No kidding around – California’s Juvenile Court System

What you need to know when your child is accused of a crime.
About 2,000,000 kids annually are charged with violating criminal laws in the United States.  As we rush to criminalize all conduct, kids increasingly have gotten caught in the dragnet.

In this blog we discuss things you need to know if your child is arrested for a criminal case in California.

Juvenile cases usually begin when a police officer arrests a minor.  Once arrested, the officer must advise the juvenile of his or her constitutional rights.  The officer may then release the minor with a warning, refer the minor to a community agency for counseling services, release the minor and issue a citation ordering the minor appear at the juvenile probation department, or deliver the minor to juvenile authorities for detention.  When delivered to juvenile authorities for detention, juvenile detention proceedings often commence.

The “Juvenile Court” is where juvenile delinquency proceedings take place.  Traditionally, the Juvenile Court is considered a civil court, even though its exclusive duty is to evaluate alleged crimes committed by kids.

Because Juvenile Court is a civil court, the  terminology is different then traditional criminal courts.  There are no criminal complaints in Juvenile Court.  Instead there are petitions.  A juvenile is not convicted of a crime, instead, the petition is found “true.”  Kids don’t plead guilty or not guilty, they “admit” or “deny” the offense.  Kids are “committed” to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation rather than being sentenced to jail or prison.

Despite the nomenclature, you should not be confused.  Many children actually “do time” and the punishment can be severe.

Traditionally, Juvenile Courts place an emphasis on the rehabilitation of minors.  By statute, courts are required to act in the best interest of the minor.  Any punishment must be consistent with the minor’s best interest.  In determining the minor’s best interest, juvenile courts rely on a probation officer to investigate the minor’s background and the circumstances of the offense alleged.

Typically, minors are better off remaining in the juvenile court system rather than adult court because juvenile court provides a broader range of dis positional options.  However, minors have no right to bail, no right to a jury trial, no right to deferred entry of judgment for drug offenses, no right to Proposition 36 eligibility for non-violent drug offenses and no right to have a 48-hour probable cause determination for non-violent drug offenses.

Still, most legal rules applicable in criminal court apply in juvenile court.  Minors have the right to notice of the charges, the right to counsel, the right to confront and cross examine witnesses and the privilege against self incrimination.  Charges must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

Juvenile proceedings are ordinarily confidential and closed to the public. Juvenile records are sealed and generally only accessible to the prosecutor, probation officer, defense attorney and parents, absent court order.

Parents frequently have to pay juvenile court costs if they have the ability to do so.

Effective attorney representation is critical to ensure a greater emphasis on rehabilitation, rather then punitive measures.  Our experienced attorneys work with probation and the courts to achieve appropriate confidential resolutions that allow juveniles to responsibly navigate through the complex court system.  A mistake made by a child should be a speed bump, not a road block to their future.

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