The juvenile justice system in California is different from the adult criminal system. When a child commits a crime like an adult, the child will face charges, but in a juvenile court. In the juvenile court, a judge could hear and determine the case. The legal jargon used in an adult court differs from the one used in a juvenile court. If a juvenile is guilty of any crime, the juvenile petition against them will be sustained rather than facing a conviction. The juvenile court process can be complicated, especially if you are experiencing it for the first time. If a juvenile is facing juvenile criminal charges, you need an experienced criminal attorney to help you fight the charges. At the Monterey Criminal Attorney, we have a team of experienced attorneys with sufficient skills and experience to assist you in navigating the juvenile court process.

Overview Of Sustained Juvenile Petitions

It is common for children to commit crimes in California. A child can commit a misdemeanor or a felony, just like an adult. Fortunately, underage offenders are never treated the same as adult offenders because of their age. The following are two types of offenses a child could be accused of:

Status Crimes

Minors often commit these crimes because of their age and peer influence. These are relatively minor crimes that do not attract severe penalties.

Delinquent Crimes

These are more severe crimes, regarded as criminal offenses if an adult committed them. The law is lenient on minor offenders, regardless of how grave the crime committed is. The juvenile justice system is charged with determining minors' cases and giving considerable judgment.

The Juvenile Justice System

The juvenile court makes verdicts based on the minor's criminal record and the severity of the crime. The purpose of the juvenile justice system is to rehabilitate minor offenders as opposed to punishing and incarcerating them. In extreme cases, a minor would only be confined in a juvenile detention center. Penalties for juvenile offenders are usually less severe.

A minor offender must appear in court for the hearing before a verdict is pronounced. The process begins with an arrest, just like with adult offenders. Law enforcement often decides whether to release the juvenile or refer them to a juvenile hall. The police decision is based on how often the child has been in trouble with the law and the severity of the crime. The police would send a juvenile to a juvenile home if they feel that the crime committed is severe. They will also do so if they think that a juvenile requires assistance to prevent a similar incident in the future.

The prosecutor will study a juvenile’s case once in the juvenile hall. The prosecutor will then decide whether to file a petition against a juvenile. Filing a petition against a minor in a juvenile court is similar to filing charges against an adult in an adult criminal court. The prosecutor can file a misdemeanor or a felony against the minor based on the facts of the case. The judge will set a hearing and make the judgment. The judge will sustain the petition against a juvenile if guilty of committing the alleged offense.

Sustained Juvenile Petition Vs. Guilty Verdict

Sustained juvenile petitions are typically similar to guilty verdicts in a criminal court. However, there is no jury in a juvenile court. The judge will solely hear the case and all the evidence tabled against a child in an adjudication hearing. The judge will also decide whether the evidence tabled is enough to find the child guilty.

The prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a child committed the alleged crime. The judge will sustain the petition against a juvenile if all the evidence is accepted and there is no doubt that the child committed the crime. The judge will dismiss the petition if the evidence presented against a minor does not satisfy all the elements of the offense the minor is accused of committing.

Penalties For Juvenile Offenders

If the petition is sustained against a child, the child could face the crime's repercussions. A juvenile could face punishment, probation, or rehabilitation, depending on the nature of the offense committed. A child could also face the consequences based on whether the minor is a habitual offender. Judges in a juvenile justice system have several choices, also known as disposition orders. The disposition orders are categorized as follows:

  • Incarceration
  • Non-incarceration

Incarceration is a jail or prison an adult offender can face, but it is different for a minor offender. Some crimes attract confinement. The judge in a juvenile court has plenty of options to choose from if he/she opts for this kind of penalty. The following are incarceration levels a juvenile could face:

Blended Sentences

The judge could order a juvenile to remain in a juvenile facility until the juvenile attains the legal age, after which the child will be taken to an adult jail or prison. This can happen if a juvenile is charged with the omission of a severe crime.

Adult Jails Or Prisons

Juveniles guilty of committing more severe crimes could be tried in adult courts. Once they are convicted, they could proceed to adult jail or prison. A juvenile could serve their jail term like an ordinary adult offender. Sometimes, however, their sentences could be shorter.

Juvenile Facilities

Juvenile facilities are only meant for high-risk offenders. Minor offenders guilty of committing severe crimes are taken to juvenile facilities and are detained for an extended period. Juvenile facilities are typically secured places.

Juvenile Probation

The judge could sentence a juvenile to probation after the minor stays in a detention facility for a short period.

Juvenile Hall

Some juvenile offenders are taken to juvenile detention for a designated period. Minors can only be sentenced for a short period.

Placement With Another Person

The judge could also place a juvenile with someone else if he/she feels it will not be in the minor's best interest if the minor goes back home. In this case, a juvenile could be taken to a foster home or sent to live with a relative.

House Arrest Or Home Confinement

The judge could order a juvenile to stay home for a specified period on house arrest. While on house arrest, a juvenile will only leave the house when necessary. For example, the juvenile can go out to attend school or counseling sessions. Afterward, the child will be back to house arrest to serve their sentence.

Non-Incarceration Punishment Options For Juvenile Courts

The juvenile court can decide the type of punishment to impose on a minor offender. The court will do so based on the minor's past criminal history and the severity of the crime. The non-incarceration punishment options available in the juvenile justice system include:


The judge could send juveniles on probation instead of holding them in a juvenile facility.

Electronic Monitoring

A juvenile judge could order a juvenile to put on a wrist or ankle bracelet for a designated period to monitor their whereabouts.

Community Service

A juvenile will participate in community service. In this case, the minor will have to engage in specific tasks for a designated number of hours in a week.

Attending Counseling

A juvenile judge could order a juvenile to enroll in counseling sessions. The judge could do so if he or she believes counseling can shape the minor's behavior.

Paying Fines

This is where the judge orders the minor to pay fines for a juvenile to the government or restitution to the victim if the crime includes a victim.

Verbal Warnings

The court can dismiss a juvenile with a verbal warning if the child is guilty of committing a minor offense.

Juvenile Probation

If the judge sustains the petition against a minor, Welfare and Institutions Code (WIC) 725 allows the judge to send the minor on probation. The maximum period for probation is usually six months and could be supervised or unsupervised. A juvenile will have to comply with some conditions while on probation. The juvenile court can declare a juvenile to become a ward of the court if he/she fails to adhere to probation conditions.

It is upon the discretion of the juvenile court judge to decide the appropriate probation conditions to impose on the minor. Some of the common conditions could include:

  • Observe the curfew between 2200 and 0600 hours. A juvenile can only be allowed outside the home between those hours if the child is in the parent's company or accompanied by any other adult custodian.
  • Parents are expected to support their children in juvenile counseling and education programs.
  • A juvenile to attend school without fail

The conditions of probation the court imposes will depend on the following:

  • The juvenile’s social history
  • The circumstances surrounding their case

The judge could also impose severe alcohol and drug conditions on a juvenile on probation. The law does not tolerate the consumption of alcohol and drugs among children. The conditions on alcohol and drugs will only apply if the case involves the following:

  • Consumption or possession of alcohol by the child
  • Furnishing, possession, or consumption of illegal drugs by the minor

The judge could order a juvenile to complete an alcohol or drug education program as part of their probation if the underlying case involves alcohol or drugs. The court could also order a juvenile to have regular checks for drugs and alcohol throughout the probation department. The judge will declare a juvenile a ward of the court for failing to comply with all the conditions of their probation.

The juvenile court assumes authority and jurisdiction over a juvenile if declared a ward of the court. If a minor is a ward of the court, the court could act as the child's parent or guardian. You will retain custody rights over a juvenile when this happens, though with unsupervised or supervised probation. Sometimes, the judge could be forced to restrict the level of control you have over a juvenile or remove the child from the parent's custody.

Adult Criminal Penalties

A juvenile could also face trial in an adult court, where the minor is convicted like an adult offender. This can happen if a juvenile is guilty of a serious crime and has committed the offense for at least 14 years. Some of the offenses regarded as severe and for which a minor can be transferred to an adult court include:

  • Oral copulation, or sodomy by violence, menace, or force
  • Forcible lascivious and lewd acts with a minor below 14 years
  • Forcible sex acts with someone else
  • Forcible sexual penetration with a foreign object
  • First-degree murder
  • Rape

The prosecutor could request the judge transfer a juvenile's case to an adult court if he/she is guilty of committing any severe offenses outlined above. A minor will face trial like an adult and could face harsh penalties for the offense if the judge grants the prosecutor's request. A juvenile will face a similar punishment as an adult offender if found guilty in an adult court.

Repercussions Of A Juvenile Criminal Record

Most people think that juvenile criminal records do not affect their lives in any way. Once the judge sustains the juvenile petition, it will appear in the child's criminal record. All types of criminal records could negatively influence a juvenile's life, be it employment or education. You should prevent a sustained juvenile petition by seeking the legal representation of an experienced attorney. The following are some of the impacts of a juvenile criminal record:

Enhanced Punishment In the Future

An adult offender with a juvenile criminal record will likely face enhanced punishment if convicted. The judge will be harsher with an offender if convicted as an adult and has a criminal record as a child. A judge will sentence a juvenile for a current offense based on the juvenile record and past criminal convictions. If a juvenile has a prior criminal record, the offender will face enhanced jail terms or heftier penalties. The judge could impose a jail term on a juvenile even if their current crime calls for probation.

Applying To Join The Military

A juvenile criminal record could prevent a juvenile from joining the military. Each section of the United States Armed Forces has its set guidelines on how a juvenile criminal record can influence a juvenile's eligibility. The military is always strict on applicants.

Applicants with a juvenile criminal record are often denied the opportunity to join the military. Only minors with records showing non-violent offenses can secure a waiver and qualify to enlist. It is always hard for minors with severe past criminal records to join the military. You should seek the services of an experienced criminal attorney if you want your child to join the military in the future.

Seeking Employment

Employers like to hire people of credible conduct. It can be challenging for a juvenile to convince a potential employer to secure a job if he/she has a criminal record. Most employers will request job applicants to reveal their prior convictions, including those obtained while still minors. Other prospective employers will conduct a background check on applicants before considering their job application. A prospective employer will disqualify a juvenile upon discovering the minor has a criminal record. An individual could miss a job opportunity because of a crime committed while young.

College Applications

Most colleges are hesitant to approve applications from individuals with juvenile criminal records. Admission boards can reject a juvenile's application but will check the following:

  • Whether a juvenile made a positive change in their life
  • The type of offense a juvenile committed
  • The length of a juvenile’s criminal record

However, even after a juvenile's admission, the college authorities will monitor the juvenile to ensure that their past behavior does not recur while in college. It is not pleasant to be treated with suspicion all the time. In addition, juveniles with ongoing problems with the law find it difficult to get college admission. The college would want a juvenile to sort out their legal issues in life before seeking admission.

The Role Of A Criminal Defense Attorney In Sustained Juvenile Petitions

If a juvenile has been arrested, it is best to seek the services of a criminal attorney. Most parents need help understanding the juvenile justice system and the options to take. An attorney who understands the juvenile court processes will help you handle the following:

Defending The Juvenile In Court

A competent attorney will develop a strong defense for a juvenile and persuade the court to grant a lenient or compassionate disposition. The judge will not sustain the petition against a juvenile if your attorney convinces the judge that the child is innocent. If you choose not to hire an attorney, it will be your word against the prosecutor, and you will likely lose the case.

Your attorney has probably handled numerous juvenile delinquency cases in the past and understands how the juvenile court works. Attorneys understand the tricks that prosecutors employ and can identify lapses in the prosecutor’s evidence. You should never make the mistake of failing to seek legal representation.

Preventing A Juvenile’s Case From Being Referred To An Adult Court

If the prosecutor accuses a juvenile of committing a serious offense, the juvenile court judge can refer the case to an adult court for proper hearing and determination. In this case, a juvenile could face trial and penalties like an adult if found guilty. The offender will face harsher penalties than he/she could have faced if tried and sentenced in a juvenile court.

Having The Case Diverted Or Handled Informally

An attorney can convince law enforcement to handle a juvenile's case without referring a juvenile to the juvenile hall. If the attorney succeeds, a juvenile will not serve a jail term and subsequently will not have a juvenile criminal record.

Sealing Of Juvenile Criminal Records

A juvenile will have a criminal record if their petition is sustained. A juvenile criminal record typically influences various aspects of a juvenile's life. Fortunately, the law permits the sealing of criminal records. Once the record is sealed, a background check on a juvenile will not show the criminal record. If a juvenile is through with probation, a skilled attorney can commence the sealing process immediately.

Sealing A Juvenile Record After A Sustained Juvenile Petition

Welfare and Institutions Code (WIC) 781 regulates the juvenile record sealing process after a sustained juvenile petition. This process usually takes eight to ten months. You could file the petition in the county where a juvenile's trial occurred. A juvenile can qualify for sealing after meeting the following the following conditions:

  • Should not have any pending civil litigation emerging from the juvenile incidents
  • The court must be convinced that the juvenile offender is rehabilitated
  • The offender should not convicted of a serious offense like murder, robbery, or torture after turning 14 years
  • The juvenile is 18 years or older, or it has been five years since the termination of the juvenile court discretion
  • Must not have committed a misdemeanor or felony that involves moral turpitude

A sustained juvenile petition is not automatically sealed after a minor turns 18. It can only happen if the judge orders the sealing and destruction of the record, according to WIC 781. Sealing a sustained juvenile petition prohibits prospective school officials, employers, and lenders from discriminating against minor offenders based on their criminal record.

Find A Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

It is common for young people to make mistakes. An attorney must have knowledge and expertise in juvenile crimes to properly defend a minor or teenager. It also calls for a thorough understanding of the California law that applies to young offenders. Leaving a minor offender in the criminal system to "learn a lesson" can also be a terrible decision. It is best to involve an attorney to mitigate a sustained juvenile petition.

A juvenile criminal record can have far-reaching consequences. The sooner you involve an experienced attorney, the more likely you will avoid a criminal record. If you require a reliable criminal defense attorney, contact the Monterey Criminal Attorney. For years, our attorneys have been defending juvenile offenders. We understand everything about the juvenile justice system. Contact us at 831-574-1791 to speak to one of our attorneys.