It is not unusual to find a child facing serious criminal charges in California. In most cases, we expect children to portray innocence in their deeds, but this is not always the case. Minors have been seen to commit serious criminal crimes, the same as adults. However, they are not handled the same as adult offenders. The California juvenile system is all about education, training, and treatment services for juvenile offenders. As a result, a lot happens when a minor is found guilty of committing a crime, among them being made a ward of a juvenile court.

As a court’s ward, the child’s responsibility shifts from his/her parents to the court. It means that the parents will no longer assume control of the child, and the court will make all decisions regarding the child. It could be a tough time for the parents and the minor. That is why it is advisable to speak to an experienced criminal attorney to understand its implications and your rights as a parent. At Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer, we could help you understand your legal options if your child has been declared a ward of a court in Los Angeles, CA.

Ward of the Court — Overview

When a child (a person below 18) commits an offense in California, he/she is tried in a juvenile court instead of an adult criminal court. Juvenile courts are more about rehabilitating, educating, and counseling the minor than punishment, as in the adult criminal court. California law gives juvenile offenders a second chance in life. Only in exceptional circumstances do we have children facing trial in adult criminal courts, for instance, if they commit a serious felony.

In certain circumstances, a juvenile court judge declares a child offender ward of the court. It is usually severe because the court assumes responsibility for its treatment and control and not the child’s parents. California WIC 725(b) allows juvenile court judges to adjudge and order a child a ward of a court if it’s determined that the child violates the law and not a mere curfew. Once the child is made a ward of a court, the court limits the parent’s control over the minor.

Here are some of the circumstances under which the judge may declare a child offender ward of a court:

  • If it has been established that the child’s parents are unable to provide for the maintenance, education, and training of the minor — In that case, the court assumes responsibility for the juvenile, and parents lose their control over their child.
  • The child offender has been placed on probation one or more times in the past but has failed to change — A juvenile court expects that probation will register a significant change in the character and attitude of the minor. If that hasn’t been achieved, then the court takes charge of the minor’s life.
  • If the judge determines that the juvenile is better off away from his/her parent or guardian — If the child is unsafe or has no chance of improving while living with his/her parent or guardian, the court might decide to make the minor ward of a court.

Once the judge declares a child ward of a court, the court decides what will happen to the child moving forward. For example, the judge might place the child on probation or commit him/her to the Division of Juvenile System. A lot more happens when a child is declared a ward of a court under the California Juvenile Justice system. It helps to know what to expect if you are a parent or guardian whose child is in trouble with the law. An experienced criminal lawyer could also help you understand your options for more informed decision-making.

What are the Implications of Wardship?

When a child is a ward of a court, the court assumes responsibility for his/her treatment and control. In finding the minor’s wardship, a juvenile court will consider the following factors:

  • The child’s age
  • The circumstances under which the child committed the offense
  • The gravity of the offense
  • The child’s history of delinquency

The wardship period could last for a particular period during which the child will be on probation until the court issues another order. Once a child becomes a ward of a court, the court decides what will happen to the minor after determining his/her case.

The juvenile court judge could place the child on unsupervised probation. Unsupervised probation means that the juvenile will not be placed under the supervision of a probation officer. However, he/she will be guided by some probation requirements that the court sets. These requirements are usually appropriate and fair, as per the child’s age and situation.

The other option is for the court to place the child under supervised probation and visitations. For example, it could happen if the child has committed any of the following crimes:

  • Any offense under the state’s WIC 707(b)— crimes listed under this law is considered serious juvenile crimes in California. They are, for instance, rape, kidnapping for ransom, arson, robbery, and murder.
  • Burglary offense, as provided under California PC 459
  • Possession of illegal substances like cocaine, opiates, hallucinogens, or peyote, as provided under California Health and Safety Code 11350(a)

If the child doesn't live within the juvenile court’s jurisdiction, the judge may require the child to go back to his/her parents instead of placing the minor away from his/her home. However, a decision like this is only made if it’s in the child’s best interests.

Conditions for Probation of the Ward

When a judge sends a juvenile offender on probation, the judge might impose some conditions by which the ward must abide. Probation conditions are usually specific and appropriate. They are set according to the kind of offense the minor has committed and the goal of probation. Probation is aimed at encouraging positive behavior for the minor. Therefore, these conditions must be geared towards discouraging behavior that could lead to future wrongful involvement. Some of these probation conditions that your child could receive under the circumstances include:

  • Mandatory school attendance without violating the state truancy laws — California laws on truancy require all children between ages 6 and 18 to go to school. The state subjects these children to compulsory education in their district, whether in elementary, middle, or high school.
  • Proper maintenance of curfew — Curfew laws are applied when the judge feels it is necessary to prohibit minors from being outdoors or in public spaces during specific hours. In most cases, curfew laws prohibit children from being out of home past 10 pm on weekdays and midnight on weekends.
  • Adherence to specific driving restrictions — In California, minors are allowed to drive after meeting particular criteria, including completing driver training and education. However, your child could be subject to additional driving restrictions if he/she has committed a serious offense.
  • Limited association with specific people — If the court feels that it will not be in the child’s best interests to socialize with particular persons, the judge will order your child to stay away from those people within the probation period.
  • Prohibited involvement in gang-related acts
  • Wearing a monitoring device — An electronic monitoring device would be necessary if the judge feels that there is a need to track the movement and activity of the child while he/she is on probation.

Additionally, the court might require the minor and his/her parents to participate in a counseling program.

The judge is very particular when issuing probation conditions. Therefore, the minor should expect to face severe consequences if he/she violates probation. Since the juvenile is already a ward of a court, a prosecutor could file a 777 petition once he/she violates their probation. The judge will then summon the juvenile for a hearing to determine the way forward.

The probation department will be expected to prepare a detailed report showing how well, or otherwise, the minor performed in abiding by the conditions of his/her probation during the hearing. The law allows the child to be represented by an attorney and any other hearing he/she will be required to attend. The attorney will present evidence on behalf of the minor and ensure that the child’s rights are not violated in any way.

Based on the outcome of this hearing, the judge may provide any of the following rulings:

  • The child is allowed to go after being given a warning by the court or probation department.
  • An order for the child to attend additional programs while still on probation
  • Mandatory participation in community service by the minor for a specified period
  • Requirement by the court for the minor to wear an electronic ankle bracelet for close monitoring
  • Mandatory attendance of an inpatient drug or alcohol program
  • The minor to be confined in a juvenile hall
  • The minor to be referred to a ranch or camp program, or group home

Placing the Child Away From Home

The judge can also place the ward away from his/her home. In this case, the court must find a suitable placement for the minor elsewhere. The judge’s decision will be guided by:

  • Sufficient proof that home probation is not working or will not work for the ward
  • Removing the child from his/her home will be in the minor’s best interests

Once the judge makes this decision, the probation department will determine an appropriate placement for the child. Some of the options the probation department has, according to California WIC 727, include:

  • Foster family or foster home
  • Home of the child’s relative, non-relative, or an extended family member
  • A public agency
  • A private institution
  • A certified community care facility
  • Group home
  • Temporary residential therapeutic facility

The entire process is called foster care placement. The ideal place where the court can place the child must be unlocked to not infringe on the child’s rights. It must be family-like, too, and must meet the needs of the minor.

Before the placement process begins, the court must have enough evidence to show that:

  • The child’s parents have failed in providing proper training, education, and maintenance to the child.
  • The child is a chronic truant — The child has missed at least 10% of the school year.
  • The child has been placed on probation in his/her home, and he/she failed to change.,
  • The child’s welfare requires removing the minor from the care of his/her parent or guardian.

Once the judge decides to place the ward away from home, he/she will schedule a suitable placement hearing. During this hearing, the judge will hear social study reviews of the minor prepared by the probation department. The review might include a statement by the victim. Any evidence that could support the child’s case can also be submitted by the child or his/her parents through a lawyer.

The judge may or may not accept the recommendations by the probation department. If the judge rejects the placement recommendation, he/she will consider other placement recommendations by the probation department.

Placement away from home is usually not permanent. California juvenile courts always work to return the minor to his/her parents and home. The length of stay in the suitable placement will depend on several factors, including:

  • The child’s needs and those of his/her parents
  • The amount of risk the child poses to his/her community
  • The length of time the child will take to complete court-recommended treatment services

Confining the Ward

The court might decide to confine the ward instead of placing him/her on probation or a suitable place away from home. Confinement is not aimed at punishing the child, as it happens when adult criminals are incarcerated. However, the goal is usually to instill responsibility in the child.

The judge might consider confinement if the juvenile committed a violent-related felony, where he/she used a gun. But if it’s determined that the youth suffered from a severe mental disorder, the judge may order the juvenile to be placed in another program whereby he/she will receive adequate treatment.

The physical confinement of ward in California could occur in:

  • A juvenile hall
  • A camp or ranch
  • A safe juvenile home
  • A forestry camp
  • An institution under the California Division of Juvenile Justice

In most cases, juveniles in California are confined in county facilities within their communities. The idea is to bring the child as close to home as possible. However, if the child has a mental, alcohol, or drug problem, the probation department will place them in a private facility.

The length of time the child will be in confinement is dependent on several factors. First, the judge must recognize the seriousness of the offense the child committed. If the crime is a serious felony, the child might remain in confinement for the maximum time allowed by law for adult defendants facing charges for the same crime.

Commitment in the DJJ

California Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) offers treatment to juvenile offenders who’ve committed violent felonies. However, before committing the child at a DJJ facility, the judge will consider the following:

  • The protection and wellbeing of members of the public
  • The child’s best interests
  • The necessity of providing closure to the victims

Additionally, there should be enough evidence to show that the child will benefit from this confinement and that less-strict placement measures are inappropriate or ineffective.

Payment of Court Fees, Fines, and Restitution

The judge might also fine the ward. The amount will depend on several factors, including the crime committed by the minor. Court fees and penalties could be the same as those paid by adult criminals facing charges for the same offense. However, the court must establish that the child can pay the fine. If so, the judge will order the juvenile to pay the fee in addition to restitution paid to the victims or his/her crime.

Victim restitution will be included if the crime involved a victim, and the victim incurred economic losses. In that case, the ward may be expected to pay full restitution to the victim/victims. A victim could be a close surviving member of the victim or a government agency replacing or repairing damaged properties.

Restitution could include payments for the following:

  • Damaged or stolen property
  • Mental health care
  • Medical expenses
  • Profits or wages lost by his/her victim or the victim’s family

The amount of money the ward could pay in restitution is based on the gravity of the crime. If it’s a misdemeanor offense, restitution must not exceed $100. However, if it’s a felony offense, restitution fines could go up to $1,000.

The court may hold the ward’s parents liable for the court fees, fines, and restitution. However, this will be based on the parent’s financial ability.

Find a Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer Near Me

If your loved one has been declared a ward of a court in Los Angeles, it helps to know what it means for you and your child. An experienced criminal lawyer can help you understand its implications and what to expect after a court determines the case. At Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer, we know the ins and outs of the California juvenile justice system. Therefore, we will advise and guide you through each process until a favorable outcome is obtained out of your child’s case. Call us at 310-502-1314, and let us take the burden off your shoulders.