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If you or a loved one has a family member under the age of 18 who is in trouble with the law, the minor will likely be tried in juvenile court instead of an adult criminal court.

The main difference between the two courts is that juvenile courts are designed to rehabilitate, educate and counsel minors, while adult criminal courts punish people for crimes they have committed.

Because the two courts deal with different offenders and focus on different outcomes, the two courts have different court processes. Below are 11 ways California’s juvenile courts distinguish themselves from the adult criminal court process…

1. A minor in a juvenile case is not entitled to a jury trial.

A juvenile court judge or commissioner makes the decision on a minor’s guilt or innocence. However, the burden of proof in juvenile court is the same as adult court. The prosecutor must present evidence that proves beyond a reasonable doubt to the judge that the juvenile is guilty of a crime.

2. The juvenile court process consists of four hearings.

An attorney can help you through the California juvenile court process.

The four hearings involved in the juvenile court process are:

  • Detention Hearing: Determines whether the juvenile can be released to his or her parents or must stay in custody during the case.

  • Fitness Hearing: Determines if the juvenile’s case will be heard in juvenile delinquency court or be transferred to an adult criminal court. However, a fitness hearing does not occur in the majority of juvenile cases because cases are typically heard in delinquency court.

  • Adjudication Hearing: The juvenile’s “trial” is conducted in front of a juvenile court judge.

  • Disposition Hearing: The judge’s decision or sentence in the juvenile’s case.

3. Minors taken into custody for a crime must be brought to court within 48 hours of their arrest to be advised of the charges against them.

This first hearing in a juvenile court process is called the detention hearing. In a detention hearing, the court will decide whether to release the minor to his or her parents or to keep the minor in custody pending trial.

4. There is no bail in the juvenile court process.

Because there is no bail in the juvenile court process, it is extremely important to retain an experienced juvenile attorney as soon as possible to try to convince the judge to release your child at a detention hearing.

5. In certain cases, a juvenile age 14 or older charged with a serious crime can be charged as an adult in adult criminal court and face the penalties of an adult criminal conviction.

Let our juvenile defense attorneys help you today.

A juvenile age 14 to 17 can be charged as an adult for the following crimes:

  • First degree murder;

  • Certain sex offenses under California Penal Code Sections 667.61(d)-(e):

    • Rape;

    • Spousal rape;

    • Forcible sex offenses in concert with another person;

    • Forcible lewd and lascivious acts on a child under the age of 14;

    • Forcible penetration by foreign object;

    • Sodomy or oral copulation by force, fear, violence, duress or menace of immediate and unlawful bodily injury on a victim or another person;

    • Lewd or lascivious acts on a child under the age of 14, unless the defendant qualifies for probation; and

    • Crimes listed under 707(b) of the California Welfare and Institutions Code.

6. In certain circumstances, a juvenile age 16 or 17 can be tried as an adult for any criminal offense.

In the fitness hearing, a minor is evaluated to determine whether he or she is fit to be tried in juvenile court. The determination is dependent on whether the court believes the minor will respond to the care, treatment and training programs in juvenile court.

The juvenile court will consider the following:

  • The degree of criminal sophistication exhibited by the minor;

  • Whether the minor can be rehabilitated within the time the juvenile court has jurisdiction over the minor;

  • The minor’s previous delinquent history;

  • The success of any previous attempts by the juvenile court to rehabilitate the minor; and

  • The circumstances and seriousness of the offense alleged to have been committed by the minor.

If the court determines the juvenile will benefit from the programs in juvenile court, he or she will be tried as a minor. If the court determines the juvenile is unfit for the programs, he or she will be tried as an adult.

7. Under certain circumstances, a juvenile age 16 or 17 who is a ward of the state can be tried as an adult for a criminal offense.

In order for a minor to be tried as an adult, the criminal charge must be a felony and meet the following two elements:

  • The minor was previously found “guilty” of committing two or more felony offenses; AND

  • The prior felonies were committed when the minor was at least 14 years old.

8. The conditions of a juvenile probation differ considerably from adult probation.

Probation is considered a minor punishment for less serious crimes by the juvenile court system. Juvenile probation can consist of the following conditions:

  • Attend school;

  • Follow a curfew;

  • Attend counseling;

  • Perform community service; and

  • Pay restitution to the victim.

9. When a minor is found guilty of a serious crime by a juvenile court judge, the minor will not go to adult jail.

If a court judge makes a decision against a minor for a serious crime, the judge can sentence the minor to time in a probation camp, a foster or group home, the California Division of Juvenile Justice (prison for minors), or juvenile hall.

10. Minors in custody for serious crimes can find themselves in custody beyond the age or 18.

In certain cases, just because a minor turns 18 does not mean the sentence for a juvenile offense is over.

Minors who are found “guilty” of a serious crime and became wards of the state before the age of 16 can be held in state custody until the age of 21. Minors who became wards of the court at age 16 or older can be held in state custody until the age of 25.

11. Once a juvenile turns 18 and his or her case in juvenile court has ended, he or she may be able to petition to seal or destroy a juvenile criminal record.

Whether a person can seal or destroy a juvenile criminal record depends on the type of crime committed and length of time since the minor left the juvenile court system. If you or a loved one wants to seal or destroy a juvenile criminal record, it is important to retain an experienced attorney who can review your case and take the steps necessary to clear your record.

Juvenile Crimes

Riverside and San Bernardino Juvenile Attorney

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