Minors can also make decisions or acts against the law, but the criminal justice system does not treat them as adults when they do. Instead of sentencing a child to lengthy prison sentences like in the adult justice system, the juvenile justice system aims to rehabilitate the child who has so much to learn to become a productive and law-abiding citizen.
When police arrest your child for an alleged delinquent act, it can be shameful and stressful, but it doesn't mean your child is a criminal. A reliable juvenile defense attorney can mitigate the severity of the charges your child is facing and the possible long-term consequences of those charges.
At Orange County Criminal Lawyer, we have significant experience helping juveniles and their parents maneuver the confusing juvenile justice system to achieve the best possible outcome in a juvenile delinquency case. Don’t hesitate to contact us following your child’s arrest for an assertive legal representation to fight for your child’s best interests.
What You Need to Know About Juvenile Delinquency and Juvenile Courts
Juvenile delinquency is typically the act of participating in an illegal behavior as an adolescent/minor or as a person below the majority's statutory age, which is eighteen years. While juveniles or minors are known to be innocent and impressionable, some minors can make adult decisions and even participate in adult situations.
Lawmakers recognize that minors are not young adults because their level of thinking and understanding is different from that of an adult. Therefore, when your child violates a criminal law, a juvenile court will handle his/her case. A juvenile court is a special court that handles felony, misdemeanor, and status offenses that minors commit almost every day.
Technically, a juvenile court is not part of the criminal law system, and its procedures and protocols are different as well. Unlike in adult court, there is no jury in a juvenile court, but there is a judge, prosecutors, and attorneys. Even the terminologies you will hear in a juvenile court differ from that of an adult court, for example:
- When a juvenile court makes your child "ward of the court," it means the court has the responsibility of treating and rehabilitating the child.
- Instead of using the term "guilty" or "innocent," the judge "sustains a petition" or not.
- Instead of the term "sentence" as applicable in adult court, the juvenile court will use the term "disposition.”
- Instead of the term "trial," you will hear the term "adjudication.”
- Instead of the term "crime," the judge will refer to a minor's wrongful doing as a "delinquent act."
The juvenile court process begins when police arrests "detain" your child for an alleged delinquent act. If your child's alleged delinquent act is not severe, the arresting officers will give him/her a stern warning and then release him/her.
Suppose the nature of the delinquent act your child is facing is serious. In that case, the arresting officers will detain him/her in a juvenile hall for an interview and interrogation with intake officers to determine whether it's worth sending the case to a juvenile court or not. During your child's interrogation, his/her constitutional rights should remain intact.
It's essential to learn about your child's rights during interrogation for an alleged delinquent act to ensure officers do not violate his/her constitutional rights. For instance, the intake officers should inform your child about his/her Miranda rights before commencing the interrogation process. Your child's Miranda rights include:
- The right to remain silent to avoid providing incriminating statements
- The right to an attorney
- The right to a public defender if he/she or his/her parent cannot afford one
If your child is aware of his/her constitutional rights during investigation or interrogation, he/she can choose to talk or not. Intake officers do not need your consent or permission as a parent to question or interrogate your child. However, you can avail yourself during the interrogation if you want to provide your child with guidance and support.
To ensure your child is on the safe side with the law, you should retain the services of a criminal defense attorney who is knowledgeable and experienced in juvenile delinquency cases. An attorney can advise you of your rights as a parent and offer your child the best legal representation he/she needs throughout the case to achieve the best possible results.
Juvenile Court Hearings Following a Delinquent Act Charge
As the minor’s alleged delinquent act case proceeds, he or she may have to attend juvenile court hearings below before his/her case's final verdict:
A detention hearing is the first juvenile court hearing your child will attend if the police do not release him/her shortly after the arrest. The purpose of the detention hearing in juvenile cases is to determine whether the child should remain in the juvenile hall before his/her case resolution.
Juvenile court intake officers, also commonly known as probation officers, can choose to handle your child's case informally or formally, depending on the following factors:
- The severity of the alleged delinquent act
- The child's past delinquent record/history
- The child's age
- The child's social history
- The strength of the evidence surrounding the case
- Your ability as a parent to control the child's behavior
The probation officer might require your child to do the following if he/she decides to handle the case informally:
- Attend a counseling session
- Compensate the victim for his/her losses, if any
- Pay a fine
- Enter a probation
- Participate in community service work
When the juvenile court intake officer or prosecutor decides to proceed with your child’s case formally, he/she might be subject to a transfer/fitness hearing. Some delinquent acts can make a minor subject to the adult criminal justice system. Before sending a minor to an adult court for criminal prosecution, the prosecutor must schedule a transfer hearing in a juvenile court.
A transfer/fitness hearing is a juvenile court proceeding where the judge decides whether your child fits the juvenile justice system. The judge will consider and evaluate the factors below when deciding whether your child should remain in the juvenile court:
- The child's past delinquent history
- The degree or percentage of criminal sophistication the minor exhibits on the alleged delinquent act
- Circumstances and nature of the alleged delinquent act the minor is facing.
- The success of past attempts by the juvenile delinquency court to rehabilitate the child
Typically, the resolution of most delinquent acts happens in the juvenile justice system. Typically, the prosecutor will initiate a transfer hearing if the minor is 16 years or older, and the alleged delinquent act falls under Welfare and Institutions Code Section (WIC) 707(b). WIC 707(b) offenses include:
- Assault with a destructive device or firearm
- Rape by force
- Forcible sexual penetration
- Voluntary manslaughter
If the judge decides your child's case should remain in the juvenile court system, he/she will schedule an adjudication hearing "trial." Adjudication hearing, also sometimes known as jurisdiction hearing, is a juvenile court proceeding where the judge decides whether the allegations against your child are true or not for appropriate discipline.
If your child is still in custody, the adjudication hearing for his/her delinquent case should happen within 15 days, excluding weekends and holidays. During an adjudication hearing, your child has the right and the opportunity to defend himself/herself against the alleged delinquent act charges.
In a juvenile court, most things are not the same as in an adult court system, but the following crucial procedural safeguards apply:
- Your child has the right to seek legal counsel.
- Your child has the right to present his/her defense
- Your child has the right to avoid self-incrimination, and he/she can choose to testify or not
- The prosecutor must prove his/her evidence against your child beyond a reasonable doubt
- Your child has the right to subpoena witnesses if any
If the judge finds the prosecutor's evidence to be true beyond a reasonable doubt, he/she will sustain the petition against your child, meaning he/she is "guilty" of the alleged delinquent act. On the other hand, if there is insufficient evidence to hold the minor accountable for the alleged delinquent act, the judge will not sustain the petition, meaning the allegations against him/her are untrue.
Due to the complexity of laws surrounding juvenile cases, it is wise to have experienced legal counsel by your child's side in every juvenile court process before his/her case's final verdict.
A reliable criminal defense attorney can raise several legal defense arguments during adjudication hearings to counter delinquent charges against your child for the best possible outcome.
A disposition hearing is a juvenile court proceeding that follows an adjudication hearing where the judge determines the right suitable discipline for your child if allegations against him/her are true. The judge can decide to proceed with a disposition hearing right after the adjudication hearing if he/she has the necessary information for making a sentencing decision.
However, if the judge needs the probation officer's social study of the minor to make the right disposition decision, he/she will have to postpone the hearing to a later date. In a disposition hearing, the judge considers the whole picture of your child's case, but mainly, he/she will consider the following factors:
- The age of the child
- The child's previous delinquent history
- Circumstances and nature of the delinquent act
Your child's attorney presence is vital in a disposition hearing, just like in other juvenile court hearings. A reliable attorney can fight for your child's best interest even in a disposition hearing to avoid possible severe sentences the judge may decide, for example, confinement in a Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) facility.
Possible Disposition Options in a Juvenile Delinquency Case
The judge in a juvenile court has a wide range of disposition or sentencing options at his/her exposure because the juvenile justice system aims to rehabilitate the minor. The disposition the judge will craft for your child's specific delinquent act will not only discipline him/her, but it will also make him/her become a productive, law-abiding citizen.
Depending on a variety of factors mentioned above, your child might be subject to any of the following disposition or sentencing options:
If your child's delinquent act case is non-violent, he/she might qualify for informal probation or diversion according to WIC section 654 or 725. The juvenile court judge can consider Informal probation as a disposition option if your child's delinquent act case is non-violent, for example, vandalism or trespassing.
According to WIC 725, your child does not need to admit guilt to the alleged delinquent act to qualify for informal probation. When the judge decides to discipline your child with informal probation, he/she must comply with the probation conditions for six months for dismissal of the delinquent act charges against him/her. Some of the probation conditions he/she must adhere to include:
- School attendance
- Attending a counseling session together with his/her parent
Under WIC sec 654, a reliable juvenile criminal defense attorney can help your child avoid harsh consequences resulting from a formal judgment of the case by requesting a diversion program. If the minor is eligible for a diversion, the probation officer will craft a suitable program for his/her specific delinquent act case, lasting less than six months.
A diversion program can include education and counseling to help the minor become a productive citizen. If the child fails to perform or does not comply with the probation conditions, the probation officer can still seek a formal judgment of the case by filing a petition against him/her.
Deferred Entry of Judgment
Another disposition option a judge has is Deferred Entry of Judgment (DEJ) under WIC 790. DEJ will require your child to admit guilt to the alleged delinquent act in exchange for dismissal of the charges against him/her if he/she completes the DEJ programs successfully. DEJ is an available disposition option for first-time felony offenses that do not fall under section 707(b), and it can last between twelve and thirty-six months.
If the juvenile delinquency court declares your child a ward of the court, he/she might be subject to a probation term as a disposition or sentence. Sometimes the minor can complete his/her probation term at home even though he/she is a "ward of the court."
In other cases, the juvenile court judge may decide to place the minor in a group home, relative home, or a probation camp. Probation terms and conditions could be anything reasonably necessary to rehabilitate the minor, for example:
- Curfew restrictions
- Community service
- Graffiti removal
- Mandatory school attendance
- Substance use counseling
Confinement in a Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) Facility
The most severe discipline your child could face after a disposition hearing is confinement in a Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) facility. Also formally known as California Youth Authority (CYA), a DJJ is a confinement and legal rehabilitation system designated for most serious juvenile delinquents or offenders.
Life in a DJJ facility could impact your child as life in an adult prison because, in these detention facilities, your child will hang out and socialize with other young criminals. The maximum confinement period in the DJJ facility is also long, but it should not be longer than the imprisonment period of an adult guilty of the same offense.
The juvenile court judge can order the detention of the minor in a DJJ correctional and rehabilitation facility if:
- He/she is a ward of the court.
- His/her recent delinquent act falls under WIC 707 (b), for example, murder or rape.
- His/her recent delinquent act is a sex offense listed under Penal Code 290.008(c)
The judge will assign your child a detention facility based on the following factors:
- His/her age
- His/maturity level
- Individual needs and risks
- His/her educational needs
The primary purpose of sending a minor to a DJJ facility is not punishment. Instead, a juvenile court judge will send him/her to a DJJ facility with the goals of achieving the following:
- Victim restoration
- Community restoration
- Training and treatment of the minor
In general, life in the DJJ detention center is severe, and it's not the discipline you would wish for your child, who has so much to learn. Therefore, it is wise to seek the services of a knowledgeable and experienced juvenile defense attorney as soon as you can to convince the judge to lessen or dismiss delinquent act charges against your child.
Everyday Delinquents Acts That Most Minors Commit
There are several offenses that a minor is more likely to commit than an adult. Each of these offenses or delinquent acts varies in the extent of seriousness, which makes the possible disciplinary or correctional guidance also different. Most minors who are in trouble with the juvenile legal system commit the following delinquent acts:
A minor violates petty theft laws under Penal Code 484 PC when he/she unlawfully or wrongfully takes another person's property or asset worth $950 or less to possess it as his/her own. Below are forms of theft that can make a minor subject to petty theft charges under PC 464:
- Theft by false pretense
- Theft by larceny
- Theft by trick
Vandalism is another common delinquent act that minors commit every day without thinking of the possible consequences. According to Penal Code 594, vandalism is the malicious act of damaging or destroying another person's property using an inscribed material or graffiti.
To prove that the vandalism allegations against your child are true, the prosecutor must demonstrate to the juvenile court judge the following constitutes of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt:
- The property in question did not belong to the minor or his/her parents.
- The minor was using an inscribed tool or graffiti to deface or damage the property in question.
- The value of the destruction, defacement, or damages was either less than $400 for misdemeanor prosecution or was worth $400 or more for felony prosecution.
If the judge sustains a juvenile delinquency petition against your child for violating vandalism laws under PC 594, he/she could be subject to a variety of disposition, for example:
- Community service
According to Penal Code 602, trespassing involves entering or remaining in another person's property without his/her consent or permission to do so. Trespassing is typically a misdemeanor, but if there are other aggravating factors surrounding the offense, like using a weapon or threats, the minor could be subject to felony trespass charges.
Below are everyday acts that can make the police arrest a minor for criminal trespass under PC 602:
- Entering another person's property or premises with the intent to destroy or damage his/her property
- Occupying or refusing to leave another person's property after entering or sneaking in without permission
- Entering another person's property with the intent to obstruct or interfere with his/her business activities
Sealing a Delinquent Conviction Record
If your child has a conviction record, you should consider finding a criminal defense attorney for legal guidance on how he/she can seal his/her juvenile conviction record. Sealing a juvenile conviction record will erase and close your child's delinquent act case, meaning it will no longer be visible on public records.
According to WIC 781, the primary purpose of petitioning the court to seal a juvenile conviction record is to lessen the stigmatization and other negative consequences of having a juvenile conviction record. If the petition to seal and destroy your child's juvenile conviction record becomes successful, he/she will enjoy the following benefits:
- Can confidently say that he/she doesn't have a criminal conviction record, which opens doors for opportunities like employment, loan, and renting an apartment without a hassle
- Will no longer have to register as a sex offender, according to PC 290
- Potential employers cannot discriminate against him/her for having a juvenile conviction record
- Satisfaction of having a fresh start without criminal records
Your child might be eligible to seal his/her juvenile conviction record if he/she is eighteen years or older and doesn't have a conviction record as an adult for criminal offenses involving moral turpitude, for example, theft or rape.
Ensure you contact a juvenile defense attorney for legal guidance on how to seal your child's juvenile conviction record, which is already affecting his/her endeavors and progress in life.
Find a Juvenile Delinquency Attorney Near Me
Hiring the best defense attorney in a juvenile delinquency case is the first most crucial step to protect your child's legal rights and future when he/she violates the law. We invite you to contact Orange County Criminal Lawyer at 714-262-4833 for a free consultation with our attorneys if your child is in custody for any alleged delinquent act case.
Our attorneys are aggressive and will offer your child a powerful legal representation on every juvenile court process he/she will go through to achieve the possible outcome.