Nobody ever expects their child to get involved in criminal acts. Many parents assume that this could never be happening behind their back; that is, until it is way too late. So what happens when a youth is arrested for a crime? Will this be something that will live with them forever? How harsh is the court process? Now you can find out more about how it works and what you should expect.

What is Juvenile Delinquency Court?

In many cases where a youth is arrested, the case will be referred to something known as “juvenile court.” This is a lot different from your everyday adult court. There are many things that will be considered such as whether or not the case will be dismissed, continued informally, or if formal charges will be filed. Your mind may be in a flurry during this process because you don’t know what to expect and everything your child is going through may sound scary. However, understanding the various considerations made in juvenile court will help you and your family in this time of need.

The good news is: There is usually always the option for rehabilitation. This is why programs are put in place for youth – so that they can get the help they need to fit back into society. Rehabilitation is a primary goal for the juvenile justice system that helps youth become protecting from having to carry a large burden for the rest of their lives. Many forms of rehabilitation in California include educational and therapeutic programs that are provided in the child’s community. The child may also be put in a residential program if the offense was serious enough.

However, there are many problems with the juvenile justice system that many people are not aware of. For instance, it is being shown that many rehabilitation measures are failing for any number of reasons. It has been found over the years that many youth put in California Youth Authority programs are dealing with adverse conditions that they may not have ever expected. The system tends to be riddled with abuse and many of the young people involved end up with problems as well as suicide attempts and successes. There are also excessive rates of violence as well as inadequate mental health care services. It was found that more than nine out of 10 CYA graduates are back in trouble with the law within three years of their release. These numbers are astounding many and measures are being taken to assure the system works in the favor of many.

Who Gets Tried in Juvenile Court? 

Minors under the age of 18 will generally be approved for juvenile court. However, for certain crimes, more serious matters will apply. A juvenile offender as young as 13 could be eligible for waiver to adult court if the crime was serious enough. In cases where something as serious as homicide took place, children of any age could be subjected to a petition. Some other reasons why a child may get transferred include the juvenile having a lengthy prior juvenile record, unsuccessful past rehabilitation efforts, and youth services having to work with the juvenile offender for too long of a time.

For certain offenses, known as 707(b), minors can be tried as adults. This also means that a child’s juvenile criminal record cannot be sealed. Here are just a few of the offenses that apply to this:

  • Murder
  • Rape with force, violence, or threat of great bodily harm
  • Kidnapping for ransom
  • Attempted murder
  • Assault by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury
  • Aggravated mayhem
  • Carjacking
  • Kidnapping for purposes of sexual assault

1Next, you may have heard a term known as a “fitness hearing.” The DA makes a decision for this hearing to decide if the hearing should continue in Juvenile Justice Court due to the fact that the charge is extremely serious and the minor will be old enough to be tried as an adult. The history of the youth is looked at and investigations begin into the matter. The court will look at how sophisticated the crime was, if the minor can be rehabilitated, the minor’s criminal history, what happened before during rehabilitation, and what happened this time around. Unfortunately, you cannot appeal an order form a fitness hearing. Termination of jurisdiction may come into play as well. During this process, the court cannot order you to do anything further with the matter. It is rightfully and legally terminated.

What is the Juvenile Court Process?

The first thing to occur is, of course, the interaction with police in the first place. If a warning is not issued or a parent is called, then the juvenile will be placed in custody and the case will be referred to juvenile court. Many times, charges will be pressed based on the severity of offense, juvenile’s age, past record, the strength of evidence in the case, the social history, and overall ability to control behavior with parent’s help. If the case is set to go on, informal proceedings will occur. During this process, the minor will usually appear before a probation officer or a judge. They will usually listen to a lecture, attend counseling and after-school classes, repay a victim for damages, pay a fine, perform community service work, or even enter probation under certain circumstances.

From there, many things could take place. If the case remains in court, the minor will enter a plea agreement. They may need to attend counseling, obey curfews, or other penalties. The judge may also divert the case, where the judge will retain jurisdiction over the case while counseling or community service takes place. The judge may also choose to hold an adjudicatory hearing. Both sides will then present evidence and the attorney will argue the case, just like at trial. If the juvenile is found to be a delinquent, a probation officer will evaluate the juvenile and order testing of any kind on a psychological level. Recommendations will be made and the judge will decide what is in the best interest of the juvenile from there on out.

What Could Happen to my Child?

Informal probation is when the juvenile complies with an informal agreement brought on by a probation officer and is monitored closely. The decree may include things like victim restitution, school attendance, drug counseling, or a curfew. If the juvenile chooses to comply with the informal disposition, the case will be dismissed. If they do not meet the conditions wherein, the case will be referred for formal processing and proceeds as it would.

You may have questions about deferred entry of judgment, which is another thing you may have heard about. This is known as a sentencing alternative. It allows minors who are charged with at least one felony to become eligible for a probation program. When the DEJ probation is completed, the court will dismiss the case and the case will also be sealed off the minor’s record. DEJ reduces the time the minor spends in the juvenile delinquency process as well as lowers the amount of court appearances.

There is also something known as ‘CYA commitment’ as an alternative to formal probation. This is California Youth Authority and works closely with law enforcement, the courts, district attorneys, and more. They provide a range of training and treatment services for youthful offenders, direct youthful offenders to participate in victim restoration, and encourage the development of state and local programs to prevent crime and delinquency.

What are the Lasting Consequences of a Juvenile Adjudication?

When youth become involved in the justice system, there may be long-term outcomes and potential consequences that they were never aware of before. For instance, juvenile adjudications can affect the employment opportunities, housing, and immigration status of youth who have found themselves in the midst of crime. However, it will not affect things like financial aid or higher education. These are things that are always protected, as they are for bettering one’s self. A juvenile record also does not automatically disappear when the child turns 18. No, the record will not be expunged unless an attorney or the child takes steps to request that the record be expunged.

If a loved one has found his or herself in the middle of court hearings due to a crime that has taken place and they are under the age of 18, there are special rules to be followed. Juvenile Delinquency Court can be an extremely serious matter that will change a youth’s life for many years to come. This is why it is important to consider all factors involved in the process and have an attorney on your side to help you every step of the way. Call the Law Office of Peter Blair today to speak to an attorney that can help you.