Receiving a phone call in the middle of the night telling you that your child has been arrested, is the worst feeling in the world. When you are on your way to juvenile detention to pick your child up, you may feel anxious and confused, wondering what to do next to safeguard your child’s future. Your goal is likely how to help your child get through this rough patch, with a minimum of long-term consequences. While the California juvenile justice system is certainly different from the adult criminal justice system, this does not always mean it is more lenient.
Even if your child is lucky enough to be sent home on probation, he or she will be forced to contend with the long-term repercussions associated with a California juvenile criminal record. Regardless of which direction the legal system sends your child, your top priority must be to protect his or her future to the extent possible.
The best way to accomplish this is to speak to an experienced Los Angeles juvenile crimes attorney who is well-acquainted with the laws governing the juvenile justice system. Call former prosecutor Ambrosio E. Rodriguez today to discuss your case.
Juvenile Crimes Facts and Statistics
Most juveniles manage to avoid any run-ins with law enforcement, however young people can make bad decisions as they struggle to find their place in the world.
Unfortunately, one moment of poor judgment can change a juvenile’s life forever. Even worse, the juvenile justice system has been strewn with ill-conceived strategies that have endangered our youth and damaged their future prospects—with little evidence of decreasing juvenile crime.
In 2012 alone:
- 8% of all those arrested across the nation were under the age of 18
- For property crimes specifically, about 18% of those arrested were under the age of 18
- 37% of those arrested for arson were under the age of 18, and more than half of that 37% were under the age of 15
Nearly 20,000 juveniles in the state are placed in a secure facility or with the California Youth Authority. Even more ominous, in 2007, over a thousand minors were tried as adults.
While many people tend to believe the majority of youth who pass through the California Juvenile Justice program are violent, repeat offenders, almost 56 percent of those juveniles arrested in the state of California are arrested for a misdemeanor offense.
Most Common Juvenile Crimes
The most common types of crimes juveniles are typically charged with include:
- Simple assault
- Possession of marijuana
- Violations of liquor laws
- Drug Possession
- Sexual Assault
While the goal of the juvenile justice system is, ostensibly, to rehabilitate our youth, many prosecutors in the state may seek to make an example of your child by increasing the potential penalties for the crime. It is important that your child’s age and prior criminal history—or lack of prior criminal history—be taken into consideration, with a focus on rehabilitation rather than a lengthy jail sentence and a permanent criminal record.
Important Differences in the Juvenile and Adult Criminal Justice System
Minors in a juvenile case are not entitled to a jury trial; rather, the judge in the case will make the decision regarding the juvenile’s guilt or innocence. However, the burden of proof remains the same—the prosecutor must provide evidence, which proves beyond a reasonable doubt the juvenile, is guilty of the crime.
Minors who are taken into custody must be brought to court within 48 hours of their arrest, at which time they will be advised of the charges against them. Because there is no bail in the juvenile court process, it is crucial to speak to an experienced juvenile attorney as soon as possible, in order to attempt to convince the judge to release your child at the detention hearing.
- Detention Hearing
If your child is charged with a crime, a detention hearing will determine whether he or she will be released to you or will be required to stay in custody during the case. When the judge is making this decision, he or she will consider whether the child is a flight risk, whether the child has previously violated a court order, whether the child should be detained for their own protection, and whether the child should be detained for the protection of a person or property.
- Fitness Hearing
Next, a fitness hearing may be held in order to determine whether the case will be heard in juvenile court or transferred to an adult criminal court. The fitness hearing evaluates a minor in order to determine his or her fitness to be tried in juvenile court. If the court believes the minor will respond to juvenile court’s care, treatment and training programs, the case will remain in juvenile court.
The court will make this determination based on prior criminal history, the degree of criminal sophistication exhibited by the minor, whether the minor responded to prior attempts by the juvenile court to rehabilitate, the seriousness of the offense, the circumstances surrounding the offense, and whether juvenile court can rehabilitate the minor within the time juvenile court has jurisdiction. In other words, if the minor is nearing the age of 18, the court may feel there is insufficient time to rehabilitate through juvenile court, therefore may send the case to adult court.
- Adjunction Hearing
An Adjudication hearing or trial is conducted in front of a juvenile court judge. This is when your case will be presented to the judge and your attorney will be able to defend these charges.
- Disposition Hearing
Finally, a disposition hearing will be held in order for the judge to give his or her decision in the case.
Instances in Which Your Child May Be Charged as an Adult
There are times, under California law, when a juvenile who is 14 or older may be charged as an adult and subsequently face the penalties associated with an adult criminal conviction. If a juvenile between the ages of 14 and 17 commits one of the following crimes, he or she may be charged as an adult:
- Spousal rape;
- Specific sex offenses;
- First degree murder;
- Forcible penetration with a foreign object;
- Forcible lewd acts on a child under 14;
- Using force, fear, violence, duress or threat of bodily injury while committing sodomy or oral copulation, and
- Crimes listed under 707(b) of the California Welfare and Institutions Code.
Juvenile Probation, Sentencing and Sealing Juvenile Records
Juvenile probation requires the juvenile attends school regularly, respect curfews, attends regular counseling, pays restitution for the victim, and performs some type of community service. Juveniles who are found guilty, in juvenile court, of the charged offense will not be sent to adult jail, rather will spend time in probation camp, the California Division of Juvenile Justice, juvenile hall, or a foster or group home.
When a juvenile who has been convicted of a juvenile crime and served his or her sentence turns 18, he or she may be able to petition the courts to seal or destroy all records associated with the conviction and sentence. The ability to seal or destroy juvenile records is dependent on the type of crime committed by the juvenile, as well as how long it has been since the sentence ended.
Penal Code Section 601-608—Welfare and Institutions
Technically, juvenile court is not actually considered part of the California criminal law system, rather is a part of the civil law system. Juvenile delinquency proceedings are often referred to as Section 602 proceedings. There is no “guilty” or “innocent” under the California juvenile court system. If the judge determines there is little doubt the juvenile committed the crime, he or she will “sustain the petition.” Should the judge make your child a ward of the court, it means the California judicial system will be taking responsibility for control and treatment.
California Penal Code Section 601-608 discusses minors under the age of 18 who “persistently or habitually” refuse to obey their parents or guardians, discusses the Youth Referral Center and the Youth Early Intervention Program as well as such issues as truancy from school. Specifically, Penal Code 602 states that any person under the age of 18 who violates any law in the state of California is within the jurisdiction of juvenile court which may make that minor a ward of the court.
Even if a juvenile is made a ward of the court, he or she could nonetheless be allowed to serve out probation at home. In theory, there is no punishment or retribution involved in the juvenile court justice system. Minors are meant to receive treatment, services and education necessary in order to move past their crime, become a productive member of society and reunite with their family. In practice, however, many believe there is not sufficient oversight over the youth programs to ensure the conditions are what they should be.
The Long-Term, Adverse Consequences of a Juvenile Criminal Record
Your child may suffer long-term repercussions of his or her juvenile justice issue. If the record is not sealed or destroyed, the information may prevent your child from enlisting in the military or possessing a firearm, and may be a determining factor in whether your child is admitted to college or obtains a job. Because a single mistake could change your child’s life forever, it is extremely important to speak to an experienced Los Angeles juvenile crime attorney immediately.