How Are Juveniles Charged with Crimes in California?

Few things can be as terrifying for a parent as learning their child is being charged with a crime. It’s vital for parents to understand what California’s juvenile crime laws are, how they’re followed, and what California courts lean toward when it comes to consequences.

The first important point is that California law largely does not allow minors to be tried in adult court. In California, a minor is defined as a person under 18. Someone aged 12-17 is likely to be processed through juvenile court, and there are some situations in which the juvenile court may retain custody for someone up to age 25.

However, in 2018, a law was passed allowing some minors to be prosecuted in adult court if the crime fits one of the following situations (usually violent). This is not a complete list but is meant to provide an overview.

  • Kidnapping (whether with the intent to commit robbery or sexual assault, collect ransom, or while causing injury)
  • Numerous sex crimes, including rape while using violence or the threat of bodily harm
  • Lewd or lascivious acts against someone under 14 that’s combined with the threat of bodily harm or force
  • Arson in an inhabited building or that causes injuries
  • Attempted murder or murder (including causing an explosion with the intention of killing someone) or voluntary manslaughter
  • Drive-by shooting or shooting into an inhabited building
  • Robbery
  • Carjacking
  • Manufacturing or selling a minimum of one-half ounce of a prohibited substance
  • Some crimes against people over 60

If the court finds the crime severe enough and the minor is tried as an adult, they could face outcomes similar to those of adults. They may be sent to the California Division of Juvenile Justice, where they can be held until age 25. If they haven’t completed their sentence at that time, they may be transferred to an adult prison.

Because the outcomes can be significantly worse when a minor is tried in adult court, it’s vital that the minor and family work with an experienced juvenile criminal defense attorney.

What Is Rehabilitation as a Consequence of a Juvenile Being Convicted for a Crime?

California juvenile courts prefer, whenever possible, to take the approach of rehabilitation rather than punishment as they believe the younger the person, the more likely they are to be able to turn their lives around. The goal is to help the young person overcome what caused them to engage in a crime and find a way forward to a law-abiding future.

What Happens to a Minor Who’s Caught Committing a Crime?

There are several steps that occur when a minor is apprehended during or after committing a crime.

  • Law enforcement determines whether they should issue a citation to the minor, release them with a warning, or send the case to juvenile court.
  • If the minor is sent to juvenile court, there will be an intake interview with the minor, their parents or guardians, and a probation officer. The outcome of the interview will either be that the minor is released to the parents or guardians, sent to a nonsecure facility, or held in a juvenile hall. If held in a juvenile hall, a detention hearing is required to be held within 48 hours of the arrest, where a judge will decide if the minor should be released to a responsible party or not.
  • When the probation officer determines that the minor should go into the juvenile court system, they will file a petition with that court. From there, the district attorney assesses the petition and decides whether or not to charge the minor.
  • If the minor is found guilty in court, the judge will enter disposition (similar to sentencing in adult court). The disposition ranges from probation and community service to counseling and restitution to the victim to placement in a youth camp or group home. Minors who have a considerable history or have particularly strong crimes may be placed in a secure facility.

The outcomes vary based on the crime’s severity, the accused’s age, and their previous history. Working with an experienced criminal defense attorney can help you understand what the potential outcomes are and the possibility for the best defense.

How Does Juvenile Rehabilitation Work in California?

It’s vital to understand that when an adult is sent to prison, it’s for the purpose of punishment. But whenever possible, the courts prefer not to punish the minors but rehabilitate them.

Rehabilitation can take numerous forms. Depending on the minor’s circumstances, it may even involve being placed in a foster home or a juvenile hall or camp. Again, this is not meant to be punishment. Instead, the goal is to remove the minor from a home environment that may be contributing to their illegal actions.

Other options include (and may have several assigned at the same time):

  • Community service
  • Attending a victim impact class
  • Making restitution to the victim
  • House arrest
  • Participating in a treatment program (drugs, mental health, sexual behavior)
  • Paying fines

What Should I Do if My Minor Child Is Being Charged with a Crime?

Call the SoCal Law Network at 949-305-7995 to set up a free consultation. We understand how terrifying and stressful having a child charged with a crime can be for you. We can help guide you through your child’s case and identify what the best defense may be, along with what rehabilitation the state may require. We take your child’s case as seriously as we would take our own child’s case.