It’s scary when children are charged with crimes. As a parent, guardian, or loved one, you might not be sure how to handle the situation. Will the child go to a juvenile detention facility? Is the trial process the same as for adults?
A San Diego juvenile defense attorney can help you understand what may happen throughout the juvenile case. They can advocate for minors in juvenile court and mitigate the consequences of a juvenile record.
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What Happens When Minors Are Charged With Crimes in San Diego, California?
When minors are charged with a crime in San Diego, they usually go through a different process than adults. Some police officers may choose to release a child after giving them a petition to appear in court at a later date. This is common in less serious cases where the child is not a threat to others.
In more serious cases, the police may take a minor into custody. The juvenile then has a right to a detention hearing within 48 hours. At that hearing, the judge will decide whether or not to release the child to their parents or guardians with certain conditions, like an ankle monitor. A child has a right to a lawyer, just like an adult.
The judge might also decide to send the juvenile to a secure facility or to hold the child in the East Mesa Juvenile Detention Center. Usually, the minor will stay in this facility until the jurisdictional hearing.
The jurisdictional hearing is like a trial, but it is in front of a judge instead of a jury. It generally happens within 15 days of detention unless there is good cause to continue the case and the minor agrees. Good cause may include needing more time to locate a witness or prepare a defense.
If the child is out of custody, the hearing will happen within 30 days in most cases, except for good cause. This is a shorter time than adult cases.
If the judge sustains the petition (meaning finds the child guilty), then there will be a disposition hearing where they impose a sentence. The sentence will focus on rehabilitation, but it may also include spending time in a juvenile detention facility.
Juvenile Detention Facilities In California
For many years, the California Division of Juvenile Justice housed youthful offenders up to 25 years old in detention centers. The DJJ aimed to provide:
- Academic and vocational education
- Substance abuse treatment
- Mental health treatment
- Medical care
- Therapeutic and rehabilitative programming
In 2021, the California legislature passed SB-92, which demanded that DJJ close by June of 2023. As a result, all residents will be transferred to county-based facilities or released at the end of their sentence. This means that minors will now be housed closer to home or get the benefit of alternatives to incarceration.
Alternatives to Incarceration and Punishment for Minors
There are more alternatives to incarceration available to minors than adults. This is because children are considered to be impressionable and capable of change.
When a child is convicted of a crime, the judge has many different options for punishment and rehabilitation. Some of the most common sanctions include:
- Placing the juvenile on formal probation
- Outpatient mental health or substance abuse treatment
- Residential treatment programs
- Foster care or group home placements
- Commitment to the California Youth Authority
A judge may also choose to place a child on informal probation and defer the criminal proceedings at the beginning of the case. This means that the minor doesn’t enter a plea of guilty.
If the child complies with the terms of probation (such as going to school, completing treatment, or staying out of trouble) then the case is dismissed. If the minor doesn’t follow the rules, then the case moves forward, and they will face a jurisdictional hearing.
Minors Tried as Adults
Sometimes, prosecutors want to charge a minor as an adult. This is common in serious cases that involve a victim. If the judge agrees, the juvenile is transferred to criminal court and faces the same procedure and penalties as an adult.
Minors cannot be tried as an adult in all situations. This option is only available to minors aged 16 and older who are charged with specific crimes. Some of the most common crimes include:
- Murder and attempted murder
- Certain sex crimes, including rape and sodomy
- Assault with a firearm or by means likely to cause great bodily injury
- Discharging a firearm into an occupied building
- Carjacking with a dangerous weapon
- Voluntary manslaughter
If a prosecutor wants to charge a minor as an adult, they must first petition for a fitness hearing. At the fitness hearing, the judge will decide if the minor is suitable for rehabilitation. They may look at the child’s prior record, the severity of the crime, and any prior rehabilitation attempts. A judge might also consider the child’s maturity and potential to grow.
The minor has a right to a lawyer to argue against transfer to adult court. They can submit mitigating evidence in favor of the child’s rehabilitation. If the defense lawyer succeeds in warding off transfer to adult court, they will save their clients from much harsher penalties and give them access to rehabilitation.
Seek Legal Help From an Experienced San Diego Juvenile Defense Attorney
Were you or was your child recently charged with a crime in San Diego, California? The trusted criminal defense attorneys with Blair Defense Criminal Lawyers can help you understand your legal rights and options. Reach out today for a free consultation to learn more.