Being arrested or detained can be a terrifying experience, especially for young people who have never dealt with the legal system before. The juvenile court system is responsible for handling offenders who are under the age of 18, with the primary objective being rehabilitation rather than punishment. If a minor is found guilty of the crimes they are accused of, the juvenile court can order them to be detained in one of the juvenile justice facilities. These facilities, known as Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) facilities, adhere to rigid and strict rules similar to those in adult jails and prisons.

It is crucial to seek legal assistance for your child as they navigate through the juvenile court system. At Michele Ferroni Pasadena Criminal Attorney Law Firm, we offer professional legal advice and counsel to ensure the best possible outcome for your child's case. Our team of Pasadena attorneys is dedicated to helping you fight juvenile delinquency charges.

Understanding the Division of Juvenile Justice System

The DJJ, which is a division of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, specializes in providing training, care, and education to young individuals who have been found guilty of significant California crimes. Juvenile crimes often range in severity and sophistication. In contrast to adult courts, where a jury deliberates on the matter and renders a verdict, the judge determines juvenile dispositions.

Most juvenile dispositions are geared toward helping young offenders learn from their mistakes and become productive members of the community. Dispositions for juvenile offenders are handed down during disposition hearings and can range from mild to severe, depending on the nature of the charges and the child's prior criminal record. Detention centers run by the Division of Juvenile Justice usually accommodate serious juvenile perpetrators.

DJJ facilities are secure correctional and rehabilitation establishments that can have the same effect on your minor as adult detention centers. Although the DJJ centers are designed to accommodate people under the age of 18, a minor could get rehabilitation up until the age of 25. For juvenile perpetrators, there are a variety of disposition alternatives, such as probation, placement in a foster home, and delayed entry of judgment. A child's juvenile delinquency case doesn't need to end up in DJJ detention. Your child might receive several less detrimental dispositions with the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Identification of needs, allowing for growth and behavior change, and identification of conditions are the key objectives of placing juveniles in DJJ. These objectives are met through counseling, therapy, and training, all of which are geared toward motivating the minor to lead a better life, make better decisions, and assure community safety.

There are various situations in which a juvenile could be referred to the DJJ:

  1. The juvenile court commits a minor. The most severe outcome of a sustained California juvenile petition is a commitment to the DJJ unless a minor is sent to an adult court.
  2. If an underage person faces trial in an adult court, they will be held at a facility run by the Department of Juvenile Justice.

Although a minor is prosecuted as a legal adult and given a prison sentence, the judge orders that the minor be placed in the DJJ. In most cases, juvenile perpetrators are only allowed to stay in these establishments until they turn 18 if they have been accused and found guilty in an adult court. The court can order that the minor remain in the DJJ facility if the sentence is scheduled to be completed by the time the defendant turns 25 years old.

A Minor's Life in DJJ

The DJJ's commitment policies are strict and lengthy. When a juvenile's case is upheld and the judge orders your minor to be held in a DJJ detention facility, they will receive counseling, intensive care, and training. When an underage individual enters the DJJ facility, they'll go through an evaluation to decide which program best fits their rehabilitation demands.

The following are a few of the significant factors to consider in making this choice:

  1. Age of the minor. A 12-year-old offender cannot take part in the same programs as an offender who is 17 years old because the DJJ facility  accommodates children between the ages of twelve and seventeen.
  2. The minor's educational requirements.
  3. The maturity of the child.
  4. Treatment needs and risks for the minor.
  5. The severity of their offense and the context in which it occurred.

All juveniles housed at the DJJ are required to attend school. A minor could be obliged to enroll in vocational training and college programs after graduating from high school. The juvenile could be eligible for a paying employment opportunity during their time in DJJ custody in areas such as food preparation and landscaping.

In addition to the regular activities provided in these establishments, minors often take part in specialized programs that cater to their specific needs, such as:

  1. Sexual behavior therapy—this type of treatment could be necessary for minors who have been sent to the DJJ for sexual-related crimes such as sodomy or rape.
  2. Drug rehabilitation—teenagers who use drugs and other illicit substances often turn to crime. A person who is intoxicated might not be able to understand the implications of their conduct and end up in a DJJ facility for committing a crime. Your child might receive drug counseling and treatment sessions if they have a record of abusing drugs or any drug-related crimes.
  3. Victim awareness campaigns—the severity of juvenile crimes vary. While certain violations are considered minor offenses, a minor could end up facing charges of murder, assault, or other serious crimes. A victim awareness program could be necessary if your minor is being held in a DJJ facility for a crime that caused the death or harm to another individual.
  4. Anger management program.
  5. Mental health care.

Qualifications for a Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) Facility Commitment

The DJJ usually accepts individuals aged between 12 and 25 years. As soon as an underage person in DJJ turns 18, they are sent to an adult court, unless they have not finished their treatment, educational, or counseling programs. However, many juvenile offenders get discharged from the DJJ correctional facility after two years.

In some cases, young defendants are required to serve their whole term at the DJJ, which can last even after turning 25 years old. It is crucial to note that the DJJ exclusively accommodates challenging minors. This system does not admit children who are disruptive or truant.

The following situations could hinder your child from being admitted to DJJ establishments:

  1. The child risks being convicted of a violent crime that carries a lifelong sentence or a term that lasts past the offender's fifteenth birthday.
  2. The juvenile risks being found guilty of a direct-file offense.
  3. The minor is found guilty of a serious crime that took place while they were at least sixteen years old.

If your child is a court-appointed ward minor and is convicted of a WIC 707b violation or a sex crime, the judge will often order that your child be placed in a DJJ center.

The following are a few examples of common violations that could result in a Division of Juvenile Justice Center detention:

  • Robbery

Robbery among minors is common. Unfortunately, they are unaware of the seriousness of the repercussions that come with this crime. Robbery is defined by California PC 211 as taking another individual's property while they are present and using violence or force. A child could be arrested and charged with robbery in juvenile court if they enter another person's property to steal their belongings by causing fear or harm.

A judge may send a minor who has been charged with robbery in a juvenile court to a detention facility run by the DJJ if the juvenile case is successful. You shouldn't take the issue lightly if your minor is charged with robbery. After finding out about their arrest, your first move should be to seek legal counsel.

  • Arson

Arson is considered a serious crime under California law since it can cause significant property damage and even death. This offense is defined under PC 415 as the malicious and intentional burning of property, structures, or other objects. At the sentencing hearing, the prosecutor has to demonstrate that the juvenile intentionally set fire to the building or other property.

Even something as basic as burning a piece of firewood could result in arson charges. The juvenile can be included in the DJJ system if the judge upholds the motion for arson. Furthermore, your child will have to be registered as an arsonist.

  • Rape

This offense occurs when someone forces another individual into having unwanted sexual intercourse using coercion, deception, or threats. Sex-related crimes are viewed as offenses of the highest moral level. Therefore, the most stringent type of punishment available under the juvenile justice system—incarceration in a DJJ detention facility—will be issued if a juvenile case for rape charges is sustained. Juveniles frequently commit rape against other younger minors.

The prosecution has to demonstrate the following during the disposition hearing in juvenile court:

  1. The minor engaged in sexual activity with another individual.
  2. The sexual activity was not consensual.
  3. The act was carried out by the minor using violence, force, or threats of causing bodily harm.

The court can uphold the juvenile motion and place the minor in DJJ detention if all the necessary elements are demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt. Furthermore, a sustained juvenile rape petition could result in a lifetime registration as a sex offender.

  • Murder

Minors accused of murder usually appear before adult courts, where they run the risk of being found guilty and serving time behind bars. In some cases, a juvenile can be prosecuted and convicted in an adult court yet be incarcerated in a DJJ institution until the age of 18.

Duration of Detention in a DJJ Facility

The court determines a maximum period that the minor has to remain in the detention facility before the magistrate grants a request to place the youngster in a DJJ center. A juvenile cannot serve a longer time in a DJJ facility than a person of legal age serving a similar sentence in prison or jail, according to California law. The magistrate will take the juvenile's criminal history and the gravity of the crimes into account when determining the duration of the minor's detention.

If the minor is sentenced to the DJJ system for a crime that is not covered under WIC 707b, they would probably be freed after 2 years or when they turn 21 years old. If the juvenile was indicted for a felony for a robbery, murder, or rape, you could expect them to be discharged when they reach the age of 21 or after serving 2 years in prison. Minors who perpetrate offenses that would carry a term of over 7 years will be held in the DJJ facility until they attain the age of 25 or two years later, whichever comes first.

A juvenile can be sentenced to parole by The Board of Juvenile Hearings (BJH) after having been discharged from DJJ custody. All of the following fall under the BJH's discretion:

  1. Monitoring the juvenile.
  2. Preparing annual evaluations.
  3. Conducting release hearings.
  4. Run the DJJ probation proceedings.

The BJH will look into the matter and set a date for considering parole 45 days after the individual in question has served time in a DJJ facility. Every year, while your minor is housed at DJJ, the BJH will evaluate the case to see if the current court orders need to be changed.

California's Alternative Juvenile Dispositions

Aside from DJJ confinement, the court can order a minor to serve one of the various juvenile dispositions following a sustained juvenile case. The court will decide on the best route to take for the juvenile's case depending on the facts during the hearing, which comes after the trial.

Some of the non-JJ disposition alternatives include:

Detention in Adult Detention Centers

California law treats juvenile offenders differently than it treats adult offenders. The worst possible outcome for your minor after a successful petition for a juvenile court hearing is detention at a DJJ facility. However, there are several circumstances in which your minor can be charged as an adult and found guilty.

The juvenile court could try to send an individual between the ages of fourteen and seventeen who has committed a major felony crime to an adult court. Before your minor is charged with a California crime as an adult, the court would hold a fitness hearing to determine his or her suitability. The purpose of a fitness hearing is to ascertain whether a child will gain from the options available in the juvenile justice system.

Before approving a minor's transfer to adult court, the magistrate frequently takes the following factors into account:

  • The level of sophistication the young offender displayed while committing the offense.
  • The minor's criminal record.
  • Whether a minor can be rehabilitated for their crimes before the juvenile court's authority expires.
  • The results of prior rehabilitative attempts.
  • The gravity of the purported crimes.

If the minor is a repeat offender fighting serious felony charges, he or she could be charged in an adult court. If found guilty of the offense at trial, a minor will be sentenced to jail time and pay hefty fines.

Formal Probation Sentence at Home or Camp

Your child could face a formal probation sentence if the juvenile justice system decides to make them the court's ward. Minors have the option of completing their formal probation in a camp or at home.

The major reason for placing juveniles in camps is to:

  • Reintegrate the minor back into society.
  • Prepare for the child's reunion with their loved ones.
  • Encourage the growth of the child's social and behavioral skills.

At a probation camp, your child receives training in mental health, therapy, and educational programs. Depending on the specifics of the juvenile's case, placement in a probation camp could last for between three and six months.

If the juvenile court decides that your residence setting is beneficial to the minor's rehabilitation, the juvenile could be obligated to complete their probation term at home.

A juvenile offender is required to adhere to the following probation requirements:

  • Mandatory enrollment in school.
  • Community service.
  • Curfew restrictions.
  • Alcohol and drug rehabilitation.
  • Avoid associations with certain individuals.
  • Random drug testing.

Informal Probation

Welfare and Institutions Code (WIC) 725 allows for informal probation and diversion programs in cases involving minors where the offense is not considered very serious. When the prosecution presses criminal charges against a minor in juvenile court, the allegations would be put on hold. The minor wouldn't be required to admit responsibility.

This allows the minor another chance to correct their delinquent behavior. The typical terms of juvenile informal probation, which can last for as long as six months, include curfew limits and regular school attendance.

Your child's case could be transferred to probation before the filing of charges under WIC 654. The juvenile's case could be dropped if they successfully finish probation and follow all of the judge's requirements.

Placement in Foster Care

If an appeal filed on behalf of a minor is granted, the court could order appropriate changes to be made to the child's environment. In some cases, the judge would order that your child be taken away from your residence and transferred to foster care.

Foster care placement could be suitable in the following situations:

  • You are unable to meet the child's educational and maintenance needs.
  • Your minor has a habit of constantly missing school.
  • Your household setting is not favorable to the minor's rehabilitation, and their well-being will compel their relocation.

Your minor would be placed in a foster home, group home, or with suitable members of an extended family, depending on the probation officer's evaluation.

Deferred Entry of Judgment

This is another sentence option that a minor can receive following a sustained California juvenile petition. The DEJ demands that the juvenile acknowledge their guilt in the charges and complete the deferred entry of the judgment program in exchange for the allegations being dismissed. DEJ is often limited to a period of one year, and it applies to first-time defendants facing accusations for less serious crimes.

If a minor faces incarceration in DJJ, a qualified criminal lawyer can help navigate the minor through the proceedings to obtain a less serious outcome.

Juvenile Appeal

A juvenile delinquent, like an adult perpetrator, has the right to appeal the decision of a juvenile court. Detention in a DJJ facility can be emotionally draining for your child. Spending time with family is essential for a child's healthy growth and development. If you're unhappy with the ruling of the court regarding placing your minor in a DJJ facility, your minor could file an appeal. Appeals for juvenile lawsuits tend to focus on legal errors made by prosecutors, dissatisfaction with the case's result, or a disregard for the rights of the juvenile in the proceedings.

The following rights apply to minors during arrests and other procedures leading to detention in the DJJ correctional facility:

  • A right to be apprehended only when there's probable cause to do so.
  • A right to know what they were charged with after being arrested.
  • The right to legal counsel.
  • They are entitled to have their allegations established beyond any reasonable doubt before being sentenced to a DJJ facility.

An appeal of the court's verdict regarding placing the juvenile in DJJ could be possible if one of the rights were violated. When challenging a California juvenile case, the juvenile is required to submit a notice appealing the petition within 60 days of the court's order.

When additional proof in your minor's favor is discovered, your child's lawyer could encourage you to file an appeal. If your appeal prevails, the court could choose to reverse the DJJ disposition and issue a lesser sentence, such as probation or delayed judgment. If you find more proof that proves the minor wasn't guilty of the claimed acts, the charges could be withdrawn.

Find a Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me

A sustained petition in juvenile court can have serious implications, including confinement by the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). Although the juvenile justice system is typically more lenient than the adult court system, the consequences can still be significant. If your child has been arrested, it is crucial to consult with an experienced criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible.

At Michele Ferroni Pasadena Criminal Attorney Law Firm, we understand the distressing nature of having thoughts about your child being arrested as a minor and potentially facing a life-altering sentence, such as being placed at a DJJ facility. Our team of experienced lawyers is dedicated to providing the necessary legal counsel and representation for minors facing juvenile court cases in Pasadena, CA. If you need any assistance, feel free to call us at 626-628-0564.