courts dealing with under-age defendants when they violate any state, federal or municipal law. The courts involve kids generally under the age of eighteen years. Notably, the court involves the probation officers, social workers, and parents during the judicial process in guiding the minors away from committing future criminal actions. Notably, the severe and repeated crimes may lead to the minors face sentence transfer into a state prison upon reaching adulthood.
Additionally, the courts have authority in determining the minor's support, visitation, and custody in certain situations for authorizing treatment for mentally disabled or ill children and permanently terminate parental rights. Moreover, the court might place the minors under the court's probation department's supervision, put them in care or custody foster homes, secure institutions, or special treatment centers.
In California, juvenile delinquency courts are dedicated to adjusting misdemeanor and felony offenses committed by minors. Additionally, the juvenile courts also handle status crimes, including violating curfews and truancy. Status offenses will only count criminal actions when performed by children.
The 602 Proceedings
In California, the juvenile court is included in the civil law system and omitted from the California law system. The juvenile court proceedings are also known as 602 proceedings. Notably, the defense attorneys and prosecutors are present during the proceedings, but juries are absent. Additionally, the proceedings are confidential.
Currently, in 2018, the state's governor signed SB 439 into law. The bill enables the court to assume jurisdiction to minors under 12 years when charged with rape, violence, sexual penetration using force, murder, sodomy, or oral copulation. Moreover, there isn't a guilty or not guilty decision in the state's juvenile court system.
The Juvenile Court Lingo
The judge may find the child innocent or guilty at the juvenile court. However, when the court proves the child engaged in the alleged offense, the judge will sustain the filed petition.
California Wards of the Court
If the court makes the child a "ward of the court," the court will take over the minor's primary responsibilities for treatment and control. Notably, a minor may be both a ward of the court and allowed to serve probation at home.
The state’s juvenile justice system's primary goal is to rehabilitate the offenders. For instance, when an adult faces a conviction for a crime and then imprisoned, the aim is to punish the offender. However, the California juvenile court places the minors on probation to rehabilitate them. Additionally, children under the juvenile court system should receive treatment, education, and the required services to move past their offenses, reunite with their families, and become productive persons.
Are Sanctions Designed for Retribution?
Apart from rehabilitation, the kids disobeying the laws will still receive punishments. Notably, the child may be sanctioned for their behavior, although the sanctions aren’t designed for retribution but discipline. Sanctions may include:
- Community service
- Placement of the minors in a foster home
- A commitment of the minors to CYA
- Payment of restitution and fines
- Commitment to a camp, ranch, or juvenile hall
Are There Any Problems Experienced With the Juvenile Justice System?
Besides the system conducting decent work, they have received criticisms for their failures. For instance, in one of the highly-rated 2003 lawsuits named Farrell versus Allen, California was sue for the deplorable acts at the CYA involving:
- Making minors attend school when locked in cages.
- Utilization of psychotropic medications as a way of control
- Confining kids in a cell for twenty-three hours for a day
- Use of excess force on the children when restrained
Notably, in 2004, California youth authority engaged in a consent agreement that agreed to remedy the children's abuses. Alameda county superior court was appointed to oversee the California youth authority. Additionally, other problems experienced with the California juvenile system are discussed under the following:
1. Rays of Hope
The system consists of many devoted and caring experts determined in rehabilitating the minors. It emerges from the California youth authority as they engage in the county facilities. Besides the CYAs wards program, the juveniles are responsible for rehabilitating themselves and, at the same time, training rescue dogs for adoptive families. Additionally, at the Sonoma probation camp, a few juveniles haven’t been successful.
2. Realigning From the State to The Counties
Due to litigation, sentencing preferences, and costs, juvenile justice is undertaking the exercise of realignment. The Los Angeles County probation departments are responsible for conducting rehabilitation, treatment, and securing the most severe and violent young offenders.
Because of the systemic failures brought to light by the state-level confinement costs and litigation, the state legislature passed a bill in 2007 to realign minors justice from the state to county levels. Additionally, due to the series of changes with the law and the funding initiatives, the young offenders are handled at the California county probation departments.
However, the California county providers have found themselves to scrutiny similarly to the California youth authority. Additionally, the probation department is recently conducting negotiations to settle for the deficient education services providers to the county camp kids. Moreover, violence and riots periodically occur at both the girl's and boy's probation camps.
Common Juvenile Crimes
In Los Angeles, minors may face a wide range of criminal crimes. However, the most common crimes are the following:
- Theft crimes
- Consumption of alcohol
- Driving under influence
- Assault and battery crimes
- Speeding and reckless driving
- Gun possession
- Gang crimes
- Vandalism and graffiti
- Murder and attempted murder
- Solicitation of prostitution
- Drug possession, transportation, and selling
According to the California juvenile system, the courts should focus on rehabilitation than incarceration; however, in certain cases, the prosecutors may employ a more aggressive approach and seek harsher punishments. The prosecutor may concentrate on the age and the criminal history of the minors when determining their penalties.
Common Offenses For Minors Tried as An Adult
According to California law, under certain circumstances, the minors allegedly committed offenses are automatically tried in an adult court. Notably, serious crimes are listed under the welfare and institution of the state code section 707(b). The offenses tried as an adult include the following:
- Attempted murder
- forcible sex penetration
- Oral copulation or sodomy by force
- Arson that causes body injuries greatly
- Rape using force, or threat
- Murder with a special circumstance
- Voluntary manslaughter
- Assault with firearm
- A felony crime while the minor used a weapon
The prosecution team has the discretion on how to handle the 707(b) crimes. The prosecutors will request a fitness hearing to let the judge decide or file directly in the adult court.
Could punishment Happen to the Minors?
Under the California delinquency system, various sentencing options are available for the minors. The options range from a commitment to CYA to informal probation.
1. Informal Probation
When the offense isn't great, the child will be eligible for diversion under welfare & institution code 654 and informal probation. Informal probation will be applicable for non-violent, first-time crimes like PC 602 trespass or PC 594 vandalism.
2. Welfare & Institution Section 654 Diversion
According to the California law and institution code 654, a case will be diverted into probation before the petition's filing occurs. Under the California juvenile courts, common offenses involve pretty theft and shoplifting violations under PC 484. Considering the crime's low-level nature, the California juvenile attorneys will put effort into having code 654 diverted.
Therefore, the minors will avoid a filing in their first place or dismiss the PC 484 charge after completing their probation. When trying to adjust the situation creating the possibility of the minors being at the jurisdiction soon or bringing them within the court's jurisdiction, the probation officers develop plans for the child, which lasts for a period not exceeding six months. Notably, the program will include counseling and education. Once the minor fails to engage in the program, the probation officers will initiate formal petition proceedings with the court.
3. Welfare & Institution Section 725 Informal Probation
Sometimes, the juvenile court judge may decide on putting the minors on informal probation. Notably, the main difference with PC 654 is the petition filing; however, the petition will be laid on hold, enabling the minors to obtain their second opportunity. The child doesn’t admit guilt, and if they comply with the probation conditions, they will have dismissal of the petition. Notably, the probation terms may involve counseling for the child and their parents, curfew, and school attendance. Additionally, other terms may include drug testing. The W&I Section 725 informal probation will last for half a year.
4. Deferred Entry of Judgement
In California, deferred judgment will require the child to be guilty about the petition allegation. However, the deferred entry leads to dismissal of the minor's charges once they complete the DEJ program. A deferred judgment is often applicable for first-time felonies, which don't section 707(b) crimes. The DEJ lasts for three years.
For instance, a sixteen-year-old Mary was hiding marijuana in her car's gas tank. She then faces charges for HS 11359 possession of marijuana for sale. The offense was Mary’s first-time offense. She experienced truancy in the past but began to do well in the new educational program. The probation department believed she was amenable to treatment, rehabilitation, and education. Even when the offense evidenced a level of sophistication, and the court didn't send the crime like HS 11359 possessing marijuana for sale and HS 11360 transportation of marijuana, Mary is eligible for the DEJ. Once she completes her Deferred Entry of Judgement program, she can withdraw admission of guilt, leading to the petition's dismissal.
5. Formal Probation at Camp or Home
When the minor is declared a ward of the court by the state juvenile court, the court sentences the minors to a probation term. Although the child will be considered a ward of the court, he/she is allowed to engage their probation at home. Additionally, the juvenile court may put the child in a Los Angeles probation camp, foster care, or juvenile hall. The probation conditions include anything reasonably necessary for rehabilitating the minors, including:
- Restitution to the victim
- Curfew restriction
- Mandatory school attendance
- Community service
- Graffiti removal
- Substance abuse counseling
If a minor requires a great building level, he/she is sent to a probation camp for a period not exceeding a year. California has approximately seventy probation camps. The majority of the camps are dormitories that rely on a structured daily schedule involving treatment and education programs. Additionally, we have other various centers existing across the state, including fire/wilderness camps emphasizing firefighting and forestry training, family-style, and boot-camps, focusing on the small intensive treatment.
Notably, the Los Angeles probation department of the juvenile residential services has housing around two thousand wards daily at different camps. Additionally, the Los Angeles probation department of the juvenile services detention bureau can house up to eighteen thousand minors in a day as they wait for their placement or hearings.
6. CYA Commitments
Apart from adult prison, another severe penalty the minor will face is the California Youth Authority’s commitment. The court will only send the minors with one of the crimes requiring sex offender registration or recent adjudication for a 707(b) to a California Youth Authority.
The California Juvenile Court Process
According to the law, the process starts at the minor’s arrest. However, the law officers may decide to release them with a simple reprimand. The law officers may deliver them to the Los Angeles County Probation Department, leading to detention in the juvenile hall and then filing a petition against the child. The juvenile court process includes various hearings like:
1. Detention Hearing
After being put in detention by law enforcement officers, the minors attend their hearing the next day before a master or judge. The arresting officers may notice the minor and his/her parents to appear before the court. In more severe cases, the court may detain the child in custody until the first court appearance. During the detention hearing, the juvenile judge determines whether the child will remain in custody or not as the case proceeds.
During the arraignment hearing, the minor appears in the court to ‘deny’ or ‘admit’ the alleged offense. The minors are entitled to a lawyer and may apply for an attorney to represent them. Admission equals a guilty plea. Once the juvenile admits, the case goes to disposition immediately or after sometimes. Alternatively, once the child denies, the case goes to trial.
3. Transfer Hearing
Transfer hearing is also known as fitness hearing. The hearing involves a judge’s proceedings deciding whether minors’ transfer should occur to face their criminal charges in adult court. In case the judge decides the child is fit to stay in the juvenile system, they will remain in the juvenile court. Notably, in most cases, minors facing accusations of committing offenses are adjudicated within the juvenile delinquency system. However, in severe cases, the children are tried in adult courts.
In case the prosecutor wants to charge the child as an adult, the minor can remain in the juvenile court regarding what the judge decides during the transfer hearings. When a minor is in adult courts, they will face lengthy sentences in adult prisons with adult offenders.
4. Jurisdiction Hearing
During the initial detention hearing, the court determines whether the juveniles should remain in custody. Additionally, the court determines when the matter is pending or released to their parents. When held in custody, the minors have a right to an adjudication hearing within the detention's fifteen court days. In case the minor is out of custody, they have the right to jurisdiction hearing within thirty days. When the minors are in custody, and the adjudication hearing is not conducted within the statutory time limit, the court must release the juveniles from custody unless they have a good cause for keeping the minor in custody.
Additionally, at the jurisdiction hearing, the minor and the prosecutor can present their defense and evidence just like in the criminal trial. He/she is entitled to the assistance of counsel and may retain their private lawyers or even apply for a public defender. Notably, the judge will hear all the evidence provided by the prosecution side and the minors. Therefore, the judge will decide on whether there is enough evidence that can sustain the petition.
5. Disposition Hearing
A disposition hearing is held later or on the same day as an adjudication hearing. At the hearing, the judge determines whether the minor is delinquent or if the child requires treatment, rehabilitation, or guidance. The court may place probation on the child under the juvenile department supervision.
Additionally, the judge may commit the child to the juvenile department services. The department may further remove the minors from their homes and put them in a facility for guidance and care. Moreover, the court can order restitution whereby the minor and their parents are held responsible for an amount not exceeding ten thousand dollars for compensating the victims. The victim could receive compensation for the damaged property, destroyed, stolen, or incurred by the victim, involving funeral or medical expenses.
Notably, the law provides procedures and timelines for how and when the hearings will take place. At each stage, the defense attorney and the prosecutor will arrive at a resolution and go straight to disposition. Additionally, in case of errors are made, there will be more than one hearing taking place. The parents are supposed to attend each court hearing.
California Youth Authority (CYA)
CYA is a state agency responsible for protecting society from delinquent and criminal behaviors of minors. The agency operates in treatment and training programs that seek to correct, educate, or rehabilitate offenders rather than punishing them. California Youth Action provides services to minors ranging from the age of twelve years up to twenty-five years. The department works closely with the courts, law enforcement, probation offices, district attorneys, and private agencies involved in youth problems.
Additionally, when a minor is determined to be at risk, he/she can be incarcerated into the California youth authority until the age of twenty-five years. The juveniles may face sentence and charges as an adult to state prison or jail depending on the offense committed.
In the juvenile delinquency court, the prosecution team must prove beyond a shadow of a doubt the minor committed criminal activity. The child has a right just like an adult regarding the right to an attorney, right to confront witnesses, right not to testify, or right to a speedy trial. If not sure about how the rights work, you should seek assistance from our lawyers at The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm in Los Angeles.
Find A Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
It can be upsetting and scary to find your child being investigated for crime. However, in the juvenile delinquency courts, the minors have rights as adults, including the right to an attorney. California defense lawyers understand children make mistakes.
At The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm, we understand how complex and confusing a juvenile court is. With our knowledgeable lawyers, we provide your child with exceptional legal defense and ensure the best outcomes possible for your case. If you are in or around Los Angeles, call us at 310-935-1675 for a free legal consultation and evaluation of your child's case.