The juvenile delinquency court adjudicates misdemeanor and felony cases committed by minors. The court also adjudicates status crimes like truancy and curfew violations. Both the juvenile delinquency court and the informal juvenile court are under the supervision of the juvenile division. The juvenile delinquency court exercises jurisdiction over minors aged 12 to 17 and certain minors below 12 years. A minor will need an attorney who is experienced with juvenile delinquency issues to help them navigate the case. If you are in the Pasadena area, we invite you to contact us at Michele Ferroni Pasadena Criminal Attorney Law Firm so that we can help you go through the process.

Juvenile Delinquency Court Is Not Part Of The California Criminal Law System

Most people make a wrong assumption that the juvenile delinquency court is part of the California criminal law system, but this is not the case. Instead, it is part of the civil law system that mainly adjudicates the cases. The California Welfare and Institutions Code section 602 governs delinquency proceedings; thus, juvenile delinquency proceedings are also known as section 602 proceedings. Like the adult court system, judges hear cases in juvenile delinquency courts.

Defense attorneys and prosecutors are present in the juvenile delinquency court, but the courts don't have juries. All the proceedings in the juvenile court are confidential. On September 30, 2018, Jerry Brown, the then California Governor, signed into law SB439. According to this bill, the juvenile court can only exercise jurisdiction over an offender below 12 years if the offender has committed a serious crime like murder, sodomy, rape, oral copulation, violence, sexual penetration by force, or threat of significant bodily injury. Under normal circumstances, the juvenile court does not prosecute minors below 12 years.

Understanding The Juvenile Court Language

The lingo (language) commonly used in the juvenile court is distinct from that used in the adult court system. Unlike in the adult court system, a juvenile judge doesn’t find a minor guilty or innocent. Instead, if the juvenile judge establishes beyond a reasonable doubt that a minor committed the alleged crime, the judge sustains the petition against the minor.

In the juvenile court, several dispositions (sentences) are available. Informal probation is common, mainly for first-time offenders or minors who commit minor offenses. For informal probation, the offender doesn't admit to the allegations of wrongdoing. Upon completing the informal probation, the court suspends all the charges against the minor.

The most severe disposition under the juvenile system is a commitment to the CYA (California Youth Authority). Currently, the CYA is called the Division of Juvenile Justice. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations houses the CYA. However, many people still use the term CYA while referring to the Division of Juvenile Justice. Sometimes, the juvenile delinquency court judge may declare a minor a ward of the court.

When the judge declares a minor a ward of the court, it means that the court takes over the primary responsibility for handling and treating the youth. However, even if a juvenile is a ward of the court, they could still serve their probation from home. In addition, the court may place the youth in a group home, foster care, or a county probation camp in some other cases.

The Juvenile Court Aims To Rehabilitate The Minor

Unlike the adult court system that aims to punish offenders, the juvenile delinquency court system seeks to rehabilitate offenders. When an adult violates the law, the court imposes hefty fines or sends the adult to jail to punish them. However, when a child breaks the law, the juvenile court places them on probation or a juvenile camp to rehabilitate them. The juvenile court system aims at helping offenders to access treatment, education, and other services that they need to enable them to move past their wrongdoings, reunite with their families, and transition into responsible citizens.

The Minor Doesn't Get Off Without Punishment

You should not assume that just because the goal of the juvenile court system is to rehabilitate the child means that the child will get off without punishment after violating the law. The court may impose sanctions on the minor for their wrongful behavior. However, the sanctions are not meant for retribution but to rehabilitate the child. Some of the sanctions may include:

  • Paying fines or restitution to the victim
  • The court may require the minor to engage in community service
  • Placing the child in a foster home
  • The court may require the minor to attend a victim impact class
  • Parole probation conditions
  • Commitment to the CYA
  • Committing the child to a camp, juvenile hall, or ranch

Minors Tried In The Juvenile Court System

Usually, the juvenile court tries offenders below 18 years but older than 12 years. However, those below 18 years could be tried in adult court in some circumstances. According to the California WIC 602, all minors below 18 years are tried in juvenile court. While considering whether to try a minor in a juvenile court, the court considers the minor's age when committing the crime. If, for example, a person commits an offense when below 17 years but is not discovered until 20 years, the case could still be handled in the juvenile court.

Minors Below 18 Years Tried In Adult Court

If a minor 16 years and above commits a section 707(b) crime, they could be tried under the adult court system. The minor will be subject to a transfer hearing. When deciding whether to transfer a juvenile offender to the adult court, the judge considers the following factors:

  • The level of criminal sophistication the offender exhibits
  • Whether it is possible to rehabilitate the offender before the expiration of the juvenile court jurisdiction
  • The offender’s previous delinquent history
  • Whether the earlier attempts to rehabilitate the minor were successful
  • The gravity and the circumstances of the offense the minor commits

If an offender is below 16 years, they cannot be transferred to the adult court unless they commit a crime under W & I code 707(b). Crimes listed under the W & I 707(b) are:

  • Murder
  • Robbery
  • Arson on an inhabited structure or arson causing significant bodily injury
  • Sodomy by force
  • Rape by force
  • Kidnapping for ransom
  • Attempted murder
  • Carjacking
  • Aggravated mayhem
  • Torture
  • Kidnapping for sexual assault, among others

The prosecutor can use their discretion to determine whether a minor should be subject to a transfer hearing. They will then have a judge decide whether a transfer hearing should be affected. The termination of the juvenile jurisdiction occurs when a minor reaches 21 years. However, the jurisdiction could extend up to 25 years if the minor commits a 707(b) crime and is committed to the CYA.

Understanding The Juvenile Delinquency Court Process

The process usually begins with the arrest of the juvenile offender. The police may release the offender with a simple reprimand in some cases. The police may also decide to hand the offender to the county probation department. The probation officer may file a petition against the minor or detain them in a juvenile hall. A petition filed against a juvenile offender is similar to a criminal complaint filed against a defendant in adult court. The juvenile court process contains the following hearings:

Detention Hearing

It involves determining if the offender should remain in the juvenile hall awaiting the resolution of their case. A detention hearing is the first hearing a minor will have after an arrest. It is essential for a child who faces criminal charges to seek legal representation from the first hearing. An attorney will increase a minor's chance of getting a favorable outcome at the detention hearing. If the youth loses at the hearing, they will likely have to remain in the juvenile hall until their case is resolved. An attorney knows the best arguments to employ to ensure that a minor is released awaiting other hearings.

One main difference between the juvenile justice system and the adult court system is entitled to bail. Unlike adults, minors do not have a right to bail. That's why it is crucial to have a persuasive attorney represent the minor during the detention hearing to ensure the minor's release.

Transfer Hearing

It involves determining if the case should be handled in the juvenile court or transferred to the adult court. The transfer hearing is also known as the fitness hearing. If the judge decides that the child is fit for the juvenile court, the case stays in the juvenile court. If not, the case is transferred to the adult court. In most cases, minors who commit crimes in California are tried under the juvenile justice system. However, the judge may order the minor to be prosecuted in adult court upon committing certain crimes. Whether or not a child is transferred to the adult court doesn't solely depend on the prosecutor's decision. Instead, it depends on the judge's ruling during the transfer hearing.

The prosecutor can initiate a transfer hearing under the following circumstances:

  • When a minor commits a felony or a crime under W&I Code 707(b) and the child is 16 years or older
  • When the child is 14 or 15 years old and commits a crime listed under W&I Code 707 (b), they are not apprehended until they reach 18 years.

If the youth loses during the transfer hearing, they will be sent to the adult court. However, the child can appeal the transfer hearing outcome by filing a petition. The juvenile should file the petition within 20 days from their first arraignment on the allegations that led to the transfer.

Adjudication Hearing

This is similar to a trial in the adult court system. The adjudication hearing occurs in front of a judge instead of a jury. Many of the rules that apply during the trial in an adult court also apply during the adjudication hearing in the juvenile court. The main difference is that, unlike an adult court, juries are not present in the juvenile court. Both sides (the prosecutor and the juvenile offender) can present their evidence and legal arguments during the adjudication hearing.  The prosecutor must prove that the youth committed the alleged crime beyond a reasonable doubt.

If the judge establishes that the youth violated the law, they sustain the petition against the child. However, the judge may also feel that the evidence against the youth is insufficient. In this case, the judge may decide that the allegations against the child are not true, thus failing to sustain the petition.

During an adjudication hearing, the juvenile has an opportunity to defend themselves. The child can:

  • Present a defense
  • Subpoena witnesses
  • The juvenile has a right against self-incrimination; the minor can choose to testify or not
  • The child has a right to legal counsel
  • The prosecutor must prove that the minor committed the alleged crime beyond a reasonable doubt.

If the juvenile is in custody, the law states that the hearing must occur within 15 days from when the offender was detained. However, court days do not include holidays and weekends. If the child is not in custody, the timeline for the adjudication hearing is longer. While out of custody, the hearing should occur within 30 calendar days from the filing of the petition. These timelines can be extended, provided a good cause for the extension exists. The juvenile must also consent to the delay or extension.

Disposition Hearing

If the juvenile judge sustains a petition against the offender, the child gets sentenced during the disposition hearing. The law outlines the procedures and the timelines for how and when the hearings should occur. At different stages of the juvenile court system, the defense attorney and the prosecutor may come to a resolution and choose to go directly to the disposition hearing. If an error occurs during any of these hearings, the minor is entitled to a re-hearing. In addition, the juvenile’s parents are allowed to attend any of the hearings.

When issuing a ruling during the disposition hearing, the judge considers several factors:

  • The juvenile’s age
  • The gravity and the circumstances of the crime
  • The juvenile’s previous criminal history

If the minor fails to confess or plead guilty, the judge cannot penalize them. However, the juvenile judge will consider whether the child testified untruthfully, thus violating the perjury laws.

The disposition hearing can occur immediately after the adjudication hearing, provided the judge has all the information they need. However, the hearing may be postponed, especially if the judge is still waiting for the social study report from the probation officer.

The disposition hearing may also delay if the minor has a mental disorder. In this case, the judge will first order a psychological evaluation before giving a ruling. The victim has a right to attend the disposition hearing. The victim can speak at the hearing and make a written victim impact statement. The juvenile also has a right to testify at the disposition hearing.

The Possible Rulings In A Juvenile Court

Several dispositions (sentencing options) are available under the juvenile justice system:

Informal Probation

The offender may be eligible for informal probation or diversion under W & I code 654 or W & I code 725. Informal probation is mainly available to first-time offenders who commit non-violent crimes like vandalism and trespassing. Under the W&I Section 654 Diversion, a juvenile's case is diverted to probation before a petition filing occurs. In juvenile court, cases usually granted this diversion include minor offenses like shoplifting and petty theft. Given the low-level nature of these crimes, the California juvenile defense attorneys do their best to get diversion for these crimes. This means that the juvenile offender can avoid a petition filing or have their charges dismissed upon completing probation. Usually, the probation officer creates a program of six months for the minor. The program mainly involves education and counseling. If the minor fails to cooperate, the probation officer can still initiate a probation proceeding against the minor in a juvenile court.

725 Informal Probation

The main difference between Welfare and Institutions Code section 654 probation and Welfare and Institutions Code section 725 informal probation is that for the 725, a petition has already been filed against the minor. However, the juvenile court puts the petition on hold and sends the minor on probation to give them a second chance. The offender doesn't admit guilt and provided they complete probation and honors all the probation conditions, the charges against them are dismissed. Under the Welfare and Institutions Code 725 informal probation, some of the probation conditions include attending school counseling for both the child and their parent or guardian. Other possible probation conditions are drug testing and paying restitution to the victim. The 725 informal probation typically lasts for six months.

Deferred Entry of Judgment (DEJ)

Commonly abbreviated as DEJ, the deferred entry of judgment under W & I code 790 requires the child to admit to the petition allegations. Under the DEJ program, all the charges against the minor are dismissed upon completing the DEJ program. The DEJ program is available to juvenile offenders who commit first-time felonies, which are not listed under section 707(b) crimes.

Formal Probation in Home or Camp

The juvenile court may declare a juvenile a ward of the court and sentence them to probation. Even if a child is a ward of the court, they can still complete their probation at home. In other instances, the court will subject a ward of the court to a suitable placement in a group home or a relative’s home. Emotionally disturbed minors are usually placed in level 14 group homes.

Level 14 group homes offer counseling and psychiatric services to emotionally disturbed youths. In California's current foster home system, Level 14 group homes are the most restrictive. The W&I Code 5600.3 defines seriously emotionally disturbed youths as youths below 18 years who suffer from a primary mental disorder. Mental illness should not result from development use disorder or substance use disorder. In addition to placement in Level 14 group homes, children with mental disorders may also be placed in other suitable facilities like:

  • Skilled nursing facilities
  • Community treatment facilities
  • Psychiatric health facilities

It's important to note that psychiatric facilities are not meant for mentally-impaired youths. Most of the juveniles in these facilities have an IQ of 70 and above.

While on formal probation at home or camp, the youths honor specific probation terms. The typical probation terms are:

  • Curfew restrictions
  • Compulsory school attendance
  • Community service
  • Not hanging out with certain people
  • Substance abuse counseling
  • Paying restitution to the victim
  • Graffiti removal

If a youth needs a greater level of structure, the juvenile court may send the minor to a probation camp for three to one year. There are around seventy probation camps in California. Most of the centers are dormitory-based. While on campus, the minors attend education & treatment programs. Other forms of probation camps also exist in California, including wilderness & fire camps; these insist on firefighting and forestry training. Other camps include military boot camps and Missouri model camps.

Commitment To The California Youth Authority (CYA)

The most serious punishment that a child can face apart from adult prison is a commitment to the CYA. For example, a child is likely to be sent to the CYA upon committing a 707 (b) offense or if the minor commits a crime that requires registration as a sex offender.

The Possible Consequences Of Juvenile Adjudication

Just like an adult conviction, juvenile adjudication could follow a child into their future and affect many areas of their lives. According to the California Three Strikes law, a sustained petition (juvenile conviction) could count as a strike. While making sentencing and probation decisions, the adult court usually considers previous juvenile adjudications.

A juvenile adjudication could subject a minor to registration as a sex offender. It could also lead to a minor’s confinement as a sexually violent predator, commonly abbreviated as an SVP.

In cases involving less serious juvenile convictions, the child may apply for sealing their juvenile records. For a child to qualify for sealing their juvenile records, they must fulfill all their sentencing requirements. The minor must also remain crime-free for a defined period.

Find A Criminal Lawyer Near Me

It can be traumatizing for a minor to withstand being handcuffed or going through challenging legal proceedings. Understanding the juvenile delinquency court and its functions can ease things up for the minor and their parents or guardians. We invite you to contact the Michele Ferroni Pasadena Criminal Attorney Law Firm at 626-628-0564 for more information on how the juvenile delinquency court works and legal representation in Pasadena, CA.