Does my child need a private attorney? If your child or family member is under 18 and being investigated or prosecuted for a criminal violation, you have the choice of securing private counsel to protect the minor’s freedom and future. I have practiced juvenile delinquency laws for over two decades, and I can help.
Juvenile Delinquency covers minors under 18 (at the time of the offense). Juvenile court is considered civil rather than criminal in nature, and there is no finding of “guilt” nor “conviction” as there is in adult criminal law. Certain serious offenses can be prosecuted in adult court (707 W&I) if the minor is 16 or 17 years old, and has a “fitness hearing”, to determine whether the minor is “amenable” to the care, treatment and training programs of the juvenile court.
If a minor is believed to have violated a law, constituting a misdemeanor or felony, they may, in the discretion of the law enforcement, be cited to appear in court, or be physically arrested and delivered to the juvenile hall. If brought to a juvenile detention facility, the minor must be released to his home unless a petition alleging him/her to be a ward of the court is filed within 48 hours of his arrest. (631 W&I) A probation officer there must make the initial determination as to whether the minor should be charged, or released on informal probation, and may also determine whether to refer the matter to the District Attorney for a formal filing of petition alleging the minor should be a “ward of the court” (the basis for juvenile court jurisdiction, 602 W&I).
If a minor is charged and detained in custody, he is entitled to a Detention Hearing within two court days of his arrest or detention.
A minor charged with an offense (or alleged to be a person suitable to be a ward of the court) is entitled to an Arraignment on Petition, which brings the minor before the court, advises him of the allegations against him/her, and affords an entry of an admission or denial of the charges. If an admission is entered, the Court assumes jurisdiction of the child, and sets a Dispositional hearing (see below). If a denial is entered, the court will set a Readiness Conference, and possibly a Jurisdictional Hearing date.
At or after the Arraignment on Petition, an aggressive defense attorney may deploy a number of tactics to remove the minor from the jurisdiction of the court and or avoid prosecution entirely. A motion for informal probation may be made, on a misdemeanor or felony, which would allow a minor to avoid prosecution if the court orders informal supervision by probation. The court and/or probation would set terms and conditions, which, if satisfied, would earn a complete dismissal of the charges against the minor. Only certain charges are subject to this type of motion, but it can be very effective in protecting a minor’s record and future.
At the Readiness Conference, attorneys can negotiate the case with the DA, discussing the facts of the case, as well as the education, social history, home life, and any other law enforcement contacts the minor may have had. If the DA and the minor’s attorney can resolve the matter, agreeing on which charges would be admitted or dismissed, then the case is set for a dispositional hearing. If a deal cannot be made, the matter is set for a Jurisdictional Hearing.
This is the equivalent of a trial in adult court, where the prosecution must present evidence to prove the minor has committed the acts in the allegation. There is no jury trial, and the court follows the California Rules of Evidence. There is a rebuttable presumption that a minor under the age of 14 is presumed to be incapable of knowing the wrongfulness of his actions, but this is challenge-able as well. The burden of proof in this hearing is by clear and convincing evidence (less than a reasonable doubt). If the court determines the allegations unproven, the petition is dismissed. If the allegations are found to be true, the matter is set for a Dispositional Hearing.
Similar to sentencing in adult court, this proceeding is where the court determines the appropriate terms and conditions of the treatment of the minor. Punishment is a consideration, but the juvenile court is directed to “treat and rehabilitate the minor” in addition to protecting the public. The court usually relies on a report from probation, which considers the factors of the minors home life, education, and facts of the case. Recommends terms and conditions can range in severity, including curfew, school attendance, counseling programs, and potentially incarceration.
At every stage in a juvenile proceeding, there is an opportunity to try to have the matter dismissed, deferred, or treated with informal probation or deferred entry of judgment. Having an experienced, prepared attorney at your side can be one of the greatest investments you can make for your child.