Juvenile Crimes

Juvenile court is different in a few key respects from an adult criminal proceeding. Technically, juvenile court is not a criminal proceeding at all, but part of the civil law system. Juvenile delinquency proceedings are sometimes referred to as a section 602 hearings, which refers to the California Welfare and Institutions Code section 602 which governs juvenile proceedings. Unlike the adult system, the purpose of a juvenile proceeding is rehabilitation rather than punishment. Because of this, juvenile court is most often preferable to adult court.

If your child is in custody, his first court appearance will be a detention hearing. Like an adult arraignment, the primary purpose of this proceeding is for the accused to enter his plea, and for the court to determine whether your child should remain in custody pending the case’s resolution. The court will take into account the danger the child poses to himself or others, and whether he is a flight risk in deciding whether to release your child. If the court remands the accused to custody he is entitled to a speedy trial within 15 court days of the arraignment. If your child is not kept in custody, or was released prior to his first court appearance, the first proceeding will be an arraignment, where the accused is given an opportunity to enter a plea. Even if not in custody, your child is entitled to a speedy trial within 30 calendar days. This is a key hearing in the defense of your child. This is your attorney’s opportunity to receive discovery, argue for suppression of evidence, and demand that the probation officer present a prima facie case.

In general, juvenile court has jurisdiction over offenses allegedly committed by minors who are under the age of 18 at the time of the offense. For certain very serious crimes like rape and murder, minors over the age of 14 at the time of the commission of the crime must be tried in adult court. For some 30 other felonies, defined in section 707(b) of the Welfare and Institutions Code, a minor 14 years of age or older may be charged and tried as an adult. Depending on the circumstances of the crime, and whether the minor was 16 or older at the time of the crime’s commission, the district attorney may “direct file” one of these 707(b) crimes in adult court. Otherwise the juvenile court will conduct a fitness hearing to determine whether the 707(b) crime should be tried in juvenile court. The sole issue in a fitness hearing is whether the juvenile is amendable to rehabilitation in the event he is declared a ward of the court.

The next proceeding in juvenile court is what is known as a jurisdiction hearing. A jurisdiction hearing is akin to trial in adult court. One key difference though, is that your child is not entitled to a jury trial. The purpose of this hearing is for the judge to determine whether to sustain the petition and therefore whether there may be need for wardship.  This is also the last opportunity for your attorney to argue for informal probation (misdemeanors W&I 654, 725) or deferred entry of judgment (felonies W&I 790) rather than wardship prior to commencement of trial. Short of a dismissal, informal probation or deferred entry of judgment are the next best alternatives. If your child completes this program, at the conclusion of 6-36 months, the charges will be dismissed, and he will thereby avoid a criminal record.

If the petition is sustained, in other words your child is found guilty, the next phase is the disposition hearing. A disposition hearing will be conducted even if your child admits to the charges. At this stage the court determines how to “punish” your child. Options available to the court are: dismissing the petition, placing your child on informal probation, or declaring him a ward of the court and placing him into formal home probation, placement with another relative, a community center or foster family, at a detention camp, or into the custody of the juvenile hall.

Depending on the circumstances, namely that a petition was not sustained for a 707(b) crime, the child may petition to have his records sealed after the conclusion of wardship or probation. Despite the common misapprehension that all juvenile records are sealed upon reaching 18, this occurs automatically only if your child received informal probation or deferred entry of judgment.

Needless to say the process can be quite complex, and when the liberty and future of your child is in jeopardy, it is critical that you contact an attorney immediately.

The information contained on this website represents opinion only and is not intended to, nor should be relied on as legal advice of any kind. Should you wish to consult with an attorney, contact an attorney at the Law Office of Jesse Terrell at (323) 638-4712.
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