Learning that your child has been arrested is a difficult situation to comprehend. Arrests can take a toll on your child’s mental and emotional well-being. Minors who violate California law are charged and taken through the juvenile justice system for rehabilitation. The juvenile court exercises jurisdiction over individuals under the age of eighteen.

Senate Bill 439 is a bill that was made into law in 2018, and it seeks to remove children under twelve from juvenile court jurisdiction. The reasoning behind SB 439 is that taking a child under twelve through the juvenile court system could impact their educational and mental development.

Under the new laws, the court, society, and law enforcement must find alternative ways to deal with offenders who do not fall under juvenile court jurisdiction. The alternative measures will ensure the minor’s protection while safeguarding society. Understanding the impact of SB 439 on your child’s case is important for ensuring their best interests.

If your child faces an arrest and charges in Long Beach, CA, you will benefit from the expert legal guidance we offer at California Criminal Lawyer Group.

Overview of Senate Bill 439

Children commit crimes as much as adults throughout the United States. The juvenile court system handles cases for crimes committed by children under eighteen years old. Instead of punishment for minors, the juvenile court imposes dispositions geared towards rehabilitating the offender and encouraging them to be law-abiding citizens.

A child as young as ten years old can be arrested for committing a serious offense. The difference between adults and minors is that the minor's brain is still developing. Thus, they cannot be held completely liable for their actions.

Although the juvenile court dispositions focus on education and rehabilitation, some could be too harsh for young offenders under twelve. Interactions with the juvenile system can impact their mental and emotional development. In 2018, Senate Bill 439 was signed into law. This bill prevents the juvenile court from having jurisdiction over minors under the age of twelve.

Minors under twelve years old will only be charged in juvenile court if they face an arrest for serious crimes like murder, arson, manslaughter, carjacking, rape, or sodomy. The law does not name the individuals responsible for formulating alternative rehabilitative measures.

Rationale Behind Senate Bill 439

The reasoning behind SB was to change the juvenile court system and remove its jurisdiction over children under twelve years of age. The bill was passed on the rationale that:

  • Early involvement with the justice system can damage a child’s development. When a child faces juvenile charges, and the court sustains their petition, the child’s criminal record will be stained. A juvenile criminal record can impact your child’s ability to enroll in a good college or receive government financing.
  • Interacting with law enforcement and juvenile justice can propel your child into future criminal acts. While your child is detained at the juvenile hall or in different placements, they could interact with other juvenile offenders, fueling their delinquency. Minors who have faced juvenile court charges are likelier to break the law than adults.
  • Waste of government resources. Minors under twelve may be unable to comprehend the nature of their crime and the aim of the dispositions used. Putting these children through the justice system will be a waste of resources. Instead, age-appropriate measures can be taken with the child.

Implementation Guidelines for Senate Bill 439

After SB 439, minors under twelve can no longer face the juvenile court system and dispositions. Instead, the juvenile court and law enforcement officers must follow to ensure the child's well-being and community safety.

Welfare and Institutions Code 602.1 outlines the following SB 439 implementation guidelines:

  • Allowing the minor to remain in the parents’ custody while ensuring that they do not pose a threat to the safety of others.
  • Approaches to juvenile rehabilitation must be less restrictive. This means that juvenile offenders under twelve cannot be detained.
  • Interventions to address the child’s delinquency should be aimed at education, counseling, and protection.

Juvenile Court Process After Senate Bill 439

While minors under twelve can no longer be tried under the juvenile justice system, the court process for juvenile criminal cases remains. If your child is over twelve years old or they do not qualify for the Senate Bill 439 Exception, their juvenile case will follow this process:

Arrest and Booking

Like adults, minors commit a wide range of offenses in California. When a law enforcement officer suspects that your child has committed a crime, there are several things they can do, including:

  • Detention in the juvenile hall. If your child is a habitual offender or is arrested for a serious crime, the arresting officer will take them to the juvenile hall, where they are booked and detained. Booking, in this case, involves recording identification information and photographing the juvenile offender.
  • Cite and release the minor. With a citation release, the child is set free to go home. However, the officer will issue a notification that requires the minor to appear in juvenile court. A police officer can cite and release a minor when the child has committed a minor offense.

Detention Hearing

When an adult offender is arrested and detained in California, they can post bail and secure a release while their case is pending. Juveniles do not have a constitutional right to bail. The juvenile court judge decides whether or not to release them at a detention hearing. The detention hearing will be your child’s first court appearance.

Most juvenile offenders are released to go home with a pending trial. However, the court may order your child to be detained in the juvenile hall under the following circumstances:

  • The minor is a flight risk. When a minor is released from juvenile detention with a pending case, the court expects them to return for their juvenile court proceedings. Unfortunately, some juvenile offenders view this as an opportunity to escape liability for their crimes. If the juvenile court determines that your child is a high flight risk, they could be detained in the juvenile hall.
  • Your child is a repeat offender. The juvenile court judge will be reluctant to release a minor from juvenile hall if they have an extensive criminal history.
  • Community safety. Sometimes, minors as young as thirteen can be charged with committing violent crimes like murder and aggravated assault. The court recognizes that a child facing charges for such an offense could be a threat to the safety of others. Your child will only be released from juvenile detention if they do not pose a threat to themselves or others.
  • Your ability to supervise the minor. Some children's home and community environments contribute significantly to their delinquency. While the court wants each child to remain with their parents, there are times when allowing the delinquent to return home will not be in their best interests. In this case, the minor will remain in the juvenile hall.

Adjudication Hearing

In juvenile cases, the adjudication hearing serves as a trial for the offenders. Before this hearing, your child will have a chance to admit or deny the allegations against them. At the adjudication hearing, the judge will listen to testimony from the prosecution and arguments from your child’s defense attorney.

The juvenile offender has the right to review the evidence presented against them and cross-examine the witnesses, including the arresting officer. The judge will sustain or dismiss the juvenile petition when the adjudication hearing ends.

Disposition Hearing

If the judge sustains the juvenile petition against your child, a disposition hearing will be held to determine the means of rehabilitation for the offender. Unlike in adult cases, where a conviction results in incarceration, the dispositions in juvenile court are aimed at the education, treatment, and rehabilitation of minors.

Some dispositions include probation, foster care placement, and deferred judgment entry. The reasoning behind SB 439 is that these dispositions may not be appropriate for children under twelve years of age. This is because these minors may lack the mental capacity to comprehend the nature of their acts and deal with the legal system.

Instances When Your Child Will Not Be Protected by Senate Bill 439

After the enactment of SB 439, minors under twelve years will not be charged in juvenile court. Instead, society and the court system must develop and adopt other rehabilitative techniques to handle juvenile offenders under the age of twelve. This offender’s protection for your young child from the harsh interactions with law enforcement officers and the juvenile court system.

However, there are instances when SB 439 will not apply to your child’s case, regardless of their age bracket. When a minor under the age of twelve commits any of these offenses, they cannot be protected by SB 439's age restrictions:


California PC 187 makes it an offense to kill another person intentionally. A juvenile will be arrested and charged with murder if they cause another person's death under these circumstances:

  • Lying in wait
  • Premeditation
  • During the commission of another felony

Murder is a serious offense, even when a young child commits it. For adult offenders, a murder conviction can result in a prison sentence ranging from twenty-five years to life imprisonment.

If your child is charged with murder, they will face the full length of the juvenile court system without consideration of SB 439. Sometimes, the juvenile court may lack the necessary resources to rehabilitate the child. In this case, the juvenile can be tried as an adult.


Under California law, sodomy is an offense involving non-consensual contact between the penis of one person and the anus of another individual. A child who engages in such an act will face arrest and criminal charges under PC 286. Like rape, sodomy is a serious offense that has life-changing consequences. Regardless of the offender’s age, a minor arrested for sodomy will be charged in juvenile court.

Forced Oral Copulation

California PC 287 makes it illegal to engage in oral sex with another person using force, fear, or threats. In most cases, a minor will be arrested and charged with this offense for engaging in oral sex with a younger child. Any slight contact between the mouth and genitals of another person can attract a conviction when both parties do not consent to the act.

While early interaction between a young child and the juvenile justice system can harm the child’s development, a child who violates California PC 287 will face the juvenile court process and disposition. After a sustained juvenile petition for forced oral copulation, your child could face harsh punishments like detention at the Division of Juvenile Justice.


Taking a vehicle from another person forcefully will attract an arrest and carjacking charges under PC 215. Carjacking is a serious felony offense that both minors and adults can commit. When your child is arrested and charged under this statute, their age will not allow them to escape the juvenile justice system.

The elements that will lead to a sustained juvenile petition for carjacking include:

  • A person had possession of a vehicle.
  • The minor took the vehicle from the other person’s immediate presence.
  • The vehicle was taken against the victim’s will.
  • The juvenile intended to deprive the victim of temporary or permanent possession of the vehicle.

After a sustained juvenile petition under this statute, the minor could face a harsh disposition like DJJ detention or formal probation.

Rights of Minors After Senate Bill 439

If your child is over twelve years old or charged with committing a serious and violent offense, they will be processed in juvenile court. For minors who are not protected by SB 439 age restrictions, the following legal rights will apply to their case:

Law Enforcement Officers Must Have a Probable Cause for an Arrest

Police officers must comply with the Fifth Amendment when dealing with juvenile offenders. For this reason, the law enforcement officer must have probable cause to believe that a minor was committing a crime before their arrest. The rules on probable cause will be less restrictive when school officials note the delinquent acts.

If the school reasonably suspects your child is violating the law, they can search the child and turn the evidence over to the police for further investigation.

Right to a Notice of Charges

An arrest can be a traumatizing experience for a child. If the minor is not released with a citation or a warning, they must be notified of the charges the prosecution files against them. This makes it easy for the juvenile to discuss their case with their attorney and notify their parents or guardians.

Right to a Phone call

Not knowing the whereabouts of your child is stressful. Therefore, your child is entitled to at least one phone call after arrest and booking into the juvenile hall. With this right, the child can contact the parents or an attorney for guidance.

Privilege Against Self Incrimination

When an adult faces an arrest, they are notified that anything they say could be used against them in court. However, minors enjoy the privilege against self-incrimination. Therefore, the information your child gives law enforcement officers cannot be used against them.

Law enforcement officers must provide a Miranda warning when they question your child. This notifies the child of their right to remain silent until an attorney is present. If law enforcement officers ignore your child’s requests to remain silent, the information provided by the child will be inadmissible in court.

Right to Legal Representation

Implementing Senate Bill 439 has ensured that your child has a right to legal guidance. If your child is still eligible for the juvenile court process, they have the right to have a lawyer present during interrogation and for representation in juvenile court. If your child is a first-time offender, dealing with law enforcement officers and going through the court system can take a toll on them.

Therefore, having a skilled criminal defense lawyer by your child’s side during these difficult times could make the process easier. Even when your child has already been charged in juvenile court, a knowledgeable attorney may be able to convince the court that the child is too young to undergo the process. In this case, the child may be subject to alternative rehabilitation measures under SB 439.

Right to Cross-Examine and Confront Witnesses

Although the juvenile adjudication hearing is not similar to a criminal trial, your child’s attorney can cross-examine the witnesses presented by the prosecution to testify against the minor. By doing this, the lawyer can attack and discredit the evidence to avoid a sustained juvenile petition.

Right to Have Their Charges Proven Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

Minors do not face a conviction in juvenile court. Instead, the judge will dismiss or sustain the juvenile petition. The court will sustain the petition against your child if the judge is convinced that the minor committed the alleged offense. Before a petition can be sustained, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the child engaged in a criminal act.

No Right to Bail

Minors facing charges in juvenile court do not have a right to secure a bail release. Instead, the minor will attend a detention hearing where the judge decides whether the child is eligible for release with a pending case. When a minor is released after the detention hearing, you will not need to make a monetary commitment to the court.

Senate Bill 439 and Transfer Hearings

Senate Bill 439 recognizes that charging minors under the age of twelve in juvenile court can devastate your child. This is because the child may lack the capacity to comprehend the juvenile court process and the consequences of their acts. Even after passing this bill, a minor can still be charged as an adult in California.

Charging a minor as an adult involves the transfer of the child from the juvenile justice system to criminal court. A minor may be eligible for transfer to adult court if they commit a serious offense and are over fifteen years old. Some of the factors that impact the judge’s decision to transfer your child to adult court include:

  • The child’s criminal record. Each arrest that your child faces will be recorded in their criminal record. Being a repeat offender may indicate your child’s inability to be rehabilitated. In this case, the juvenile court can transfer the minor into adult court.
  • The severity of the underlying crime. The serious crimes that cause a child to be exempted by SB 439 could cause a child over fifteen years old to be charged as an adult.
  • Level of criminal sophistication. If your child exhibited high sophistication when committing the crime or evading an arrest, they could be charged and convicted in adult court.
  • Rehabilitation programs are available in juvenile court. Different programs are available in juvenile courts for the rehabilitation of offenders. If a minor cannot rehabilitate with available juvenile dispositions, they will be transferred to adult court, where they can face a conviction and incarceration.

Learning that the juvenile court seeks to transfer your child to adult court can devastate you and your family. During the transfer hearing, your child’s attorney can convince the court to retain the child in the juvenile justice system.

Find a Competent Pasadena Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

Before the enactment of Senate Bill 439, juvenile delinquents between the ages of twelve and seventeen were handled in the juvenile court system. The process in juvenile court starts with an arrest and booking into the juvenile hall. The minor will then undergo multiple juvenile court proceedings before the judge imposes a disposition for rehabilitation.

In their developmental process, children make mistakes, some of which violate the law. However, these mistakes should not be a reason for the juvenile court system to impose harsh measures against minors. A child’s early interactions with law enforcement officers and the juvenile court system can harm their growth and overall well-being.

Senate Bill 439 was adopted to ensure that children under twelve do not go through the juvenile court process. Instead, law enforcement and the court must adopt other forms of rehabilitation to help protect the child’s wellbeing.

At the California Criminal Lawyer Group, we view your child as a developing member of society. We work hard to protect the child’s rights and ensure the best possible outcome for their case. We serve clients seeking legal guidance and representation to navigate juvenile cases in Long Beach, CA. Call us at 562-966-8120 to discuss your case.