California youths who are 17 and younger are legally considered juveniles. Nothing in this world is more important than your children. What happens if your child is charged with a crime in southern California?  Keep reading, and you’ll learn what every California parent needs to know.

When a child age 17 or younger ends up in the custody of the police, some forgiveness, understanding, and another chance is sometimes all that’s needed. California’s juvenile justice system emphasizes rehabilitation and counseling rather than punishment, although your child may still need to meet with an Orange County juvenile defense attorney

Nevertheless, if your minor child has been placed under arrest and has been charged with a crime, you should have an attorney’s advice and services promptly. The juvenile justice system in California differs from the system for adults, but it is just as confusing and complicated.

When someone under 18 is placed under arrest in this state, the police involve one or both of the parents as quickly as possible. Keeping teenagers safe and putting them “on the right track” is the top priority of the California juvenile justice system.

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A JUVENILE IS ARRESTED?

Legal proceedings for accused juvenile offenders start with a detention hearing that must take place within 72 hours of being charged (if the youth is being held in custody) or 15 days (if he or she has been released).

At the detention hearing, a judge will decide if your minor child should be kept in custody or, if previously released, taken into custody. To make that determination, a judge will consider the answers to these questions:

  1. Will anyone’s safety – including your child’s – be at risk if the child is released?
  2. Is the child a risk for flight from the jurisdiction?
  3. Has the child violated any previous court order?

A minor’s attorney can ask for a second hearing within 72 hours of the detention hearing to contest the charge. Additional hearings may be required to determine jurisdiction issues, review the evidence, and decide if the minor should be placed or kept in custody.

WILL YOUR CHILD BE TRIED BEFORE A JURY?

No child should be held in a detention center. When a child is arrested, parents must contact and work with an Orange County juvenile defense attorney – a criminal defense lawyer who has considerable experience representing juvenile offenders in southern California.

Trials in juvenile courts are not jury trials. The case goes before a judge who acts as “both judge and jury.” A local juvenile attorney should know which judges may be willing to show leniency to your child.

Juvenile convictions entail legal consequences that can affect young people well into adulthood. The penalties imposed by a juvenile court may include detention, probation, fines, community service, “boot camp,” and when appropriate, an order to pay restitution to victims.

HOW DOES CALIFORNIA CATEGORIZE JUVENILE OFFENDERS?

Most convicted juvenile offenders are held in county facilities so that they may be near their families and close to the social services organizations that can facilitate a successful rehabilitation.

To ensure that rehabilitation and counseling is appropriate for each child, juvenile offenders are separated into these four categories. Each group of young people is dealt with differently:

  1. Informal probationers: These are young people who have committed minor crimes. They are ordered to serve probation, often in a setting such as a mental health or drug rehabilitation facility.
  2. Status offenders: These young offenders have broken laws that only juveniles can break – offenses like curfew violations, being a minor in possession of alcohol (MIP), or truancy. These youths are put on probation and cannot be held with criminal offenders or suspects.
  3. Criminal offenders: These juveniles are ordered to serve probation, and they are usually placed in a youth ranch or “boot camp” managed by the state’s Division of Juvenile Justice.
  4. 16 or 17-year-olds who face serious felony charges, and juveniles age 14 or older who are charged with murder, are tried as adults. Upon conviction, these youths can be sentenced to a regular state prison for adult convicts.

WHAT POTENTIAL SENTENCES DO JUVENILE OFFENDERS FACE?

A variety of “dispositions” – sentencing options – are available to the state’s juvenile court judges, including informal probation, formal probation, and commitment to the California Youth Authority.

For nonviolent first offenses, a juvenile may serve “informal” probation. A probation officer will develop a program that includes counseling and education. If the young person completes that program successfully, the charge or charges that he or she faces will usually be dismissed.

Informal probation typically requires attendance in school, unannounced drug testing, counseling for the youth and his or her parents, curfews, and when appropriate, an order to pay restitution.

WHAT IS DEFERRED ENTRY OF JUDGMENT?

Another option is called deferred entry of judgment or “DEJ.” This option requires a confession of guilt and the completion of a DEJ program that can last up to 36 months. Charges can be dropped if the DEJ is completed successfully.

“Formal” probation is the sentence when a minor is declared a ward of the court. Some formal probations may be completed while living at home, but for other young offenders, the court may find “suitable placement” at a group home or in an adult relative’s home.

Minors who need more structure and discipline in their lives may be sent to a “probation camp” for as long as a year. Probation camps are dormitory-style facilities with a heavily structured daily routine that includes counseling and education.

Short of prison, the most serious legal penalty for a minor is placed in the custody of the California Youth Authority. Juveniles who are found guilty of sex crimes or crimes of violence may be placed under the jurisdiction of the Youth Authority until they are 25 years old.

WHAT IS A DEFENSE ATTORNEY’S ROLE IN JUVENILE CASES?

A California criminal defense lawyer who has extensive juvenile criminal defense experience will probably be able to help parents minimize the impact of an arrest on a young person’s future.

When your minor child is arrested and accused of a crime, the right Orange County juvenile defense attorney will seek a reduction of the charge or seek to have the charge entirely dismissed.

If a criminal charge against your child cannot be reduced or dismissed, your attorney will develop an effective defense strategy and bring the case against your child to its best possible resolution.

Check out one of our recent blogs: IF YOU HAVE A CRIMINAL RECORD, THIS IS WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT EXPUNGEMENT