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Juvenile Delinquency Court

Being arrested can be a traumatic experience, especially the arrest of a minor under your care. For a child, the incident will leave an impression on their young minds. Imagine what goes through their mind when law enforcement officers handcuffs and takes them away from the love and comfort of their homes.

When a minor breaks the law, they are taken to a juvenile court where a judge will adjudicate on their actions. After your child’s arrest, you should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. At Leah Legal, our attorneys will defend your child’s rights and help them get back to their normal lives.

The juvenile court is supposed to rehabilitate your child and cause no effects on their adult life, for example, leaving them stigmatized. The California juvenile court system offers several different legal options for your child, which do not necessarily involve juvenile confinement. In this article, we will provide an overview of California's juvenile court system, and you learn what to expect when your child violates the law in Van Nuys.

What is a Delinquent Act

A delinquent act is a law violation carried out by someone under the age of 18. When a minor commits criminal offenses, the law considers and treats it as a delinquent act instead of a criminal act.

What Juvenile Courts are

When a minor breaks the law, the arresting officers take them to a juvenile delinquent court where their case is heard instead of attending an adult court.  A Juvenile court adjudicates on the following:

  • Curfew violations.
  • Truancy violations.
  • Felony charges.
  • Status offenses.
  • Misdemeanor charges.

In California, these courts deal with juvenile case procedures like court hearings. A juvenile delinquent court has jurisdiction over children aged between 12 and 17 and sometimes on minors below age 12.

The juvenile court system is part and parcel of civil law. The court only involves a judge and a prosecutor with no jurors, making the entire process less intimidating to a minor. When the judge adjudicates, your minor will never receive a guilty or an innocent conviction. When the prosecutor proves beyond any reasonable doubt that your child committed a delinquent act, the judge will uphold the prosecutors’ petition.

When a juvenile judge sustains a prosecutors’ petition, they will impose different sentences on your minor. These sentences involve:

  • If your minor admits to violating the law, a juvenile judge may send them to the California Youth Authority, a correctional facility for the young ones.
  • If your child denies the allegations of a law violation, the judge may issue an informal probation order. When your child completes the probation program successfully, they will receive a case dismissal.

There are two goals that a juvenile justice system is committed to achieving. One goal of the California Juvenile Judicial system is to keep the public safe and well protected from the effects of silly delinquency acts. The other purpose is to offer rehabilitation, counseling, and guidance to children accused of violating the law.

Who is a Ward of the Court?

A minor will become a court ward when the juvenile court has taken over the responsibility of ensuring the minor’s safety and treatment. The court may also set the minor under foster care, group home, and attend a probation camp.

Rehabilitative Goals

The California juvenile court system’s key feature is rehabilitating young offenders, entirely different from the adult criminal judicial system. If an adult commits any crime, the court system’s design is to rectify the behavior by punishing the offender, contrary to minors who break the law. If a minor undergoes probation or is put in a camp, the court system intends to ensure they receive the necessary skills to change their behaviors.

A child is to receive education and skills, which will be essential for overcoming their offenses. The juvenile justice court system aims at rehabilitating these minors into responsible members of society who will integrate well with the community after their time in the juvenile judicial system.

Penalties are not Meant to Punish

Though the juvenile justice system’s goal is to rehabilitate young ones, it doesn’t mean that they will go scot-free when they violate the law. The child may be sanctioned or penalized for their conduct with the aim of the penalties being for discipline purposes.

Penalties may involve one or all of these acts:

  • Community service,
  • Paying fines,
  • victim impact class attendance,
  • Foster home placement,
  • Juvenile camp, hall, or ranch attendance,
  • Undergoing probation,
  • Commitment to the Division of Juvenile Justice.

Challenges Associated with the Juvenile Justice System

Despite its noble goals, the juvenile justice system faces endless challenges and criticism for what most people view as its failures. The state of California has been sued for the adverse conditions of its CYA. The critics accused the state of the following deplorable conditions, which did not provide the minor with the conducive environment that rehabilitation requires:

  • Failure to provide adequate mental and medical services to the children
  • holding kids in cells while they attend classes
  • Locking children for 23 hours in cells
  • Controlling children by using psychotropic medicines
  • Mistreatment of the children; by using excessive force

Realignment of Juvenile System to the Counties from State

In 2004, the California Youth Authority made a consent agreement to rectify the abuses it was accused of committing in a highly publicized Farrell v Harper lawsuit in 2003. As a result of this lawsuit, the juvenile justice system has undertaken a realignment process in California. The realignment has the County probation officers responsible for the treatment, protection, and guiding minors violating the law. Despite this, a juvenile court may send any minor who commits a serious offense to a CYA.

Eligibility for a Juvenile Delinquent Court

The juvenile delinquent court handles cases against minors who are below the age of 18. There are some instances where a minor can be charged and tried in an adult court. If a person committed an offense when they were little, but the violation is discovered when they are already in adulthood, their offense will be addressed in this court.

You should note that not every crime committed by people under the age of 18 are juvenile. Some crimes committed by minors are charged in adult courts and not in the juvenile courts.  The law states that when a person aged 16 and above commits an offense listed under PC 707(b), they will go through a hearing, determining the court where their trial will occur. It can either be a juvenile or adult criminal court. A juvenile judge will use the following facts to decide whether the little should be taken to an adult court for prosecution or not:

  • The minor’s juvenile delinquent history.
  • The success of any previous rehabilitative effort on the minor.
  • The degree of creativity exhibited by the minor when they committed the crime.
  • If the minor can be rehabilitated when their program with the juvenile court comes to an end.
  • The nature of the crime committed by the minor.

Despite the severity of the crime, if a minor below 16 commits it, their case never receives a transfer to adult courts. California Welfare & Institutions Code Section 707(b) lists the following crimes, among others:

  • Murder
  • Robbery
  • Kidnapping for ransom
  • Assault using a destructive object or firearm
  • Kidnaping for robbery purposes
  • Forcible sexual penetration
  • An offense against people living with a disability or over 60
  • When the minor commits a felony offense by personally using weapons listed under PC 16590(a)
  • Assault offense that produces severe bodily injury
  • Discharging a firearm into an occupied building
  • Attempted murder
  • Committing an offense listed under PC 12022.5 or PC12022.53
  • Bribing a witness to dissuade them from witnessing under PC 137 and 136.1 respectfully
  • Torture
  • Carjacking
  • Aggravated mayhem
  • Forcible rape
  • The threat of severe bodily harm
  • Kidnapping with the intention to commit sexual assault
  • Voluntary manslaughter

Transfer Hearing

The prosecution may request for this hearing, but it’s left to the judge’s decision whether the minor will face adult court for trial. Depending on the circumstances surrounding the minor’s case, the judge may choose to transfer the little one to an adult criminal court.

Once the judge passes the decision to transfer the minor, you can appeal against the juvenile court decision by having your attorney file a petition.  This appeal should happen within 20 days after the arraignment. If your child is under arrest for crimes involving firearms, or any crime listed under WIC 707 (b), you will need to hire an experienced defense attorney to defend them. Any crime listed under Welfare & Institutions Code section 707(b) and the prosecution will demand to transfer your child to adult court for prosecution. If your defense attorney fails to provide enough evidence, your child may end up receiving charges in adult criminal courts.

When the juvenile judge upholds the petition, your minor remains at the juvenile justice court system until they attain the age of 21, when the court’s responsibility for your child comes to an end. When the minor’s offense led to their commitment to a CYA, the judge’s judicial jurisdiction will be up to when they attain the age of 25.

Juvenile Court Procedure in California

A juvenile delinquency court is a special court established to deal with cases involving minors who violate the law by committing delinquent acts. This particular court is different from adult courts in the way it handles the offenders.

A juvenile court procedure starts when law enforcement officers apprehend a minor for committing delinquent activities. When the contrary act is little, the law enforcement officer will correct the child and send them on their way. Depending on the offense’s severity, the law enforcement officer may give your child a citation order, which will set them free when they commit the crime, but they must appear in court later.

The law enforcement officer may arrest your child and have them at the juvenile court if the offense is severe. Law enforcement officers may interrogate your minor after their arrest. It would be prudent to hire a criminal defense attorney to protect you and your child’s rights regarding interrogations.

After your child’s arrest, they are taken to a juvenile hall, where they meet a probation officer in charge of the juvenile hall. A probation officer will interview your child and base their decision on the following:

  • Release the minor from the juvenile hall, but have them attend a court hearing later on
  • Let the minor off the probation program without having them appear before a juvenile court
  • The probation officer will let the little understand that they will have to appear in court if they disregard their probation orders
  • Have the minor at the juvenile hall until a juvenile judge reviews their case

When a minor faces juvenile courts, they attend four hearings, namely:

Detention Hearing

During this hearing, the court decides if it would benefit the minor to go home or stay at the juvenile hall and wait for their case adjudication.

Transfer Hearing

This hearing is set to decide if a minor’s case should be prosecuted in a juvenile or an adult court. A transfer hearing occurs when a violation of WIC 707(b) occurs under the minor’s hands.

Adjudication Hearing

An adjudication hearing is where both the juvenile judge and the prosecutor are present without the jurors.

Disposition Hearing

During this hearing, the judge makes their decision regarding the minor’s petition. If the judge sustains the petition, your child will receive their sentence.

Juvenile court proceedings are a complex issue, and you will require the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney at your side during the entire process.

The Sentencing

When the judge sustains the petition against a minor, they will pass sentence. This sentencing will depend on various facts like the nature of the offense and your child’s delinquent history, among other considerations. A juvenile judge will have to choose the best disposition, which aligns with the court’s primary objective of rehabilitating a minor during sentencing. A judge will come up with either of the following dispositions:

Informal probation (WIC 654 & 725)

Under Welfare & Institutions Code 654 and 725, a judge may have your child under informal probation if they have no juvenile history. The offense against them is a non-violent one, like trespassing. Your child’s petition does not involve a juvenile court intervention under informal probation because it is a low-level delinquent offense.

Under this probation, your child will undertake counseling and receive an education per the probation rules. If your minor does not follow all the rules governing their probation, the prosecutor may file a petition at the juvenile court. 

When your minor admits to a misdemeanor offense, the judge will have them under six-month informal probation. When under probation, your child is not a ward of the court, but they can become one if they don’t follow up on their probation terms.

Informal probation involves the following conditions:

  • Compulsory school attendance
  • Observing curfew
  • Receive counseling
  • Community service
  • Victim restitution
  • Graffiti removal

Once your child completes the terms of their probation, they will receive a petition for dismissal.

Formal Probation

The California juvenile judicial court system can declare a minor as its ward and sentence them to formal probation. The court will require the little to complete their probation either at their home or at a place the court designates like group homes or camp.

Deferred Entry Judgment

Under WIC790, your minor may have the option of receiving a DEJ. For a little one to accept this judgment, they will have to admit to committing the offense. A DEJ program takes between 12-36 months to complete, and upon successful completion, your minor will receive charges dismissal.

For your minor to qualify for a DEJ, they must meet the following:

  • Be aged 14 and over when they are adjudicated
  • No previous felony record
  • No prior sentencing to CYA
  • No prior probation revocations
  • The offense committed is not listed under Welfare of Institutions Code section 707(b) or outlined under PC 289

Commitment to the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ)

When a minor commits a severe offense, they are sent to a DJJ, formerly CYA. A juvenile court imposes maximum internment in these facilities.

Find a Juvenile Defense Attorney Near Me

Your child’s formative years are the most crucial ones. The child can make mistakes that will have long-lasting effects on their lives. When your child or a minor under your care commits a crime in Van Nuys , you want to seek a criminal attorney’s help. At Leah Legal, we have the experience and qualifications to deal with juvenile issues. We understand the pain and uncertainty that your child faces with a juvenile record. Call us today at 818-484-1100 and set up a free consultation with our attorneys. Let us work together to ensure your minor has the best representation.