Juvenile Crimes in California
In California, those who commit crimes under age 18 are considered juveniles, and they are treated differently than adults who run afoul of the law.
The varying nature of juvenile offenses often makes it difficult for states to decide whether the criminal is to be treated as a minor or as a full-grown individual. The decision is typically a direct result of the seriousness of the crime, the age of the child and any past criminal record for him/her.
What is Juvenile Delinquency?
Also known as juvenile crimes, juvenile delinquency is a term used to describe infractions committed by individuals who are considered juniors or minors by the government. Commonly (in most states), a minor is a child under eighteen years of age, and if he/she is accused of breaking the law, there can be some severe consequences.
These can include:
- Living at home with parents/guardians, under supervision of the court.
- Being put on probation and living with a relative, under foster care, in a group home or institution, or a probation ranch/camp.
- Being sent to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) if tried in juvenile court, or the Division of Adult Operations (CDCR) if tried as an adult. If sent to the DJJ, the child will be placed in a “reception center” for 1-3 months while a course of treatment/education is decided, and then sent to a youth camp or correctional facility.
Guide to Juvenile Court Process
Arrest – The process of a juvenile court process begins when the minor is arrested. At this stage, the child must be informed of his/her Miranda rights before being interrogated, and may call upon a lawyer before answering any questions. Parents also need to be informed by the police about their child’s arrest, and their rights.
If your child has been arrested, here’s what the police can do:
- Ensure the arrest has been recorded and let the child go with a warning, if the offense is not serious.
- Send them to a counselor to get proper help and understand the extremity of the damage done.
- Present them a Notice to Appear (citation) at the police station/court at a later date, before letting them go home.
- Send your child to detention, or juvenile hall. The child has to call his/her parent, guardian, a relative or employer, and must also call a lawyer if this happens.
Juvenile Hall – If the offense is serious, then the minor is sent to juvenile hall for a limited or extensive period of time. They might be kept in the hall for no more than a few days or weeks, and often just a warning does the trick.
This involves informing the child:
- If they have to return to the court, with a proper citation.
- If a probation period is assigned to them (they might not be required to return to the court if they maintain good behavior.
- Whether or not the child will be kept in detention till a judge decides on the next steps.
Notice to Appear – If your child is given a Notice to Appear, read it carefully. Most likely, it will ask for them to meet with a probation officer at the probation department on a certain date, where the officer may:
- Let them go home after discussing the offense and its consequences.
- Give them the option of voluntary programs (counseling, community service or special classes) for up to six months, instead of having to go to court. With this option, you may have to sign a contract detailing your child’s voluntary activities.
- Send the child’s case to the district attorney, to decide whether a petition will then be filed for your child to appear in court (juvenile delinquency court) or not, and then let them go home.
- Send the case to the district attorney, but keep the child in juvenile hall till the petition is filed. This will be followed by a detention hearing on the next court day.
Petitions – After a juvenile crime is committed, a petition is signed and presented to the court, to declare the state’s point of view of the offense. Once the petition has been signed, the parents receive a notice for a court hearing.
Your child may face one of two kinds of petitions:
- Petition filed by the probation department (601 petition) – This is filed when a minor acts out by running away, skipping school, breaking a set curfew or disobeying parents. This isn’t really breaking the law, but activities that the state frowns upon. Declared as a status offender, the minor becomes a ward of the court if the judge accepts this petition.
- Petition filed by the District Attorney’s office (602 petition) – This is a more serious petition and declares that the crime committed by the child would have been punishable by law had an adult done it (felonies such as rape, attempted murder/murder, kidnapping, drug crimes, car theft, robbery with a weapon, arson, etc., or misdemeanors like assault, DUI, petty theft, etc.). If accepted by the judge, the minor is declared a delinquent and becomes a ward of the court.
Court Hearings – In cases of crimes under age 18, you must attend all hearings for the case, and the judge may question you to decide what is best for your child. If the judge feels that the child will follow your rules and do what you say, the child may be allowed to go home with you.
There are typically four types of hearings your child may have to attend:
- Detention Hearing – This is where the decision is made about whether the minor will be held in juvenile hall until the case is resolved, or be allowed to go home. It has to take place within 3 court days if your child has been detained for more than 2 days.
- Fitness/Waiver Hearing – This is where the decision is made about whether the child will continue to be tried as a juvenile delinquent, or as an adult. If the child is found to be unfit for trial as a juvenile, he/she will be tried in adult court, except in cases where the crime was committed by a child under the age of 14.
- Adjudication/Jurisdiction Hearing – This is where the case is tried by a judge to decide if the child is guilty of the crime that he/she is accused of in the petition statement, instead of a jury trial that adult criminals face. If the evidence is enough for the judge to find your child guilty, they will make a “true finding” and set a date for the disposition hearing. If he/she is found innocent, the case will be dismissed.
- Disposition Hearing – This is where the sentence is decided if the petition made against your child is sustained by the judge. It may be held on the same day as the jurisdiction hearing, and a defense lawyer will speak for the child. This hearing won’t happen if the judge decides the child is not guilty.
In certain cases, the child may also face:
- Pretrial/Settlement Conference – This is a hearing that aims to try and resolve the case without a trial, and is accepted in some counties.
- Motion Hearing – This is a hearing that can come up one or more times during the course of your child’s case, to work out various issues.
- Review Hearing – This may take place after the trial and disposition, to keep track of how the child is doing in his/her placement.
You may act as a witness at hearings, and may also ask to speak to the judge, but a district attorney will present the case against your child and a defense lawyer will speak for them.
Parental Responsibilities – As the parent/guardian of a juvenile delinquent, you have some legal responsibilities, which include:
- Financial obligations for losses or damage caused by the child, or restitution for victims of their crime.
- Fees for keeping your child in detention, and payment for juvenile hall services like food, laundry, etc.
- Legal fees, cost of hiring a lawyer, etc.
Speak to the probation officer, your local school district and hospitals, as well as your lawyer for help if you are not financially comfortable and may not be able to afford these fees and costs.
Probation Officer’s Report and Responsibilities – A child who commits a crime is often put on probation and monitored by their probation officer, who ensures they are not breaking any laws and checks their demeanor based on the terms of probation. It is the probation officer’s responsibility to enforce the orders passed by the court.
They will also write a report to be presented to the judge at the disposition hearing, with:
- What they think the punishment should be if the child is guilty.
- A copy of the arrest record
- Details of the crime
- The victim’s statement
- Statements from the accused minor, his/her family and others who know him/her well
- The child’s school report
The officer is responsible for ensuring the child is re-enrolled in school, job training and other community programs, or sent to professionals for proper counseling. He or she may meet the child anywhere from a bi-weekly to monthly basis, depending on the terms of the probation.
How Can a Lawyer Help Your Child?
Both you and your child should be aware of your legal rights, to make better sense of the situation. The first thing you should do in case your child is arrested is to call a lawyer, who can ensure the arrest is lawful and proper procedure is followed.
Sometimes, juvenile crimes are simply considered an excessive way in which a minor is “acting out”, so the next step is identifying the seriousness of the offense. If it does not involve violence or an injury inflicted on another person, it is often handled with a warning, and a lawyer can help you understand the options.
The first offense is often treated leniently, but if it continues, the punishment is imposed vigilantly. When you’re hiring the Law Men to defend your child, our experienced and aggressive lawyers will help to keep them safe, fight for their innocence and ensure the case is handled as quickly as possible.