California follows different processes when dealing with juvenile cases. The court believes that even if minors sometimes violate the law, they should not be subject to the same criminal court process as adults. Instead, they should undergo rehabilitation to become law-abiding and responsible citizens in their adult life.

When your child finds themselves on the wrong side of the law, you don’t need to panic or feel ashamed because an arrest doesn’t make the adolescent a criminal. You can do a lot after an arrest, including hiring a reputable criminal lawyer to mitigate the consequences of a sustained petition or avoid long-term repercussions like obtaining admission in college or joining the army.

Our lawyers at Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer have the experience needed to help you and your minor through this complex process and obtain a favorable outcome at the end of the case. In this article, we have provided a detailed overview of juvenile delinquency.

Legal Definition of Juvenile Delinquency

Delinquency is engaging in unlawful conduct as an individual below the age of consent which is 18 or a minor. Therefore, when an individual below the statutory age participates in a crime or makes unlawful adult decisions, they are no longer innocent, meaning they will face the law. However, although these kids should be held accountable for their actions, they are not handled like adults because they have different minds and understanding.

Several factors can push minors into the commission of illegal acts. These factors are:

  • Social circles’ violence
  • Domestic violence
  • Alcohol or substance abuse
  • Poor morals
  • School absenteeism
  • Abject education standards
  • Peer pressure

It’s your responsibility as a parent to ensure proper child guidance so that some of the factors mentioned above don’t mess up your child’s future.

If your child ends up on the wrong side of the law, they will be apprehended and released without any conditions or be presented in a detention hall awaiting interrogation by an intake officer and presentation in the court if the case is a serious one. The court deals with all delinquent acts, including felonies, misdemeanors, and status crimes committed by adolescents.

The court for minors is different from the criminal adult court because there is no jury, although judges, the prosecutor, defense attorney, and the police officers will be present. The terminologies used in these courts are also unique, but this doesn’t make this procedure less complex than the adult one.

Remember, if the offense is severe, that is when your minor is held in a hall awaiting interviewing and questioning by an intake officer, who then decides whether the minor should be allowed to go home or be presented before a juvenile judge.

You must understand that your child has rights during questioning to ensure their constitutional rights are not violated. The interrogating officer should first recite the child’s Miranda rights like the right not to talk, the privilege to a private legal defender, and the dispensation to a public attorney if you didn’t afford one.

Your kid’s understanding of Miranda rights before interrogation can prevent incriminating statements that might weaken their case. Therefore, if your child understands these rights, they will remain silent until a criminal defender or the parent is present. This shouldn’t mean that the probation officer needs your consent to proceed with the interrogations, but you should be there to offer guidance and support.

Also, ensure you call a criminal attorney experienced in delinquency cases because their expertise and knowledge are what you need to succeed. The lawyer will educate you on your rights in the proceeding and provide quality legal counsel to safeguard your child’s future.

Juvenile Court Proceedings After Delinquent Act Charges

After your minor is apprehended for participating in a delinquent act, they must attend various court proceedings before the case is concluded. These proceedings include:

  1. Detention Hearing

After an arrest, the police officer can decide to release them or take them to a juvenile hall for holding. If the decision is to detain your child, a detention hearing must occur within 72 hours after the apprehension. The proceeding is conducted to determine if your child should continue being held or be released before a ruling. Note that even if the kid is not detained, the detention proceeding must occur within the three days provided by the law.

The intake officer in charge of the case might opt to deal with the issue formally or informally. The factors that inform their decision include:

  • The gravity of the delinquent act in question
  • The adolescent’s age
  • The adolescent’s delinquent history
  • The minor’s social life history
  • The solidity of the facts presented in court
  • Your capacity as the child’s parent or caregiver to manage their conduct

After assessing the above factors, the intake officer can choose the formal way by allowing the case to proceed to the next stage and letting the minor’s court deal with the matter. Alternatively, they can decide to go the informal way where instead of subjecting the minor to the court processes, the officer imposes strict conditions. These conditions are:

  • Payment of hefty court fines
  • Taking part in community service labor
  • Victim restitution if the adolescent’s delinquent act led to losses
  • Mandatory counseling program
  • Join a probation program

The court’s decision at this hearing is not final. If you aren’t satisfied by the charge’s efficacy, you can request another hearing in person or through the child’s attorney to challenge the decision. The request must occur within 72 hours after the court sustains the decision to detain the minor. The court will grant an additional hearing to:

  • Evaluate the evidence
  • Assess the jurisdiction issue
  • Establish the time your child should be detained in the juvenile hall
  • Determine if the adolescent is to be detained

They might choose to guide your child to legal guardianship, put them up for adoption or invalidate your rights as a parent to the minor.

  1. Fitness Hearing

Also called the transfer hearing, a fitness hearing happens following a detention hearing where the intake officer formally decides to deal with your child’s case. The purpose of the fitness hearing is to determine whether the kid should be adjudicated in the adult court or juvenile system. The hearing is necessary because some children participate in delinquent acts that require them to be treated like adults. Before the adolescent is transferred to the adult court, the court must evaluate the case to decide if it’s fit for transfer.

The court evaluates the following factors to determine if your minor is fit for transfer:

  • Your minor’s delinquent record
  • The proportion of criminal refinement demonstrated by the adolescent through the delinquent act
  • The facts of the purported delinquent act
  • The performance levels in previous attempts by the court to retrain the minor

The intake officer or prosecutor on your minor’s case is the one that determines if to request a fitness hearing. They will initiate the transfer process if the adolescent is at least sixteen years and if the alleged supposed act is listed under the Welfare and Institutions Code (WIC) 707(b). The offenses outlined under this section include:

  • Kidnapping
  • Robbery
  • Homicide
  • Carjacking
  • Rape by force
  • Voluntary manslaughter
  • Attempted homicide
  • Assault with a firearm or explosive device
  • Forcible sexual penetration
  • Oral copulation or sodomy by force
  • Drive-by shooting

Note that the intake officer has the discretion to file charges directly in the adult court. Still, most choose to go to the fitness hearing way for the child and the child to understand why the matter should be adjudicated in the adult criminal court system.

  1. Adjudication Hearing

A trial in this court is known as case adjudication, and it happens if the court concludes the case should be heard and determined in a minor’s court system and not the adult court. Also known as the jurisdiction hearing, an adjudication proceeding is when the court determines whether the delinquent act rumors against your adolescents are true or false to take appropriate action.

If the minor is detained in a hall after the detention proceeding, the adjudication proceeding should occur within 15 working days. Remember, the court can only confirm the allegations of a delinquent act after the court concludes the case and sustains the petition. Until then, your adolescent is innocent and has the entitlement to defend against the allegations of delinquent acts. Therefore, an arrest alone should not put you in a panic mode because the child still has a chance to prove their innocence in court.

However, this is not as easy as it seems because juvenile court processes are usually complex and require someone with knowledge about the various laws and procedures. So, going to this hearing, you need to hire a criminal lawyer to represent your interests and those of your adolescent.

The courts dealing with juvenile cases are distinct from the adult courts, although particular procedural safeguards are in place to ensure the child’s rights are protected. These safeguards include:

  • The entitlement to employ a lawyer for legal representation
  • The right to self-representation
  • The entitlement to avoid self-incrimination by choosing to or not to appear in court to testify
  • The prosecuting team must prove their evidence beyond reasonable certainty
  • The authority to subpoena witnesses

If the prosecutor provides watertight evidence to demonstrate beyond reasonable certainty that your minor engaged in the rumored delinquent act, they will find the allegations trustworthy. A sustained petition means that the court has found the child guilty of the rumored delinquent acts. However, if the evidence is insufficient to prove to the judge that the minor allegations against your child are true, the juvenile judge won’t sustain the case. Instead, they will drop the charges.

Fighting a petition in these courts is not a cakewalk. You need an experienced and profound lawyer to mount appropriate legal defenses that will ensure favorable results.

  1. Disposition Hearing

After the adjudication hearing, where a judge sustains a petition, the next stage is the disposition hearing, where the appropriate discipline for the minor is decided. The hearing can happen right after sustaining the petition if the required information for imposing a sentence is available.

However, because of the need to utilize the social study report from the intake officer regarding the minor, the disposition hearing might be postponed. Even though the judge assesses several factors before deciding on the proper discipline, they often consider the kid’s age, delinquent history, and the nature of their actions.

A lot can be done to prevent harsh discipline towards the minor, hence why you should retain the child’s legal counsel even at this stage. The lawyer can present mitigating facts before the court to convince the judge to impose a light disposition.

Common Disposition Choices in Delinquency Cases

Several disposition options are available that the judge handling your case can explore, all aimed towards rehabilitating the kid. The sentence crafted for your kid is tailored not only to discipline them but to reform them into responsible and law-abiding adults. The sentencing options that your adolescent might face include:

Informal Probation

When a child engages in non-violent delinquent acts, they may be eligible for informal probation and a diversion program. An adolescent whose petition for trespassing or vandalism was sustained by the court will face informal probation.

The child doesn’t need to agree to have participated in the delinquent act for the judge to impose informal probation. This is according to WIC 725. However, the charges can only be dismissed if the minor complies with the court-imposed conditions like attending counseling classes, maintaining regular school attendance, and adhering to curfew hours.

Alternatively, your child’s lawyer can prevent the harsh disciplinary actions against the minor by the court through a diversion program under WIC 654. However, the child must be eligible for the diversion; otherwise, they will face harsh discipline like confinement in the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) facility. If the child qualifies for the diversion program, the intake officer on the case will draft an appropriate program that will meet the child’s needs. The duration of the program is six months which includes conditions like education, training, and counseling, all geared towards making the minor a productive adult in the future.

It’s worth noting that if your child performs poorly in these programs, they can still be canceled and a formal petition filed by the prosecutor. For this reason, you have a duty as a parent to understand the conditions of informal probation or diversion to ensure your child adheres to them and that the petition is not filed in court.

Deferred Entry of Judgment (DEJ)

DEJ disposition is provided as per WIC 790. Unlike informal probation, it requires the child to confess that the delinquent allegations are true in reciprocity for petition dismissal upon completing the terms of the DEJ program. Minors eligible for the program are those facing 1st-time felony not defined under WIC 707(b). The program is lengthy because it takes months to complete.

Formal Probation

Upon the declaration by the juvenile judge that your adolescent is a ward of the court, the child becomes subject to formal probation conditions. Fortunately, the probation can even be completed at home. However, most of the time, minors declared wards of the court end up in probation camps or group homes where they complete their probation. The conditions for the program include all disciplinary actions that can help rehabilitate the child. They include:

  • Alcohol and substance use counseling
  • Victim restitution
  • Graffiti removal
  • Adhering to school attendance
  • Community labor
  • Curfew restrictions

Internment in a DJJ Facility

The disposition for the serious delinquents is detention in a DJJ facility, previously known as the California Youth Authority (CYA). The facility is designed to rehabilitate the most serious juvenile offenders and is the harshest discipline your adolescent could face. However, compared to adult prisons, the facility is suitable for your kid because they interact with other kids their age and not adults. Further, the facilities’ duration is long enough to ensure the child is adequately rehabilitated before returning to the community.

The disposition is imposed on your minor if:

  • They have been pronounced as court wards
  • The most recent offense is listed under WIC 707(b)
  • The current offense is a sex crime outlined as per PC 290.008(c)

A judge will consider your child’s age, level of maturity, individual and educational needs before determining the suitable facility for their confinement.

Note that despite this being the harshest punishment your kid could be subject to during sentencing, it is not aimed at punishing the minor. Instead, it focuses on training and treating the delinquent and restoring the community.

Delinquent Acts the Most Minors in Los Angeles Commit

There are multiple everyday delinquent acts that minors commit, each attracting different levels of guidance or discipline, depending on the severity of the action. Most adolescents who undergo the juvenile delinquency process find themselves here because of committing the following offenses:

  • Vandalism
  • Larceny
  • Alcohol-related offenses
  • Marijuana possession
  • Trespassing
  • Traffic violations
  • Tobacco offenses
  • Simple assault

Find the Right Juvenile Attorney Near Me

As a parent, you work hard every day to ensure your children become law-abiding and productive citizens. Unfortunately, this is not always the case because children make wrong decisions sometimes, like participating in delinquent acts.

If your minor is arrested and detained for a crime, their future is at stake, which is why you need to reach out to a juvenile delinquency attorney. We invite you to call Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer today at 310-502-1314 for a zero-obligation consultation if your kid is detained for an alleged delinquent act.

We have aggressive attorneys who will offer the best legal guidance and representation in the court every step of the way until a favorable outcome is obtained.