Minors who run afoul of California statutes face a separate judicial system provided for under juvenile delinquency regulations. The unique justice system separates young offenders from adult ones and provides more lenient detention, focusing more on rehabilitation than punishment.

When your juvenile offender is declared a court ward after a serious offense, they are detained in the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), formerly known as the California Youth Authority (CYA), which stresses more rehabilitation than detention. However, despite DJJ being lenient, it can be challenging for your minor. At Monterey Criminal Attorney, we can help your young offender avoid detention in these facilities or plead for an incarceration reduction after they have been declared court wards.

Understanding Juvenile Delinquency

California statutes apply to all Californians, including underage persons. The law will apply to your child if they understand its applicability. Any child aged seven to nine has reasonable reasoning and can comprehend the law's restrictions.

Because the law provides guidelines and punishment for breaching these guidelines, juvenile offenders must be held criminally liable for their violations. Nevertheless, because of their young age, the law treats them differently, which is why they face the juvenile delinquency judicial system, which only deals with delinquent behavior involving underage persons.

When a minor is apprehended for contravening the law, the officer involved can send them to court, contingent on the case’s circumstances. The officer has many options after an arrest, including:

  • Temporarily detaining the offender and warning them of the repercussions of their delinquency
  • Holding the child at the police station until their parent comes to pick them
  • Detain the minor in a juvenile hall, waiting for the filing of a petition and appearance in juvenile court for case adjudication.

When the officer refers the matter to the minor’s court, a probation officer (PO) must be assigned to the case for evaluation. After thoroughly reviewing the evidence against the minor, the PO can choose to drop the petition and allegations, deal with the case informally, or file a formal detention petition. The result of handling the case outside the court is not as harsh as that of a formal proceeding. Therefore, hire an attorney early to negotiate with the PO to handle the case outside court. Even if the case goes to court, a defense attorney will represent the minor for a favorable outcome.

After hearing the petition and determining that the young offender committed the alleged delinquency, the judge declares them court wards, the same as being convicted in an adult criminal court. Subsequently, the presiding judge imposes penalties for the sustained petition contingent on the offense type, age, educational needs, maturity, and treatment needs.

Even though commitment to DJJ is lenient compared to jail or prison incarceration, you must fight the petition against your child in the juvenile court by all means. You should hire an attorney who understands this special justice system to prevent a sustained petition and protect the young offender’s future.

DJJ at a Glance

For many years, minors who engaged in serious crimes were placed in CYA. However, in 2005, the Corrections and Rehabilitation Department took control of the authority, changing the name to DJJ, whose primary objective is to offer education and treatment programs to offenders younger than 25. After 25, the ward is released or moved to the adult jail or prison. Although these facilities were intended for minors, they have strict regulations that make them the same as adult prisons.

However, beginning July 2023, young offenders will no longer be placed in DJJ facilities. Instead, they are placed in youth treatment facilities that aim at victim restoration, community restoration, and educating or training the offender.

Court Processes Leading to Placement in DJJ Facilities

If the PO opts to file a formal detention petition after evaluating the minor's case, the child will go through the juvenile court system. The judicial system is extremely complex, so you should hire a criminal defense attorney to defend the child and walk them through the process.

The worst disposition or sentence your child can face is commitment to DJJ. Even though the goal of these facilities is education, training, and rehabilitation, they operate the same way as adult prisons, as they are locked institutions for minors with sustained petitions for severe crimes. The process leading to DJJ facility commitment are:

Detention Proceeding

Formal proceedings in delinquency cases begin with your minor appearing before a presiding judge in the juvenile court. The goal of the proceeding is to determine if the child should be released pending case adjudication or remain in detention. The hearing usually happens when the police officer decides against releasing the minor after arrest. Therefore, when the officer decides your child will not be discharged and instead will remain in custody pending court appearance, a detention proceeding must be scheduled within forty-eight hours.

The juvenile court has no bail option, so the child has only two options: staying in custody or being discharged pending case adjudication. If the court releases the minor, it imposes conditions like curfews, random drug tests, or electronic monitoring.

You should consider retaining the services of a private juvenile delinquency attorney to increase the chances of a positive outcome. If you fail to hire an attorney, the court will appoint a deputy public defender for the minor. These public defenders usually handle multiple cases simultaneously and will not have time to give your minor’s case the attention it needs, increasing the chances of detention pending adjudication. When the court opts to detain the minor until the conclusion of their petition, chances are high that the child will end up committed to a DJJ institution.

Fitness or Transfer Proceeding

When your minor is at least 16 years old, and accused of committing a felony listed under Welfare and Institution Code (WIC) 707(b), the court will hold a transfer proceeding. Also, the proceeding will be necessary if the minor is 14 or 15 and violated the laws prescribed under WIC 707(b) but was not apprehended until they attained the age of the majority. The goal of the fitness hearing is to decide if the child offenders should go through the juvenile judicial system or be moved to the adult court to face trial as an adult offender.

The consequences of your child being tried as an adult are life-altering. You must hire an attorney who understands the juvenile delinquency system to convince the court not to move the child to the adult court. Most crimes that result in the transfer of the minor offender to the adult criminal court are the ones that result in DJJ commitment and other less strict dispositions in the juvenile court. So, even when you succeed in keeping the trial in juvenile court, the child’s attorney must work tirelessly to prevent a sustained petition that attracts harsh consequences for the minor.

The case proceeds to the next phase when the judge finds compelling reasons not to transfer the delinquent to the adult court.

Pre-Trial Motions

Juvenile courts have the pretrial phase, where your minor’s legal counsel and the prosecutor exchange evidence or discovery. Also, the defense attorney files various petitions, including motions to suppress proof or dismiss the petition against the child. An experienced attorney can also negotiate with the prosecutor at this phase for a disposition to avoid adjudication.

Like adult criminal cases, many juvenile petitions are settled before trial. The child can plead guilty to a minor offense after receiving guidance from their attorney.

Adjudication Proceeding

The adjudication or jurisdiction proceeding serves as the minor’s trial. However, there is no jury in these cases. Only the presiding judge listens to arguments from opposing sides, evaluates the evidence presented, and issues a disposition.

The prosecutor has the burden of proof and must demonstrate to the court beyond moral certainty that the child engaged in the alleged delinquency. Once the prosecutor presents their case, your minor’s defense attorney will have the opportunity to present their evidence, cross-examine state witnesses, and examine eyewitnesses.

If the prosecutors prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt, the court will sustain the DA’s petition against the child offender, equivalent to a guilty verdict. However, even if the DA cannot meet the evidentiary standard in criminal cases or there is reasonable doubt that the child committed the crime, the court will deny the petition, equivalent to a not guilty verdict.

You should know that the jurisdiction proceeding must happen fifteen days after the detention proceeding if the child is to remain in custody until the case's conclusion. The time frame excludes holidays and weekends. However, when the offender is outside custody, it can take longer before the adjudication proceeding happens.

Disposition Proceeding

When the court sustains the petition against the offender at the adjudication hearing, the case proceeds to the disposition stage, usually called sentencing.

The objective of the juvenile court is to rehabilitate; therefore, the various dispositions to be imposed must be geared towards this goal. During the hearing, your attorney will plead with the court not to commit the child offender to a DJJ facility because it is the harshest punishment under this special justice system. Commitment to the division of juvenile justice is no different from prison or jail incarceration. So, the offender’s attorney must be present to compel the judge to impose a lenient sentence with less stringent consequences for the child, like formal probation.

If the judge sends the child to probation, they are not declared court wards. Instead, they serve probation, and the court dismisses the petition upon program completion. The probationary terms the child must adhere to include:

  • Enrolling or attending school
  • Observing curfew hours
  • Attending mandatory counseling
  • Community hours
  • Victim restitution

Where severe crimes are involved, the child can be placed in a probation camp or juvenile detention center.

Factors Influencing a Child Offender’s Commitment to a DJJ Institution

Even after the court makes your minor a court ward, it must consider many factors before detaining them in a DJJ institution. These aspects ensure that the punishment imposed on the court ward is proportionate to their offense. Also, considering these factors before the minor’s detention ensures that the offender obtains the best rehabilitative care. The factors that influence the judge’s decision on the delinquent’s detention in a DJJ institution are:

  1. The Child’s Academic Needs

Even after being apprehended and detained, your child should be under the education program, whether or not they were enrolled in school, as every person below the majority age is entitled to education. Therefore, the DJJ must consider the offender's educational level and ensure measures are in place to enable the delinquent to continue their studies.

Therefore, during disposition, the court must be informed of the minor’s level of education for additional planning. Once the child is committed to the facility, they will resume their studies to ensure continued learning.

  1. The Court Ward’s Age

After being declared a court ward, the judge must consider the offender’s age before sending them to detention in a DJJ institution. Age is a major consideration because a significant age difference can cause conflict between young and older children. Also, minors committed to these facilities will find it difficult to fit in when they reach a certain age, like 25, which is why they are usually transferred or moved to adult prisons. However, offenders who show dedication in these facilities continue to serve their time even when they are older, which is better than adjusting to new conditions in adult prison facilities.

Therefore, when the delinquent judge is issuing a disposition that involves sending the offender to a DJJ institution, age must be a significant consideration. If the offender is too young to withstand the harsh conditions in these facilities, your attorney can prepare a petition for alternative sentencing.

An offender must be at least eleven years old to be arraigned in court and possibly face detention. Once the child attains the age of majority, the court can review its previous decision and issue fresh instructions.

  1. The Child’s Medical Record

Few children have medical conditions that require special attention or care. Therefore, after declaring them court wards, the court must be furnished with additional information about the medical tests, allergies, and any special care these delinquents will require during detention. Doing so helps prevent catastrophes in rehabilitation facilities.

  1. Chances of Successful Rehabilitation

The judge imposing disposition on the court ward must be convinced that the offender is emotionally mature enough to comprehend their actions and the need for rehabilitation in a DJJ facility. Successful rehabilitation involves delinquents who understand their delinquency and are willing to change their lives.

Failure to understand the reason for detention will be counterproductive, as the delinquent will have problems adapting to the strict rules in the DJJ. The PO assigned to the child should conduct a short evaluation of the minor and determine the most productive form of rehabilitation.

  1. The Kind of Delinquency the Minor is Charged with

WIC 707(b) prescribes offenses that can lead to the commitment of a child offender to a DJJ institution. Also, the judge goes through the list of offenses to see if the one your minor is charged with falls under the category. Again, they will compare the crimes to determine the best rehabilitation, including detention.

When evaluating the crime’s nature, the judge takes into account aggravating and mitigating factors. If the minor's delinquent act was accompanied by aggravating circumstances, the judge will send the child to detention. However, if mitigating circumstances exist, the child offender will face a lenient sentence, like formal probation.

  1. The Delinquent’s Background

The judge can also retrieve your child’s record for background checks and inform you of the appropriate disposition, including detention. The child’s history helps the judge paint a picture of the child's environment that could have led to their delinquency. However, the judge does not only rely on background checks because each child’s situation is unique. The PO assigned to the case must conduct a thorough check on the child's history, including mental health issues, cases of abuse, or an in-depth analysis of the child’s character, before issuing a disposition.

Repercussions of DJJ Placement

Before the judge places your minor in a DJJ facility, they must request a ninety-day diagnostic report on the offender to decide on the most appropriate treatment, depending on delinquency.

Placement in these facilities is normally lengthy, and the restrictions are the same as those in adult prisons. Delinquents in these institutions attend mandatory school full-time. After high school, the minor completes vocational training or enrolls in a college program. Once they complete their studies, the child secures employment in the facility in various positions, including landscaping, janitor, or cook.

Additionally, the delinquent undergoes rehabilitation programs tailored to meet the child’s unique needs. The reformative programs the delinquent will undergo in these detention facilities include:

  • Sexual conduct treatment
  • Mental illness residential units
  • Intensive behavior treatment

Typically, the duration of commitment in these facilities does not exceed the jail or prison sentence provided for the same offense in the adult court. The presiding juvenile judge determines the detention duration, and usually their decision is influenced by the offender’s delinquency record and the nature of the delinquent act. Once the child serves their confinement duration, they are eligible to discharge the sentence 24 months after the confinement or after they turn 23, whichever comes later.

When the child is confined in a DJJ institution for an offense whose sentence in an adult prison is at most seven years and is not necessarily prescribed under WIC 707(b), the child can discharge the disposition after 24 months or when they turn 25 years old, whichever happens later.

You should know that when the judge sentences the delinquent to a DJJ institution for no more than ninety days, the child can escape detention. Again, the child must be 11 or older for placement in these facilities. Nevertheless, when the child attains the age of majority, which is 18 years, the court will instruct a transfer to the adult court unless their confinement duration lapses before they turn 25 years.

Even though your child needs rehabilitation to be a responsible citizen in the future, you do not wish for them to be confined in DJJ facilities. Spending even twenty-four months in these facilities can be detrimental to your child’s future. In these facilities, they interact with other delinquents, some of whom have committed serious or violent crimes. They could end up copying behavior from these delinquents, adversely impacting their conduct and failing to attain the desired goal of the program, which is rehabilitation.

Additionally, confinement in these institutions affects the child’s capacity to secure gainful employment, enroll in college, or serve in the military. So, when you learn of your minor’s violation of the law, you should act quickly and contact a criminal defense attorney to protect their rights, freedom, and future.

When there is evidence that the child is not benefiting from the DJJ confinement and rehabilitation programs, the child’s defense attorney can file a resentencing motion to compel a judge to impose a more favorable disposition for the minor.

Long-Term Consequences of Juvenile Adjudication

Trials or adjudications in juvenile delinquency court can be life-changing for minor offenders, even after they complete their detention. So, your minor’s defense counsel should work tirelessly to prevent the case from reaching this stage. They should negotiate a plea deal for a more lenient disposition.

When the court sustains your child’s petition in an adjudication hearing for a sex offense, the minor risks the requirement to enlist as a sexual predator. The consequences of the registration obligation will change your child’s life for the worse because it will affect their career and social life.

After the delinquent completes their detention, their attorney should file a motion to seal and destroy the juvenile records, giving the minor a clean slate and putting their childhood mistakes behind them.

Find a Competent Juvenile Delinquency Defense Attorney Near Me

Your minor’s future is on the line if they face accusations of contravening the law. At Monterey Criminal Attorney, we will conduct an independent investigation into the allegations and find evidence to help us negotiate with the prosecutor to avoid adjudication and for a lenient disposition that does not involve DJJ confinement if the crime is serious. Call us at 831-574-1791 for reliable legal guidance.