An arrest or investigation for an offense can be devastating, particularly for children or minors. Imagine the thoughts going through a minor’s mind when the police are handcuffing them, taking them through several processes, and being sentenced to rehabilitation away from home. Children make mistakes, and when they do, these wrongdoings should not affect their adulthood.

When children violate the law, the juvenile delinquency court adjudicates their delinquency. If your juvenile has been apprehended for a crime, the Monterey Criminal Attorney can help defend their rights and freedom in court.

Juvenile Delinquency Court Overview

When a minor or individual aged 17 or younger violates the law, they are deemed to have committed a delinquent or contrary act, not a criminal contravention. After apprehension for delinquency, the apprehending officer produces the minor in a juvenile court, where the case is tried instead of in an adult criminal court. The cases these courts adjudicate over are:

  • Curfew violations
  • Felony offenses
  • Misdemeanor offenses
  • Truancy violations
  • Status offenses

It would help if you understood that status offenses differ from delinquent acts. Status offenses are only illegal because of the delinquent’s “status” as a child. If an adult were involved in the same conduct, it would not be deemed illegal before the law. Examples of status offenses include:

  • Truancy from school
  • Underage alcohol usage
  • Fleeing from home
  • Contravening curfew
  • General ungovernability

The special court focuses on minors under 18 who contravene various state, federal, or local statutes. The civil court involves probation officers (PO), social workers, parents, judges, and DAs, but no jurors. The composition ensures that adjudicating the petition against the minor is less intimidating and that the parties involved guide the delinquent to becoming a responsible citizen free of crime. Under the juvenile justice system, the minor receives guidance, therapy, and rehabilitative care geared toward helping them become outstanding citizens.

However, even though the goal is rehabilitation, it should not mean that when your child engages in delinquency, they will walk free. The court can impose various sentences, including placement in foster care, probation, or commitment to the Division of Juvenile Justice.

The justice system dealing with minors has two crucial goals. One is to ensure public safety by protecting people from delinquent acts by minors, and the other is to rehabilitate delinquents.

No bail is involved in these courts. Therefore, when you learn that your minor has been apprehended for delinquency, you should immediately contact an experienced juvenile delinquency attorney. The legal representative will persuade the judge to discharge the minor pending case adjudication.

The Language of the Juvenile Court

The juvenile court dialect differs from that of the adult criminal court. For example, instead of pronouncing your child guilty, the delinquency court sustains the DA’s petition against the delinquent when the accusations are proved beyond moral certainty.

Also, the court uses the term “disposition” instead of sentence. Again, in this justice system, a crime is called delinquent conduct or act, and the trial is known as adjudication.

Lastly, when the court declares your child a court ward, they assume control and responsibility over the delinquent.

Court Ward meaning

Your child becomes a ward of the court when the court takes over primary responsibility for the safety, control, and treatment of the minor. It can take control of the delinquent and still place them on home probation. Alternatively, the court can send the delinquent to a group home or probation camp.

Rehabilitative Objective

The primary feature of the delinquency court is to rehabilitate children who participate in delinquent behavior, which is different from the adult court, whose goal is to punish offenders and discourage others from engaging in crime. The adult court rectifies the offender’s behavior through punishment, while the delinquency court rectifies behavior through rehabilitation. Therefore, when the judge presiding over your child’s petition places them on camp or probation, the goal is to equip them with the skills and knowledge to rectify their criminal ways. By the end of the program, most delinquents are rehabilitated enough to reintegrate into society and become responsible citizens.

The Penalties are not Intended for Retribution

The sanctions the court imposes on the child after a sustained petition are not designed to punish but to rehabilitate. However, this does not mean the child’s delinquency will go unpunished. The court imposes sanctions or penalties to discipline the minor and discourage the same conduct in the future, but not for retribution.

The penalties the court is likely to impose are:

  • Payment of monetary court fines and victim restitution
  • Community hours
  • Commitment to California Youth Authority (CYA), which serves as the prison for delinquents
  • Probation conditions
  • Participation in victim impact classes
  • Foster care placement
  • Juvenile hall commitment

Challenges Experienced by the Juvenile Court System

Despite the efforts to rehabilitate and the notable goals of the delinquency court, it faces many challenges and extensive criticism. Many people believe the system has failed because of the poor conditions in “juvenile prisons.” The state has been previously sued for the following appalling conditions in CYA:

  • Child maltreatment through excessive use of force
  • Holding minors in cells for 23 hours a day
  • Locking juveniles in cages while they attend school
  • Use of psychotropic medicine to control minors
  • Inadequate medical and mental health care services for minors
  • Preserving a culture peppered with gang-related or extreme physical violence

Age Qualification for Juvenile Court

Per the Welfare and Institution Code (WIC) 602, the delinquency court has jurisdiction over offenses or delinquent acts committed by suspects younger than 18. Therefore, if your teenager commits delinquent behavior and the police do not learn about it until the child turns 18, the violation will still be tried in court.

Nevertheless, not every delinquent act a minor engages in is tried in this court. Since September 30, 2018, when Senate Bill (SB) 439 was enacted, some children younger than 12 can be charged in the delinquency court when they engage in the following violations:

  • Oral copulation
  • Sodomy
  • Homicide or murder
  • Forcible sexual penetration
  • The threat to inflict severe bodily harm

The law deems children under twelve incapable of differentiating right and wrong because their brains are not fully developed. Therefore, apart from when these violations happen, the delinquency court cannot take over jurisdiction of cases involving children younger than 12.

Similarly, in unique situations, minors younger than 18 can be transferred to the adult criminal court for trial. According to PEN 707(b), when a child 16 or older but younger than 18 engages in a crime prescribed under this statute, they will undergo a transfer hearing for the judge to rule on whether the delinquent should be tried in the juvenile or adult court.

The judge considers several aspects of the case when deciding whether to transfer your child or adjudicate the case in the delinquency court. These factors are:

  • Your juvenile’s delinquency record
  • The unproven delinquent act’s nature
  • The results of previous rehabilitation attempts
  • The level of criminal complexity of the child when they were participating in the alleged delinquency
  • If the juvenile will be rehabilitated by the time the program comes to a halt

When your juvenile is younger than 16, they cannot undergo a fitness proceeding, regardless of the severity of their delinquency. The crimes prescribed in WIC 707(b) that could see your minor transferred to the adult court for trial are:

  • Robbery
  • Homicide or murder
  • Kidnapping with intent to commit robbery
  • Sexual penetration by force
  • Attempted homicide
  • Carjacking
  • Rape using force
  • Voluntary manslaughter
  • Brandishing a gun in an occupied premises
  • Assault causing severe physical harm
  • Assault with a destructive weapon or object
  • Kidnapping for ransom
  • Aggravated mayhem
  • Kidnapping for sexual assault
  • The threat to inflict severe bodily injury
  • Personally committing a felony using a firearm
  • Exploding a destructive device to perpetrate murder
  • Drive-by-shooting

The Juvenile Court Process

Delinquency courts are special courts designed to handle cases involving contravention of the law by children younger than 18. The court differs from the adult one in the way it handles cases.

The court procedure commences after your minor’s apprehension for participation in delinquency. When the delinquent conduct is trivial, the police officer will correct the child and allow them to go home. Nevertheless, when the contrary conduct is serious, the officer can issue the juvenile a citation and allow them to go home. The citation contains the delinquent act of the minor and the date they are set to appear before a judge.

The apprehending officer will arrest the child for more severe contrary or delinquent acts and produce them in delinquency court. Before producing the juvenile in court, the officer is likely to interrogate the child. As a parent, you must understand your rights and those of your child to ensure they do not end up incriminating themselves. Therefore, immediately you learn that your child is being investigated or has been apprehended for delinquency, you should lawyer up.

At the Monterey Criminal Attorney, we understand juvenile delinquency and court processes. When you call us, we will explain your rights and those of the delinquent during interrogation and guide you throughout the case.

Once the delinquent is apprehended, the police will detain them in a juvenile facility or hall, where a PO will be waiting. The PO will interrogate the minor, after which they will decide the following:

  • Discharge the delinquent from the facility pending petition adjudication
  • Release the child on probation without filing a formal petition in court
  • Help the child understand the consequences of disregarding probationary terms
  • Detain the delinquent in the hall until they appear before a judge

The factors the PO considers when making any of these decisions include:

  • The harshness of the said contrary act
  • Your minor’s social record
  • Your minor’s age
  • Your juvenile’s delinquency past
  • Your capacity as the biological parent or legal guardian to control the minor
  • The solidity of the evidence against the minor

When the PO opts to proceed with the case informally and places the child on probation, they must meet the following requirements:

  • Attend therapy
  • Pay victim restitution
  • Pay court fines
  • Participate in community labor
  • Heed to a harsh lecture

However, when the PO handles the case formally, they will bring a petition before the delinquency court. If this happens, you should ask your attorney to prepare for juvenile court procedures. At the Monterey Criminal Attorney, we have explained the hearings you should expect in this court process below:

Detention Proceeding

The first hearing your child will attend in court is the detention proceeding. The hearing is the same as the arraignment proceeding in the adult court. Here, the juvenile judge rules on whether the minor should stay in the detention facility pending petition adjudication or should be released.

Having an experienced attorney represent your child in this proceeding is critical because it will determine whether you will be going home with them or if they will remain in the detention facility. In the proceeding, the judge reads out the allegations the minor faces and explains their rights. After, the accused enters their preferred plea.

You should know that the delinquent does not plead guilty or innocent in this court, like in adult criminal courts. Instead, the delinquent:

  • Denies the accusations
  • Accepts the accusations
  • Denies the allegations based on insanity
  • Chooses not to challenge the accusations

Ensure that you attend this hearing with the attorney representing the child. If the delinquent is still detained, the attorney can persuade the judge to allow them to reunite with the family while the petition awaits adjudication.

Transfer or Fitness Proceeding

When your minor is accused of a violation prescribed in WIC 707(b), the court schedules a fitness proceeding to decide whether to try the delinquent in juvenile or adult court. The judge will evaluate the case’s facts, and if they conclude that the minor will not gain from the programs provided under the justice system, the child will be moved to the adult criminal court for a criminal trial.

You need a profound juvenile delinquency attorney in your corner to convince the judge with a majority of the evidence that the child should remain in the delinquency court. However, even if, after presenting compelling evidence, the judge decides to transfer the juvenile, you can appeal the decision if it is unsatisfactory. Your attorney should file the appeal within 20 days of the detention proceeding.

When the court rules the appeal in your favor, the child will remain in the justice system until they turn 21, when the court’s jurisdiction over the minor lapses. If the case ends in a sustained petition and the minor is committed to CYA, the delinquency court’s jurisdiction will end when they turn 25.

Adjudication Proceeding

When the court rules in the detention proceeding that the child will remain in the juvenile hall until the matter's conclusion, they should schedule a jurisdiction or adjudication proceeding in fifteen days. The hearing is the same as the trial proceeding in criminal court.

In the hearing, the DA and the minor’s attorney present their arguments and evidence, like in adult courts. The prosecutor must prove beyond moral certainty that you committed the alleged contrary act. If the DA cannot satisfy this evidentiary standard or your attorney successfully contests the prosecutor’s assertion, the judge will dismiss the petition against the child. Therefore, you must hire an experienced defense attorney to keenly evaluate the prosecutor’s evidence and poke holes to prevent an unfavorable outcome.

After the court listens to arguments from opposing parties and evaluates the evidence, it issues a verdict.

Disposition Proceeding

If the adjudication hearing goes against your minor and the judge sustains the petition, the matter will proceed to the disposition proceeding. The judge can schedule the hearing directly after the jurisdiction proceeding if they have all the details and proof of the need for sentencing. Alternatively, the court can schedule the proceeding for a later date.

In the disposition proceeding, the court chooses the most suitable sentence or disposition for the delinquent. The court has several sentencing or disposition options after sustaining the petition, and it is up to them to decide on the most appropriate sentence depending on the nature of the delinquent conduct and factors like the child's age and delinquency record.

Possible Dispositions in a Juvenile Court Proceeding

The possible sentences the court will impose on your minor after a sustained petition include the following:

     1. Informal Probation

If your minor has a clean juvenile delinquency history, the judge will place them in a diversion program before filing a formal petition. The diversion program is provided under WIC 654 for low-level offenses committed for the first time, like shoplifting under PEN 484. Your child can avoid filing a formal petition if your attorney convinces the court to divert the case to probation. When the court imposes the plan, your minor must complete the education the court directs and attend mandatory counseling sessions. After that, the court dismisses the PEN 484 violation accusations against your delinquent.

The PO tries to change the circumstances that bring children within the court's jurisdiction or create the possibility that the delinquent will still be within the jurisdiction by developing a half-year plan.

Failure to obey these conditions can cause the DA to file a formal petition in the delinquency court. If this occurs, the court declares your minor a court ward and assumes responsibility for controlling and treating the delinquent. When this happens, the court places the delinquent on formal probation, whose conditions are the same as those of an informal plan.

Also, the PO or judge can put your minor on informal probation under WIC 725. The difference between informal probation under WIC 725 and WIC 654 diversion informal probation is that under WIC 725, a formal petition is filed but put on hold to give the delinquent a second opportunity. The minor never pleads guilty, and when they comply with court conditions, the court dismisses the petition.

Ensure your child abides by each of the imposed probationary conditions, because failure to comply could result in the court assuming your parental responsibilities when a formal petition is filed and sustained. After that, the court declares the minor a ward of the court.

The probationary requirements your delinquent must obey are:

  • Attend school
  • Restitute the victim of the delinquency
  • Complete community hours
  • Graffiti removal
  • Agree to random narcotics testing
  • Obey curfew

As a parent, your responsibility is to assist the juvenile in complying with all probationary terms. The court notifies you of the probation breach through a notice if they violate the program. If the court corroborates the accusation, your child’s probation will be revoked or face stricter and additional conditions.

     2. Deferred Entry of Judgment (DEJ)

Depending on the circumstances of your allegations, the court can impose a DEJ disposition. The court requires your child to accept the petition's allegations to obtain a deferred judgment. If your juvenile completes the program, the court dismisses the petition.

Your minor is qualified for DEJ if:

  • It is the minor’s first offense
  • The alleged violation is not prescribed in WIC 707(b)
  • The juvenile has no felony record
  • The minor lacks a DJJ sentencing record
  • The juvenile is at least 14 years old
  • The minor has no history of probation violation

Other dispositions include:

  • Formal probation at home or camp
  • Commitment to CYA

Long-Term Consequences of Juvenile Court Adjudication

A sustained petition in juvenile court can hurt your child in the future. The sustained petition counts as a strike. Also, rules allow adult criminal courts to examine juvenile adjudications to inform probation or sentence verdicts.

Adjudication in this court can also cause your child to enroll as a sex predator or offender. Fortunately, when your minor’s sustained petition is for a low-level violation, the law allows your child to seal these juvenile records if they satisfy the requisite conditions, like completing probation and avoiding crime for a specified duration.

Find an Experienced Juvenile Delinquency Attorney Near Me

Learning of your minor’s apprehension for delinquent conduct can be overwhelming and confusing. However, you have legal options. You can hire an attorney to represent the child in court and protect their rights. At the Monterey Criminal Attorney, we understand minors make mistakes, and we do not want these mistakes to define their future. We will use our knowledge of juvenile court systems for a favorable ruling. Call us at 831-574-1791 to discuss your minor’s case.