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Juvenile Dependency

If you or your child has a case pending in juvenile dependency court, it’s vital that you contact an experienced attorney. At Wohl Law, we’ve been helping people in juvenile dependency court for almost three decades.

Categories of Juvenile Crimes

There are three types juvenile cases that a minor may be involved in. These include:Status offenses;california juvenile attorney

  • Delinquency offenses; and
  • Juvenile being tried as an adult

Juvenile Status Offenses

Status offenses are acts that would be otherwise legal if committed by an adult. These can be minor offenses like truancy from school or violation of curfew, or can be more serious offenses that are specifically illegal by virtue of the person’s status as a minor.

For example, in California, a juvenile is generally prohibited from possessing alcoholic beverages (California Business and Professions Code section 25622) or from driving with a 0.01% blood alcohol level (California Vehicle Code section 23136) until he or she reaches the age of 21.

Juvenile Delinquency Offenses

A delinquency offense is any act that would be a crime regardless of the age of the person who committed it. For example, if a juvenile commits an act of vandalism (California Penal Code section 594), the crime can be charged as a delinquency offense.

A delinquency or status offense case will proceed through three primary stages:

  • the detention hearing;
  • the jurisdictional hearing; and
  • the disposition hearing.

The detention hearing takes place if the defendant is being held in juvenile hall. Similar to the preliminary hearing in an adult criminal case,a defendant in juvenile court may enter a plea of guilty or not guilty during this hearing. The judge may decide to keep him or her in custody, or release the juvenile in the custody of the parents or legal guardian if the judge determines the minor is not a serious risk to the community.

The jurisdictional hearing is essentially a trial, but it differs from a typical criminal case in that a minor facing a criminal charge in juvenile court does not have a constitutional right to a jury trial. Instead, the case is tried and decided by a juvenile court judge in a bench trial. During this hearing, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The defendant has an opportunity to defend himself or herself during this phase, and is entitled to have a defense attorney.

If the juvenile defendant is found guilty, the judge is said to have “sustained the People’s petition,” and the case will proceed to a disposition hearing for determination of a sentence. Typical sentences in juvenile cases involve serving time in juvenile hall, as well as fines. In most cases, the court will hold the parents liable to pay the fines for their child’s conduct.

Trial As an Adult

Under Proposition 21, California law permits a juvenile over the age of 16 to be tried as an adult for any crime under the court’s discretion. Between the ages of 14-16, the juvenile can only be tried as an adult for serious violent or sex-related crimes, such as

  • Murder with special circumstances (if the minor personally killed the victim);
  • Rape with force, violence, or threat of great bodily harm;
  • Spousal rape with force, violence, or threat of great bodily harm;
  • Forcible sex in concert with another;
  • Lewd and lascivious acts on a child under 14 with force, violence, or threat of great bodily injury;
  • Forcible sexual penetration; and
  • Sodomy or oral copulation by force, violence, or threat of great bodily injury.

Before a juvenile can be tried as an adult, the court must make a determination of his or her fitness to stand trial as an adult. The decision will turn on whether the treatment, training, and care programs of the juvenile system would be effective in rehabilitating the minor, and whether the court believes these programs would be able to reasonably deter the minor from future criminal behavior. This involves reviewing multiple factors concerning the case and the defendant’s circumstances, including:

  • The gravity of the offense and the circumstances of the case;
  • The minor’s degree of criminal sophistication;
  • Whether rehabilitation could be achieved prior to the expiration of the juvenile court’s jurisdiction;
  • History of delinquency; and
  • Whether past attempts at rehabilitating the minor by the juvenile court have been effective.

If the court determines that the juvenile must be tried as an adult, the case will be moved into the adult court system, and, if found guilty, the defendant can be punished in the same manner that an adult would be punished for the crime he or she committed.

Penalties for Juvenile Offenses

Assuming the minor is tried in the juvenile system, there are a variety of available punishments for status and delinquency offenses. Unlike with adult offenders, the punishment of these crimes is generally intended to correct the behavior of the offender and teach them to be productive members of society before they reach adulthood. These punishments can include:

  • Probation;
  • Restitution to the victim;
  • Fines;
  • Community service;
  • Time in a correctional facility or Juvenile Hall;
  • Placement in a foster home;
  • Training programs; and
  • Secured detention in the Division of Juvenile Justice (formally California Youth Authority).

Sealing Juvenile Records

Juvenile records can be sealed, which means that the record of a person’s crimes before the age of 18 may be hidden from public records. This prevents the record from being discovered by a background check for employment, and allows an applicant with a juvenile record to deny its existence without penalty. The records of any arrest without a charge or conviction can also be sealed.

The process of sealing a juvenile record is not automatic, and certain types of offenses are ineligible to be sealed, such as murder, arson, robbery, carjacking, many sex offenses, and any other violent felonies. To seal a record, the juvenile must file a petition with the juvenile court in the county he or she was convicted, and meet the following criteria:

  • Be 18 years of age or older;
  • Have no misdemeanor or felony convictions as an adult involving a crime of moral turpitude (dishonest or immoral behavior);
  • Convince a court that he or she is rehabilitated; and
  • Have no pending civil litigation as a result of the juvenile criminal acts.

Frequently Asked Questions on Juvenile Court

Some common questions include:

1. My child was cited for breaking curfew. Will he or she have a criminal record?

Curfew laws are different from city to city, but the likelihood is that a status offense will show up on his or her criminal record. The good news is that it is an offense that is eligible to be sealed. You can contact an experienced juvenile law defense attorney who can guide you and your child through the process of sealing his or her juvenile record.

2. Can truancy affect my ability to have a driver’s license?

Yes. If you are declared a “habitual truant” (i.e., you were caught ditching school three or more times in one school year), California law permits the DMV to suspend your driver’s license for one year. You should consult with an experienced juvenile defense attorney to build a case to the DMV that will help you avoid losing your driving privileges.

3. Are juvenile crimes considered strikes under California’s Three Strikes Law?

Depending on the crime, an offense committed as a juvenile can be a strike under the Three Strikes Law. For example, the Three Strikes Law includes felonies where a “gang enhancement” penalty is available. If a juvenile offender is convicted of an offense where this gang enhancement can be added to the sentence, the offense will be available as a strike should he or she commit a later crime.

Contact the Wohl Law Today

Juvenile offenses can have serious, long-lasting consequences, and if you or your child is being prosecuted in juvenile court, you should consult with an attorney who has experience and skill in juvenile defense. We have nearly 30 years of experience fighting for the rights of juvenile defendants. Contact us today for a free, no obligation phone consultation.

Call us today at (909) 689-4292 for a free phone consultation. We’re here to help!