Humans are to err, meaning even children can make mistakes and contravene the law. If your child is 18 or younger, the law considers them immature to understand the gravity of their actions. When they are arrested, their cases are handled by special courts called juvenile delinquency courts. The juvenile court system is geared towards rehabilitation and not punishment like adult criminal courts.
Nevertheless, the court might deem some delinquent acts by minors as severe, requiring the minor to be sentenced under the three-strike law. If your child faces serious felony charges, it’s the right time to understand how the juvenile three strikes law works and how it impacts their petition. At the Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer, we can help your child build a water-tight defense to ensure they receive rehabilitation services and are not treated as adults in Los Angeles.
The General View of Juvenile Delinquency
When an adult contravenes the law, their actions are deemed criminal. Nonetheless, when a minor breaches the same, their conduct is called a delinquent act. Crimes committed by adults are tried in adult criminal court, while delinquency is adjudicated in juvenile court. The proceedings and the goals in these two court systems are different.
Delinquent acts by minors fall into two classes. The first category consists of contrary acts that can prosecute your minor as an adult even before attaining the legal age. Even if the child is not transferred to the adult court, you must pay for all court expenses, as the parent, if the case is handled in the juvenile court.
The other category of delinquent acts is deemed a status offense because it’s attributable to the minor’s age. These offenses include alcohol consumption, drug possession or use, truancy, and curfew violation. Therefore, delinquency acts are not just pranks. They are severe property or drug offenses.
Juvenile delinquency courts are geared towards rehabilitating children. The system helps detect and address factors contributing to delinquency to protect minors and ensure those engaging in delinquent acts reform and become responsible adults.
Understanding Three Strikes Law
The three-strikes law is a technique for sentencing defendants. One is sentenced to 25 years to life when convicted for a third serious or violent felony criminal act under PEN 667. If you are convicted for a felony and have an earlier conviction for a serious felony, the sentencing scheme will double your sentence.
Similarly, a conviction under the three strikes law will attract a reduction in custody credits. For ordinary offenders, custody credit reduces the time spent in jail. A conviction under PEN 667 means a reduction in the custody credits, which translates to more time in prison than an ordinary offender.
The only way to avoid the harsh repercussions of a conviction under this statute is by hiring an experienced lawyer that understands these laws. With the guidance of a profound criminal lawyer, your child can have the current felony charge reduced to prevent sentencing under the strikes law. Alternatively, the lawyer could persuade the judge to drop the current charges or dismiss an initial conviction to prevent sentencing under this scheme.
Legal Definition of Juvenile Strikes
A juvenile strike is a crime committed by a minor but would be sentenced under the three-strikes law if the child was 18 or above. These strikes are outlined under the Welfare and Institutions Code (WIC) 717(b), and they include:
- Homicide or attempted homicide
- Sodomy using force or violence
- Voluntary manslaughter
- Arson in an inhabited structure causing significant bodily harm
- Assault with a deadly weapon
- Forcible oral copulation
- Kidnapping to aid robbery, ransom, or cause physical harm
- Use of a firearm by an underage
- Aggravated mayhem
- Lascivious act with a minor younger than 14, utilizing fear, force, or intimidations to inflict bodily injury.
- Forcible sexual penetration
- Witness bribery
- Production, sale, and compounding of a minimum of eight ounces of an illegal narcotic or controlled substance
- Assault using force causing significant bodily harm
- A violent felony committed towards a senior adult 60 or older
An ordinary felony sentence won’t result in a juvenile strike unless your child is between 16 and 17 years and the felony in question is deemed serious or violent. Sometimes, the prosecuting team can have your minor prosecuted in the adult court even when they are 16. However, any charges against them after attaining 18 years will be charged in adult court.
The minor is transferred to the adult court system through a transfer or fitness proceeding if they are 16 or older and have committed a serious crime. If the charges are determined in the adult court, the penalties imposed will be like those set on adults. It means a minor convicted in the adult court under the three strikes law will acquire a strike on their record. However, if your child committed the offense when under 16, the conviction won’t count as a strike.
Even if your child ends up with a sustained petition outside the state, the sustained petition could still be a strike if the offense qualifies as a serious or violent-related felony in California.
Under the strike law, the court can use evidence from your child’s previous conviction to increase the punishment for the current offense. The prosecuting lawyer will present proof from previously sustained petitions on the juvenile to add a juvenile strike on the minor’s record. A juvenile strike is bad for the minor because it will be used against them if they are charged with a crime later as adults.
Conditions for a Juvenile Three Strikes
As per the WIC 717(b), a felony sentence will count as a strike if your child meets particular conditions. These conditions that must be present for a juvenile felony sentence to be deemed as a strike are:
Your Child’s Age
For a conviction to count as a juvenile strike, your minor must have been 16 or older when they committed the crime that resulted in a sustained petition or sentence. However, if your child committed a felony when they were under 16 but convicted after turning 16 or older, they won’t undergo sentencing under the three-strikes scheme.
The Characteristics of the Delinquent Act in Question
Also, the prosecuting team has the burden of demonstrating that the said delinquent act was a serious felony offense outlined under PEN 667.5 and PEN 1192.7. Alternatively, the offense can appear on the crimes listed under WIC 717(b). If the prosecuting lawyer convinces the court that the child could be found guilty for the felony under PC 667, this will count as a strike on the minor’s criminal record.
Your Child is Fit for the Juvenile Court
Another condition the prosecuting lawyer must prove is that your child is fit to stand adjudication as a minor. According to WIC 602, a child must be younger than 18 when a delinquent act was committed to being adjudicated in the juvenile court.
A fitness hearing is held to decide if the minor should be transferred or be charged in the juvenile court. The factors that are put into account during this proceeding are:
- Your child’s previous delinquent history
- The performance of the child in the previous rehabilitative efforts in the juvenile justice system
- The severity of the delinquent act in question
- The complexity of the offense
- The nature and circumstances of the current offense
If, after the proceeding, the court finds that the juvenile system won’t have any impact on the minor’s rehabilitation, they will be moved to the adult court.
Repercussions of Juvenile Strikes
When your child ends up with a sustained petition for committing offenses listed under WIC 717(b), they will be confined in a Division of Juvenile Justice Facility (DJJF), a confinement and rehabilitation center for serious delinquents. It’s the next confinement facility to an adult court.
During confinement, they must attend school full-time. And if they complete school while under confinement, they will enroll in professional and college courses to equip them with skills that will be useful when they leave the detention facility. Some of the courses offered under these programs include:
- Janitorial programs
Even before leaving the DJJF, these delinquents are given jobs in these facilities to put their skills into work.
Your child could be enrolled in extra special programs like mental health and rigorous behavior treatment based on the baseline offense.
The consequences of a sustained petition don’t end after leaving the confinement facility. Even in their adulthood, the child will be haunted by the record, and the moment they are charged with another felony, the judge will use their jubilee strike to increase the penalties for the current offense. A sustained juvenile petition will be deemed as a prior if the adult court if:
- If your child was sixteen or seventeen when they engaged in the delinquent act
- The judge had already a ward of the court after a sustained petition for the said delinquency
- The offense in question is among the ones highlighted under WIC 717(b) as a serious or violent-related felony
Note that unless a delinquent act involves rape or murder, the prosecuting lawyer may not file charges against your child for a juvenile strike if they are between the age of 16 or 17.
Plea Deal for Juvenile Strike
A plea deal or bargain is a contract between the offender and the prosecuting lawyer, whereby the offender agrees to plead guilty to the underlying petition or charge. In exchange, the offender obtains a more lenient sentence or disposition. In some instances, the prosecutor might even agree to drop the charges entirely if the defendant pleads guilty.
Luckily, this could apply to your child if they face a juvenile strike. The minor’s criminal lawyer can negotiate a lower charge for a guilty plea. That way, the minor can face lesser charges or have the petition dropped entirely.
Trying Juveniles as Adults
Some minors mature at a higher rate than adults. This explains why some are tried in the juvenile court while others are transferred to the adult court. Your child is likely to face a transfer to the adult court if they are at least 16 years and a conviction for the delinquent act in question could add a juvenile strike to their criminal record. Not all cases are transferred to the adult court, but if it happens to your child, you should know that they will face the same criminal penalties as adults. Therefore, you should protect the child’s future by hiring an experienced defense lawyer to defend their rights and fight for their freedom. That way, you can avoid a conviction in the adult court or have the charges reduced for lenient sentencing.
Deferred Entry of Judgment (DEJ) and Juvenile Strikes
A DEJ occurs when your child pleads guilty to the delinquent act in question but obtains an acquittal upon entering the plea. The court then defers the case as per the agreement between your child’s attorney and the prosecutor. During sentencing, the court imposes particular instructions the minor must comply with during the duration of the deferred judgment.
It’s your duty as a parent to understand these conditions because you are the one to ensure the child adheres to them and they don’t return to court for sentencing. If the minor complies with the terms of the DEJ and completes the period, the court dismisses the petition.
Not every minor is eligible for DEJ, even though it’s available for minor offenders. Your child must have committed non-violent delinquent acts or offenses under WIC 717(b) to qualify for DEJ.
A DEJ will benefit your child a lot because it offers them a second chance at life by not punishing but rehabilitating them. Besides, the conditions imposed by the court for the period are not like probation requirements, which enables the child to abide by these terms.
Furthermore, once the minor completes the DEJ period, the charges are dismissed, and it’s as if they never committed any offense. This is good news because, after the process, the child won’t have a criminal record. Having a clean record is an advantage when looking for college admission or employment because the minor can comfortably say they have never been convicted without lying.
Removing a Juvenile Strike Record
If your child has a juvenile strike record, it can adversely affect their adult life. Obtaining employment or licenses becomes a huge hassle. Additionally, if the minor is arrested for a severe subsequent felony, the prior juvenile record will count as a strike, meaning harsher penalties. Luckily, after the minor has completed their sentence, you can request their attorney to commence the expunction process. By sealing the records, the minor obtains a clean slate.
Once the strike record is sealed or expunged, it ceases to exist in the public eye, preventing the stigmatization that follows delinquents.
The strike records being referred to in this case are:
- The arrest reports for the felony offense that led to a juvenile strike
- Documents from the probation officer
- Any other court record relating to the delinquent act committed by the minor
The Process of Removing the Strike Record
Under the juvenile court, some offenses are automatically sealed when the minor attains a particular age. The child’s lawyer must petition the court for an expunction for other crimes. After filing the petition, you will wait for three to twelve months before the records are sealed. Once this happens, your child can confidently say they have a clean record.
However, the expunction is not obsolete because there are incidents when the probation office, the prosecutor, and the court can assess these records if the minor commits an offense in the future.
Note that when your child has a juvenile strike on their record, they might be ineligible for an expunction. However, you can ask their lawyer to file an expunction petition if any of the following is true:
- The juvenile is 18 or older and has successfully completed probation
- Be 21 or older and have successfully completed supervision by the DJJ
- Allow the required time to pass before filing an expunction petition
- The delinquent offense committed by the juvenile must be eligible for expunction
- The minor shouldn’t commit another crime as an adult because the court will deny the request
If your child were convicted as an adult for a crime of moral turpitude like murder or sex offense or sentenced in the adult court and convicted, they wouldn’t be eligible for record sealing. The child’s past mistakes will have devastating effects in their future, and you don’t want this as a parent or guardian. Therefore, whenever you learn of your minor’s arrest, you should take the matter seriously and reach out to a criminal lawyer with experience in juvenile cases.
A lawyer will put up a solid fight to ensure the minor is prosecuted in the delinquency court and not the criminal court. Besides, even if the charges are transferred, the attorney will tirelessly prevent a conviction, giving the child an opportunity to apply for expunction after completing their punishment.
Find an Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me
Minors arrested for committing delinquent acts need assistance from their parents and professionals to maneuver the juvenile justice system in Los Angeles. The reason being a sustained petition could ruin your child’s life. A criminal lawyer can prevent a sustained petition and, where not possible, wait for the right time to file for juvenile records and strike sealing. At the Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer, we are ready to hold your juvenile’s hand and ensure justice while at the same time educating you on your responsibilities as a parent in this process. Call us today at 310-502-1314 to evaluate your child’s case.