The thought of having your child in trouble with the law can be devastating, not alone having him or her in police custody. Once you learn that your child is in trouble with the law, you must act immediately. Everything to do with the Juvenile delinquency court is complex, and anyone without legal experience can find it challenging to navigate its legal system.

 At Orange County Criminal Lawyer, we are determined to help our clients whose loved ones or family members below 18 years are charged under the California Juvenile delinquency court system. Please schedule an appointment with us and let us help you go through this challenging situation.

What You Need to Know About Juvenile Delinquency Courts in California

A juvenile delinquency court is a court dedicated to handling misdemeanor and felony crimes allegedly committed by minors. In California, the Los Angeles Superior Court's Juvenile Division oversees everything to do with juvenile courts.  The juvenile justice system aims to maintain public safety, rehabilitating, habilitating, addressing treatment needs, and successfully integrating delinquent youths into the community. Unlike adult criminal courts, which aim to punish perpetrators for their crimes, the juvenile court's philosophy is to rehabilitate offenders. 

The juvenile delinquency court jurisdiction is for minors between 12 to 17 years and some minors under 12 years. Under Senate Bill 439, minors below 12 years aren't under juvenile court jurisdiction unless they are charged with crimes like sexual penetration by force, murder, rape, sodomy, oral copulation, the violence of great bodily harm. 

Difference Between Juvenile Courts and Adult Criminal Courts

There is a significant difference between a juvenile court and an adult criminal court. This difference is both in the terminology used and the procedures that apply. Here are common differences that you should know about juvenile courts and adult criminal courts.

  1. Delinquent Acts vs. Crimes

Juveniles are not referred to as criminals, but they are referred to as delinquents. They are also considered to have committed delinquent acts rather than crimes as in adult criminal court context.

  1. Complaint vs. Petition

In an adult court, complaints are filed against the suspect, while petitions are filed in a juvenile offender case.

  1. Adjudication vs. Conviction

An offender tried as an adult for a crime and is determined to be guilty of the specific crime. However, in a juvenile court, a minor who's found guilty of a delinquent act is adjudicated.

  1. Disposition vs. Sentence

In an adult court, a convicted person receives a sentence as punishment for their crime, whereas in a juvenile court, minors receive dispositions. 

Apart from the above-stated terminologies, there are other differences between juveniles and adult courts. They are as follows:

  • Jury Trial: Juveniles don't have the right to trial by jury, unlike adults. A judge usually hears their case and decides whether the minor is guilty or innocent of the alleged delinquent acts
  • Open vs. Closed Hearing: Adult criminal proceedings are open to the public, but juvenile proceedings are closed. That's why juvenile courts are inclined to rehabilitating juveniles as a means of keeping juvenile criminal record away from public records
  • Expungement: Expungement is the removal of criminal records from the offender's record. Expungement rules for a juvenile are more lenient than those used to expunge adult records
  • Rules of Procedure: Adult criminal records aim at strictly observing rules of a criminal proceeding, while in juvenile courts, the rules are a bit relaxed
  • Jurisdiction: Adult cases are usually tried in the country where the adult committed the crime. However, in juvenile hearing, minors might move the case to your county of residence if it has different rules for the offense you've committed

Although there are several differences between juvenile and adult courts, there are a few similarities. In both cases, an accused has the right to an attorney, including the right to have a court-appointed one, the right to trial, and the right to their witnesses and cross-examining the prosecution's witnesses.

 California Delinquency Court Process

The California delinquency court process follows a distinct process. This process starts with an arrest. If the alleged delinquent action isn't serious, the police will give the minor a stern warning and let him or her go. The police might also give the minor a citation to appear in court later but allow the minor to go home.

In a serious situation, the police will take the minor to a juvenile hall. These juvenile halls are run by probation officers who can make choices like police officers. Once the intake officer has interviewed your child, one of the following will take place:

  • The officer will send your child home with a citation to come back to court on a specific date
  • The officer will send your child home with a probation program that doesn't require him or her to come back to court unless he or she disobeys you
  • The officer might decide to keep your child until a judge takes a look at the case

In Orange County, CA, you can locate its juvenile hall at 331 The City Drive, Orange, CA92868.

Detention Hearing

The first hearing that a minor has to attend after an arrest is the detention hearing. The purpose of a detention hearing is to determine whether or not the child should stay in the juvenile hall upon waiting for the case's outcome. A child who has been released on home supervision and is still in custody is entitled to a detention hearing.

A detention hearing for non-serious or non-violent misdemeanor delinquent acts should occur within 48 hours after the child is in custody. This excludes weekends and holidays. If the misdemeanor is alleged to have committed a felony or a violent misdemeanor delinquent act, the detention hearing usually takes part within 72 hours of placing the minor in custody.

You should retain a criminal attorney even at this stage of your child's juvenile court process. An attorney will help you reduce the possibility of losing the detention hearing and have your child stay in the juvenile hall until the case is resolved.

Please note, unlike adult cases, children cannot be bailed out. The probation officer can keep the child if he or she wants to do so. The only way to get your child out of the detention hearing is by convincing the judge during the detention hearing.

At the detention hearing, the judge usually relies on specific factors to determine whether the minor should remain in custody or not. These factors are as follows:

  • Whether the prosecutor has proven if the minor can violate a juvenile order court
  • Whether the minor has escaped from a juvenile's court commitment
  • Whether the minor is a flight risk
  • Whether it's a matter of urgency to protect the minor by detaining him or her
  • Whether it's reasonable to protect another person or property by detaining the minor

The judge usually asks input from the minors' parents, counsel, probation officer, and district attorney when making a decision.

The detention hearing is also an avenue for the child's arraignment. At this point, the minor is informed of his or her charges, constitutional rights and enters a plea. The judge will also inform the minor on their right to counsel, right to bring witnesses, cross-examine witnesses, right against evidence, and present evidence. 

When the minor enters a plea to the charges alleged in the petition, they do not enter a plea of guilty or not guilty like in an adult arraignment process. Instead, the minor admits the charges (pleads guilty), denies the charges (pleads not guilty), or no contest to the charges (pleads no contest).

Please note that the first court hearing for children who aren’t in custody is referred to as the arraignment. At this point, the judge will inform the minor of the charges and constitutional rights and advise him that he or she can enter a plea to the charges. 

 The Dennis H Hearing

If you lose in the detention hearing, your attorney can ask for a re-hearing. The re-hearing is also called Dennis H hearings, prima facie hearings, or contested detention hearings. Your attorney can file for rehearing when the judge decides on a transfer based on a police report's recommendation without the police officer testifying in person. At the Dennis H hearing, the judge will order the officer to testify in person. 

A Dennis H hearing should take place three days after the detention hearing. However, it can extend to five days if witnesses are unavailable. Your child will have to remain in the juvenile hall if the judge rules against a release in the Dennis H hearing. Under California laws, your child should attend a jurisdiction hearing within fifteen days.

Fitness Hearing or Transfer Hearing

A Fitness or transfer hearing is a juvenile court proceeding in which the judge decides whether a minor should be transferred to an adult court. If the judge finds the minor unfit for the juvenile system, they will transfer them to an adult court.

Prosecutors can initiate a fitness or transfer hearing when the minor in question is 16 years or older and is alleged to have committed a crime listed under the Welfare and Institution Code 707(b) or the suspect committed the alleged offense in the Welfare and Institution Code 707(b) but was not apprehended until he or she was 18 years old. 

When it comes to the fitness hearing's timing, it should take between the detention hearing and the adjudication hearing. This means that it shouldn't exceed the fifteen-day limit between the detention and the adjudication hearing.  Simultaneously, the prosecutor should give the court at least five days of notice of the transfer hearing.

When the judge is determining whether a minor should remain in juvenile court or should be transferred to an adult court, he or she will look into the following factors:

  • The degree of sophistication of the crime committed by the minor
  • Whether the minor can be rehabilitated before the juvenile court's jurisdiction expires
  • The minor's previous delinquent actions
  • The success of prior attempts to rehabilitate the minor
  • The gravity and circumstances of the alleged committed by the minor

As mentioned earlier, the prosecution can initiate a transfer hearing when a minor is alleged and charged with violating one of the crimes under the Welfare and Institutions Code Section 707(b). Some of the offenses that fall under this section include:

  • Forcible sexual penetration
  • Kidnapping to commit robbery
  • Kidnapping to extort ransom
  • Attempt murder
  • Sodomy by violence, threat, and causing great bodily injuries
  • Rape by violence, force, threat, and causing great bodily injuries
  • Robbery
  • Murder
  • Arson
  • Assault with a destructive device or a firearm

If you lose in a transfer hearing, you will be transferred to an adult court and tried as per the rules that apply in adult criminal cases.

You can't appeal an order from a transfer hearing. The only thing that your attorney can do is filing a writ petition at the Court of Appeal. Your attorneys should file the petition within twenty days before the first arraignment in the adult court. A prosecutor can also file a “writ petition” within the same timeframe if he or she believes that the decision to transfer the hearing was unnecessary. 

The defendant's attorneys have to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the minor should be tried in the juvenile system to challenge the transfer decision. Failure to do so, the minor will go to an adult court and face adult criminal sentences.

Please note, minors are not eligible for death penalties. The United States Supreme court held that punishing a juvenile with the death penalty is cruel and violates the United States Constitution's Eighth Amendment. Apart from that, minors cannot receive a life without parole sentence even when tried and convicted in an adult court. 

Adjudication Hearing

The adjudication hearing is a trial before a judge decides whether a minor has committed the alleged crime and whether he or she should be disciplined. Most of the adjudication hearing rules are similar to adult courts except that there are no juries and there are more relaxed rules.

Minors have the chance to defend themselves against the alleged charges. They should observe crucial procedures to safeguard their rights. This includes:

  • The right to present a defense
  • The right to subpoena witnesses
  • The right against self-incrimination
  • The right to seek effective assistance of a lawyer
  • The right to have the prosecution establish its case beyond a reasonable doubt

Adjudication hearings should take place within fifteen days after the detention hearing. Holidays and weekends are excluded from these days. The court can extend the timeframe only if there is a reasonable cause to do so and the minor has given consent for the delay. The time frame is longer for minors who aren't in custody.

Disposition Hearing

After a minor has lost the adjudication hearing, they will move on to the disposition hearing. A disposition hearing is similar to sentencing in the adult criminal justice system. The judge usually takes a look at the whole picture while determining a minor's sentence. However, the judge usually considers the minor's previous delinquent history, circumstances and gravity of the offense, and the minor's age while determining the sentence. 

A disposition hearing can occur at the adjudication phase if the judge has all the information needed to decide on a sentence. However, in situations where the judge has to wait for the probation officer's recommendations or the minor counsel's information portraying that the minor deserves a lighter sentence, the disposition hearing might be postponed. 

Another reason to postpone the hearing is when the minor is experiencing mental health issues and has to undergo a psychological evaluation.  Although there are chances of delaying the disposition hearing, it must take place within ten days after the adjudication if the minor is in custody.

Types of Sentences in a Juvenile Court System 

Several sentencing options known as disposition are available in the California juvenile delinquency system. These sentencing options are as follows:

  1. Informal Probation

For crimes that aren't very serious, the minor is subjected to informal probation and diversion under the W&I 654 and 725. Informal probation can be available for non-violent, first-time offenses like trespass and vandalism. 

Minors and their parents must agree to specific terms and conditions of the informal probation. The agreement usually expects the minor to participate in counseling, parenting, and other education programs and seek addiction and drug misuse.

The informal probation program should last for sixty days. When the minor doesn't engage in the required program within these days, a petition for poor performance can be filed within the probation period or within ninety days after the informal probation ends. 

  1. Deferred Entry of Program

The judge also has an option of a deferred entry of the program under the W&I 790. Under the deferred entry program, the minor must admit to being guilty to the petitioner's allegations, resulting in the charges' dismissal after completing the program. A deferred entry program is available for first-time felonies not under Section 707(b) offenses. The program lasts between 12 to 36 months.

The judge will decide on the deferred program if they find that the minor would benefit from a court-ordered rehabilitation, treatment, or education. For every felony case, the prosecutor should determine whether the minor is eligible for the program. Eligibility for DEJ must meet the following seven requirements:

  • The minor could not be a "ward of the court" due to the felony
  • The offense committed by the minor is not a welfare
  • The minor has never been committed to CYA
  • The juvenile has completed a probation
  • The juvenile was at least 14 years old during the hearing
  • The juvenile is eligible for probation under Penal Code 1203.6
  • The offense committed is not a serious sex crime

The prosecutor should notify the court, the minor, and his defense counsel about the minor's eligibility to participate in this program. The juvenile court judge will then decide whether the minor is suitable for the program.

Please note that the minor can become ineligible for the DEJ if he or she insists on an adjudication hearing. The court can also order specific terms and conditions of the program. These terms include:

  • Curfew and school attendance requirement
  • Restitution
  • Submitting to a warrantless search of the minor and areas under control
  • Random drug and alcohol testing

Once the minor completes the program, the arrest is considered to have never occurred, and the juvenile records are sealed. However, the prosecution and probation department can access the minor's juvenile records to determine the minor's eligibility for DEJ in a future case.

During the probation program, the probation department, court, or prosecutor might decide whether to lift the deferral if the minor is not:

  • Performing satisfactorily in the program
  • Following the terms that have been set forth
  • Benefiting from the rehabilitation, education, or treatment

The court can also lift the program if the minor commits a felony and commits one or several misdemeanors on two separate occasions. 

  1. Diversion Under W&I 654

Under the W&1 section 654, a juvenile case can be diverted to probation even before the petition takes place. In Juvenile courts, cases involving petty theft or violations like shoplifting are usually diverted under Section 654 or 725 informal probation.

The probation involves a program that can last for a maximum of six months under this code section. The program primarily focuses on education and counseling. If the minor fails to meet the probation officer's requirements, the probation officer can still initiate a formal petition.

  1. Formal Probation at Camp or Home

When a juvenile delinquent is declared a "ward of the court," the court can sentence the minor to probation terms. Sometimes wards can complete probation at home even though they are wards of the court.

In some cases, the court assigns suitable placement in a group home or relative's home, including level 14 group homes for emotionally disturbed juveniles. Probation terms include anything necessary for rehabilitating minors, including:

  • Curfew restrictions
  • Mandatory school attendance
  • Community service
  • Graffiti removal
  • Avoid hanging around with particular people
  • Restitution
  1. CYA Commitment

Aside from adult prison, the most serious penalty juveniles can face commitment at CYA. Only minors whose recent adjudication for 707(b) offenses or one of the offenses requiring registration as sex offenders can be sent to CYA. 

Find a Juvenile Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

You should note that your child can be at risk of severe penalties, especially when he or she is transferred to an adult court. This calls for professional legal representation to reduce the possibility of severe penalties. At Orange County Criminal Lawyer, we provide quality legal services to all our clients to ensure that we achieve the best outcomes. Contact us today at 714-262-4833 for a detailed review of your case and learn how to help you.