When your child becomes a ward of the court, the court takes over their responsibility and control. In California, when a youth commits an offense other than a simple violation of curfew, a judge can convict them and order the youth to become a ward of the court. In that case, you will have limited control over your child as the court takes over everything to do with them. In some cases, the court even removes the child from your custody.
It helps to know your rights as a parent and your child's rights once a court declares them a ward of the court. Working closely with a competent criminal lawyer will ensure that you follow the proper legal processes for a favorable outcome for you and your child. We will smoothen the legal process for you at Michele Ferroni Pasadena Criminal Attorney Law Firm. We will also fight alongside you to safeguard your legal rights if a court has declared your child a ward of the court in Pasadena.
Legal Meaning of Ward of the Court
It is not unusual for a minor (individuals below the legal age of 18) to commit a crime in California. Children go through a different justice system from adult offenders when it happens. State laws are pretty lenient on minors, as the juvenile justice system aims to correct and rehabilitate offenders instead of punishment. However, the juvenile justice system is not as straightforward as it seems. The minor's parents must go through several processes and abide by the juvenile court's decision. The judge who presides over juvenile cases has the final say on every matter.
When your child commits a crime, they face arrest, the same way as adult offenders. However, they appear before a judge in a court, as opposed to a criminal court for adult offenders. Minor offenders do not receive punishment for their crimes like adult offenders. In place of punishment, the judge recommends education, training, rehabilitation, and counseling to correct their behavior and improve their lives. Minor offenders deserve another chance to make better decisions when they become adults. We only have minor offenders facing trial and judgment in a criminal court in specific circumstances. For instance, a youth commits a severe felony like murder or rape.
Juvenile court cases are dealt with on a case-to-case basis. Not one issue is the same as the other. The judge considers all factors surrounding the minor offender, including their family life. If the court establishes a problem with a minor's upbringing and concludes that their upbringing could be the cause of their wayward behavior, it will make decisions that aim to better that minor's life. That could include the court taking over the responsibility and control of the minor without the help or intervention of the minor's family.
Judges in juvenile courts have total discretion in determining what will happen to minor offenders after going through all evidence presented in court. A judge can declare your child a ward if the court establishes that the minor is least likely to reform under your custody. In that case, the juvenile court takes over the responsibility and control of the minor. Your family will have limited control over the minor. While judges make these decisions in the children's best interest, it can be challenging for parents or guardians to let go of their loved ones.
Thus, wardship of the court is a serious matter. The court makes all decisions regarding your child, including where they live, what school they attend, and the treatment they should receive. California Welfare and Institutions Code 725(b) provides guidelines on when and how the court can make that decision. Here are various instances when a judge can declare a particular minor a ward of the court, transferring the child's responsibility and control over to the court:
- If a judge establishes that the minor's parents have failed to provide the necessities to the child, including maintenance, training, and education
- If the juvenile judge establishes that the youth has been on probation multiple times but has not reformed — juvenile judges expect some change when they place minor offenders on probation. The minor should at least show some change in their attitude and behavior. If the court has not achieved that, it could be time for significant changes.
- If the court realizes that the minor could be better off without their parents/guardians — the judge can make that decision if they suspect that the minor could be in danger or has minimal chances of changing their behavior and attitude while still living under their parent's guardianship.
When the judge makes that decision, the court makes decisions that will change the minor's life. For instance, the judge could sentence the minor to probation or confine them to the juvenile system.
You must be ready if you are a parent or guardian and your child is about to go through the juvenile system. Understand your and your child's rights so that you can defend yourself and your child when the time comes. The help of a skilled criminal lawyer goes a long way in ensuring that you are aware of your options to make better decisions.
What Court Wardship Means For Your Child
Being a ward of the court means that the primary responsibility of the child shifts from their parents or guardians to the juvenile court. The court will make all decisions concerning their life, including where they live, rehabilitation, and treatment services they will receive an education or training. But juvenile courts do not make these decisions randomly. The judge will consider several factors, including:
- The minor's age
- The gravity and circumstances of the crimes the minor allegedly committed
- Their record of delinquency
The wardship can last a specified period, through which the minor will be serving probation or until the judge issues a different directive on the matter. If the juvenile judge places the minor on probation, it could be supervised or unsupervised.
Unsupervised probation is when the minor is on probation without the involvement of the probation department. Sometimes the court places a minor under an officer's supervision to guarantee that they abide by the court-ordered probation conditions throughout the period. Without the supervision, the judge will set suitable and reasonable conditions that the minor must adhere to throughout the probation period.
When on supervised probation, the minor will be on constant watch of an officer, who will report to the court on the minor's progress. Some cases require the youth to have supervised visitation.
Here are crimes that could cause a juvenile court to place a ward of the court under supervised probation:
- Offenses listed under California WIC 707(b) as severe juvenile offenses, including rape, murder, arson, kidnapping, and robbery
- California burglary
- Possession of controlled drugs like cocaine, hallucinogens, opiates, and peyote
If the youth is a non-resident, the judge can order them to remain under the custody of their parents in another country. However, decisions like these are made only in the minor's best interests.
Probation Conditions for the Ward of the Court
When a court places a minor on probation, a judge must impose specific conditions that the offender must abide by during probation. The set conditions must be appropriate for the minor's age and particular to the offense committed. They must also align with the purpose of probation and the minor's needs. The aim of probation for minor offenders is to promote positive behavior and attitude for the young offender. Thus, probation conditions must discourage harmful conduct and attitude that can lead the youth to bad decision-making. Some terms and conditions your child can receive after being a ward of the court include:
- The minor must attend school and not violate the state's truancy laws — truancy laws require all minors from the age of six to eighteen to attend school. Children must acquire primary education within their districts at various elementary, middle, and high school levels.
- The minor will be subjected to a curfew if the court feels they should not be out of their house or in a public place during certain hours. Some curfews prohibit minors from staying out of their home after 10 pm or midnight on specific days.
- The judge could impose some driving restrictions for minors — minors in California can only operate a vehicle after meeting specific requirements, including receiving the necessary education and training. But, your child can receive more restrictions if they commit a serious or driving-related offense.
- The judge could limit the minor's association with some people — if it is evident that certain people are influencing your child negatively, limiting the child's association with those people could be for the minor's best interests. It will make it easier for the court to encourage positive behavior and attitude without the interference of specific individuals.
- The judge could also prohibit your child from taking part in gang-related acts.
- In some cases, the judge could require the minor to have a monitoring device for the court and probation officer to know the child's whereabouts at all times.
Additionally, the judge will order the youth and the parents to engage in programs that will help restore their relationship and enable them to overcome the challenges they have been through after the minor's involvement in a crime. For instance, the judge could recommend a counseling program that meets the exact needs of the youth and their parents.
Juvenile judges are particular when setting probation conditions for minor offenders. These conditions carry severe consequences after a violation. Thus, minors are encouraged to adhere to the set requirements to avoid additional consequences. In case the ward of the court violates one or more probation conditions, the prosecutor will file a petition in court, after which the judge will summon the minor for another hearing. The hearing will determine the course of action the court must take against the juvenile offender.
When a youth offender is sent on probation, a probation officer must prepare detailed reports about the minor's progress during the probation period. These reports will come in handy during the probation violation hearing. The child could have legal representation if the parents feel it is necessary. A lawyer will protect the child's rights from violation and ensure that the child's best interests are served. The lawyer will also gather and present evidence in court to defend the minor against the prosecutor's petition.
The basis of the hearing's outcome will be the evidence presented by the prosecutor and the child's legal counsel. From that, the judge can:
- Allow the youth to go home with a stern warning and let them continue serving their probation.
- Order the youth to participate in community service for a given period
- Order the youth to attend more programs as they continue serving their probation
- Require the youth to have a monitoring device for the court and probation department to know their whereabouts at all times
- Order the youth to attend mandatory inpatient alcohol or drug-related program
- Refer the youth to a juvenile camp or ranch, or a group home
- Confine the youth to a juvenile home
Placing The Ward Of The Court Away From Their Home
Since the child is a ward of the court, the court makes decisions on all matters regarding the child, including where the child must live. If the court feels that the environment within the child's home is not suitable for the kind of treatment and rehabilitation the child requires for changed behavior and attitude, the judge can order the child to be placed away from their home.
In that case, the juvenile court will remove the child from their home and from under the care and provision of their parents. That could happen if, after evaluation, the judge realizes that probation while at home has failed in delivering the desired results as far as the minor is concerned.
Remember that the court considers the child's best interests when making decisions like these. In most cases, the judge will make decisions to ensure that the minor remains in their home with their parents and the rest of their family. However, if that does not work and the minor keeps getting into trouble, the judge can take the minor out of their home to see how well, or otherwise, the minor performs while on probation. Some options the judge has included:
- Private institutions
- Foster homes
- Public agencies
- The homes of the minor's other relatives
Placement in foster care is the most popular option for courts in situations like these. It involves placing the minor in a facility away from their home. It could be in a foster home, where the minor is under the custody of another family, including a relative or extended member of the youth's family. In some cases, the court will place the child in an authorized home of a non-relative or licensed community facility.
After placement, the court must make the necessary decisions concerning the minor's life, including care, supervision, conduct, maintenance, and support. The juvenile court will decide on the proper medical treatment for the child. However, before removing the youth from their parent's home, the judge must consider the following:
- If the minor's parents provide the necessary education, guidance, training, and needs for their child
- If the juvenile is a regular truant, and whether they require further monitoring
- If the juvenile was previously on probation, and what their progress was, especially if they were under their parent's custody during probation
- The minor's best interests
Once the judge orders the child to be placed out of their home, the probation department will decide the best place for the child to live and for how long. The probation officer assigned to the minor's case will seek the parent's recommendation on the most suitable place for the youth.
If none of the minor's relatives is willing or available to take the minor in, the probation department will consider other options, including foster care and group homes. The goal is to guarantee that the minor remains within a family-like environment. The placement must also meet the specific needs of the youth. It should not be restrictive but flexible enough to accommodate the minor.
The judge will hold another hearing to discuss the most suitable placement for the juvenile. Parents are welcome to contribute their ideas and give their thoughts during this hearing. If the parents still feel that their child will be better off under their care, they are allowed to present any evidence and material that could compel the judge to change their mind. The probation officer will also submit their recommendation. In the end, the judge makes the final decision based on what they feel could benefit the minor more.
Committing the Ward of the Court
Some cases require the ward of the court to be confined. Remember that committing a minor does not necessarily make it a punishment. Confinement, in this case, aims at ensuring that the child becomes more responsible for themselves, their needs, behavior, and attitude.
If a juvenile faces charges for committing a violent or severe felony whereby they used a dangerous weapon, the judge will automatically order them to be confined. But if the court establishes that the youth has a mental illness, the judge will order the child to be committed to an alternative treatment facility.
Physical confinement for a ward of the court can occur in:
- A juvenile camp or ranch
- Juvenile hall
- A forestry camp
- A juvenile home
- In an organization under the Division of Juvenile Justice
The judge will most likely confine the juvenile in a facility in their home community, where the minor will be close to their family. But for minor offenders with mental, drug, or alcohol problems, the judge could confine them to a private institution where they will undergo the necessary treatment.
The length of confinement for juvenile offenders depends on the underlying offense, whether the minor faces charges for a misdemeanor or felony. A minor can receive a full term as the constitution provides for adult offenders facing the exact charges. For instance, if the minor faces charges for first-degree burglary, the offense is punishable with up to six years in prison. The minor could remain in confinement for up to six years.
The Division of Juvenile Justice or DJJ offers programs to youth offenders that face charges for severe or violent felonies. If the court decides to place the minor at DJJ, they must consider these factors:
- The protection and safety of public members
- How important it is to redress injuries sustained by victims
- The minor's best interests
Additionally, there must be evidence that the confinement will benefit the minor and that more lenient options are unsuitable or inadequate in this particular case.
The Parents' Responsibility
When your child becomes a ward of the court, it is necessary to understand your rights and responsibilities to guarantee that your child's best interests are served.
Remember that the juvenile court could impose a fine against your child, depending on the committed offense. The court will first consider the minor's ability to make that payment.
Additionally, the minor could be required to pay restitution to the alleged victim or victims (where applicable). The money could help the victim or victim's family to:
- Pay for medical expenses
- Replace damaged/stolen property
- Seek treatment for mental health
- Recover profits or earnings lost
The minor has a legal right to a hearing to dispute the restitution if they feel it is unnecessary or set too high.
The parents bear all financial responsibilities of a ward of the court. They are solely or jointly responsible for the fines, fees, and restitution their child must pay. But, remember that the judge will consider your ability to pay when making decisions like these.
Once the court sets the amount, you can request a hearing to dispute the court's decision. In the hearing, you will have the burden to prove your inability to make the required payments.
Find a Competent Pasadena Criminal Attorney Near Me
Has a judge declared your child a ward of the court in Pasadena, CA?
It is necessary to understand what that means, your rights, and your child's rights. That will help you make informed decisions and fight to protect your rights and your child's rights. California legal processes become more manageable when you have the proper legal guidance and support. Our Michele Ferroni Pasadena Criminal Attorney Law Firm team will ensure that you have the appropriate help and advice and that the court serves your child's best interests. Contact us at 626-628-0564, and allow us to smoothen the legal process for you.