Juvenile Court

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Court Process and Proceedings


This page has information about:

  • How a minor proceeds through Delinquency Court
  • The various proceedings
  • What dispositions are available to court in the care, treatment and guidance of a minor
  • How Delinquency Court differs from adult criminal court
  • The instances when a minor can be treated as an adult
  1. How Does a Juvenile Delinquency Case Go Through the Justice System?

    Below is a flow chart of how a minor proceeds through the Delinquency system. You will see several decision points and the options available at these points.

  2. How Does a Juvenile Delinquency Case Start?

    When a police officer comes in contact with a minor who he/she believes has committed a crime, the officer has several choices on how to handle the minor depending on what the officer thinks is in the best interest of the minor and the community:

    • Release with a reprimand on site, at the station or at the Juvenile Hall Intake Unit
    • Take the minor to a community program or the Children’s Shelter for abused and neglected children
    • Write a citation and have the minor or his/her parent sign a promise to appear before a probation officer at the Juvenile Hall
    • Take the minor to the Juvenile Hall Intake Unit

  3. Intake and Investigation

    If the minor has been taken to the Juvenile Hall Intake Unit, the assigned probation officer must investigate the circumstances and the facts surrounding the minor's contact with the officer. Except in instances when there is a mandatory referral for the filing of formal charges, the probation officer also has several options available concerning what action to take with the minor. The probation officer may:

    • Settle the matter at Intake -- release and reprimand. If the probation officer decides to take no further action other than  reprimanding the minor or referring the minor to other agencies and programs in the community, the officer has taken into consideration several factors about the incident and the minor and whether the Delinquency system is the appropriate solution for the minor.
    • Place the minor on informal supervision. Another option at Intake is to place the minor on informal probation. Upon agreement with the minor and his/her parents, the probation officer can place conditions on the minor’s activities. The conditions might include attendance in school, involvement in community programs to help improve attitude, behavior and relationships, restrictions on social activities and counseling. Informal probation generally runs for 6 months. If by the end of that time the minor has successfully completed all the requirements, informal probation will end. If the minor is not successful during the 6 months, the probation officer can move forward in the filing of a petition.
    • Refer the matter for filing of formal charges. The final option is to proceed with the filing of formal charges, known as a "petition." The matter is referred to the District Attorney’s Office to file a petition with the court.

  4. Why is the Minor being detained at the Juvenile Center?

    While considering which step to take, the probation officer has to also make the decision whether to release the minor or keep him/her at the Juvenile Center. The law directs the probation officer to immediately release the minor to the custody of the his/her parents, a guardian or a responsible relative except for one or more of the following reasons:

    • The minor does not have a parent, guardian or responsible adult who is capable or willing to take care or control of the minor
    • The minor has no home or means of support
    • The minor’s home is unfit and the minor is subject to neglect or abuse
    • Continuing custody is necessary to protect the minor or to protect another person or property
    • The minor will flee
    • The minor has violated a juvenile court order
    • The minor is physically dangerous to the public

    Even in the instance when the probation officer decides to refer the matter to the District Attorney, the officer still has an option to release or detain the minor. If the probation officer has decided to release the minor to home supervision, the minor and the parents, guardian or responsible adult must sign a written promise to appear and will follow any conditions for release. These conditions are similar to those of informal supervision, but can be more restrictive. The home supervision agreement could allow the probation officer to visit, search the minor’s home and bedroom and seize property as evidence in the case.
    If the decision has been made to not release, the minor can be held no longer than 48 hours, excluding days the court is not in session (weekends and holidays). However, a minor may be held longer if a petition has been filed in Delinquency Court or if charges (a complaint) have been filed in adult court.

  5. What is a Juvenile Delinquency Petition?

    As was previously stated, if the probation officer determines that charges should be filed against the minor, a recommendation is made to the District Attorney’s Office, who would file the formal charges. The petition is a document that generally contains the name, age and address of the minor, the code sections violated, whether the charges are felonies or misdemeanors, the names and address of the parents or guardians, a short statement of the facts, and whether the minor is in custody or has been released.
    If the minor is detained the petition must be filed within 48 hours of the detention.

  6. What is a Detention Hearing?

    A hearing on the issue whether the minor should be removed from the home must be held once the petition is filed. For those minors already detained the hearing is generally scheduled the next court day after the petition is filed.
    The court may begin the hearing by informing the minor of the reasons why he/she was taken into custody, the nature and results of the Delinquency Court proceedings and the right to be represented by an attorney. If the minor does not already have an attorney, the court will appoint one whether or not the minor can afford to pay the attorney. If the parents are determined later to have the money to pay for an attorney, the parents may be required to reimburse the county for representation.
    The minor has the right to contest the reasons for detention in several ways. The minor may question the individuals who prepared the evidence to support the initial detention and those that provided information during the detention hearing. The minor may also call supporting witnesses and present relevant evidence of his/her own. For the purposes of this hearing only, the court must assume the charges of the petition are true.
    The court must consider the most suitable placement for the minor, which could mean that the minor is either placed on home supervision or in the Juvenile Center. If the court makes the decision to remove the minor from the home, the determination must be based on the following grounds:

    • The minor violated a previous court order
    • The minor escaped from a detention facility
    • The minor would flee if released
    • The minor needs to be protected because the home environment is not safe, the minor is addicted or in danger of addiction, the minor is mentally or physically impaired and the circumstances surrounding the alleged offense warrants detention.
    • The need to protect another person and property.
    • A minor or his/her attorney may request a rehearing. This is allowed if a request has been made to present new evidence concerning the reasons for the detention.

  7. What is a Jurisdiction Hearing?

    A hearing on the alleged charges must be scheduled within 15 court days of the detention hearing if the minor has been detained or within 30 calendar days after the detention hearing if the minor is released, unless the time is extended by waiving this requirement. A hearing can be continued; however, the party asking for the continuance must provide a good reason for the continuance. In general, continuances are discouraged and if allowed, the next hearing date is set within a short period of time. In making this decision, the judge takes into consideration the need for the minor and his/her parents to have sufficient time to be prepared to present their side of the case.
    At the beginning of the jurisdiction hearing, the judge may read the contents of the petition and explain them. Again the judge will describe the nature of the hearing, its procedures and possible results. The parents or guardians are notified that they can be held responsible for the payment of any restitution and fines if the minor is ordered to do so. The judge will then ask the minor if he/she admits or denies the truth of the charges.
    The minor may decide to not contest the alleged charges. If this were the decision, the minor would then enter a plea to the charges, which is termed an admission to the truth of the charges. In doing so, the judge must determine whether the minor fully understands the nature of the charges and the consequences if he/she admits to the charges.
    If the minor denies the charges, then the minor may contest the facts entered into evidence by the District Attorney. As in the detention hearing, the District Attorney will present evidence in support of his/her case, and the minor through his/her attorney may cross-examine the witnesses, may present his/her own witnesses and evidence and argue the case to the court. As in adult court, the minor has the right to remain silent.
    The judge makes the determination of whether the allegations in the petition are true. Jury trials are not part of the delinquency system. If the charges are found true (sustained), the court will then set a hearing to determine the appropriate actions to take for the care, treatment and guidance of the minor. If the judge determines that the charges are not true, the petition is dismissed.

  8. What is a Disposition Hearing?

    This hearing is set if the charges are sustained and may be held immediately. Or a hearing may be set for 10 days if the minor is detained or 30 days from the filing of the petition, unless extended by agreement.
    In the Disposition Hearing, the judge determines what is the proper disposition or action that should be taken for the minor’s care, treatment and guidance, which includes punishment. Prior to the hearing the probation officer is required to prepare a social study of the minor for the court. This social study will cover any information that is fitting to the disposition, including family and school history, past criminal history, a statement from the victim and recommendations. This social history must be made available to all people involved prior to the Disposition Hearing.
    At the hearing, evidence is presented as to the proper disposition. The social study and any other relevant information is offered by either the District Attorney or the minor through his/her attorney to help the judge in making the appropriate decision. The victim may also present either a written or oral statement at the hearing.
    In determining the action to take, the judge must take into account:

    • Safety and protection of the community
    •  The importance of correcting the injuries to the victim
    • The best interest of the minor

    When all of the evidence and information has been presented, the court may choose to:

    • Set aside the findings of the Jurisdiction Hearing and dismiss the case, if the judge finds that the interest of justice and the welfare of the minor requires a dismissal, or finds that the minor is not in need of treatment or rehabilitation.
    • Place the minor on 6 months informal supervision by the probation department
    • Make the minor a ward of the court, which allows the court to replace the parents as decision-makers for the care, treatment and guidance for the minor. In this instance, the judge can take total control of the minor or limit the amount of control the parent or guardian has over the minor.

    If the minor becomes a ward of the court, the judge has the following options available as dispositions (listed in order of seriousness):

    • Place the minor on probation without supervision of the probation officer
    •  Send the minor home on probation with supervision
    • Place the minor on probation with supervision in the home of a relative
    • Place the minor in foster care, a licensed group home or private institution
    •  Send the minor to a local detention facility, ranch or county boot camp
    • Send the minor to the California Youth Authority

    If the minor is removed from the home and placed in home of a relative, foster care or group home, the placement is not considered a punishment, and a case plan is developed for the future of the minor and periodic reviews of the placement are required. If the minor is placed in a secured facility, the judge must indicate the maximum time of detention. If a judge sends a minor to the California Youth Authority, the judge has determined that the minor’s mental and physical situation are such that the minor may benefit from the reformatory educational discipline or other programs the Youth Authority offers.
    If a minor is placed on probation, the judge can set certain terms and conditions on the minor. These conditions can be restrictive and can also require the minor to give up certain constitutional rights, as long as they are reasonable and geared to meet the needs of the minor. The minor may be ordered to:

    • Attend school without an excused absence
    • Participate in counseling with his/her parents or guardians
    • Maintain a curfew
    • Abide by all laws
    • Submit to drug and alcohol testing
    • Perform community service
    • Participate in work program without pay
    • Limit the people he/she can see
    • Suspend or limit driving privileges
    • Pay restitution to the victim or pay a fine
    • Submit to a search without a warrant

    In the instance when a minor is ordered to pay restitution or a fine, the person who has joint or sole legal and physical custody and control of the minor is presumed to be responsible with the minor for the amount of the restitution and fine.

  9. What Can Happen After the Disposition Hearing?

    Several other proceedings can be scheduled for the minor after the conclusion of the case.

    • Appeal:
      If the minor is not satisfied with the results of the process or felt that his/her rights were violated, the minor through his/her attorney may appeal the case to the Court of Appeal. If the minor wishes to proceed, the Notice of Appeal must be filed within 60 days of the order made or the date of the disposition hearing. The District Attorney may also appeal a ruling under specific circumstances.

    • Request Court Order Be Set Aside:
      The minor may also request the court to modify or set aside an order. This request must be based on a change of circumstances or new evidence.

    • More Restrictive Disposition
      If the minor is not successful with the ordered disposition, the minor may be returned to court and a more restrictive disposition may be requested. This generally occurs when the minor has not been following the terms and conditions of probation.

    • Request to Seal Juvenile Court Records:
      The minor may request the court to seal his/her juvenile records. The request can be made after 5 years have passed since the incident or at any time after the person has reached 18 years. Under certain circumstance the minor or a probation officer may petition the court to seal arrest records, the court file, probation records and add records of any other agency that may have records concerning a case.

      The request must be made to the probation department. A probation officer determines if the person is eligible to petition the court, prepares and files the petition, prepares a report for the court, sets the matter for hearing and notifies the District Attorney’s Office. The judge will review the petition and the report and then rule on the request based on specific factors, including the type of charge, whether the minor has completed the disposition and been rehabilitated and whether there is any pending civil litigation based on the incident.

  10. How does the Juvenile Delinquency Court Differ from the Adult Criminal Court?

    To place the process in perspective, the following table gives an overview of how Delinquency Court differs with adult Criminal Court.

  11.  Criminal CourtDelinquency Court
    Purpose of theproceedings generally To determine guilt or innocence.
    To punish the guilty and protect society.
    To determine the truth of the charges in the petition. The order to declare a minor a ward is not a conviction of a crime.
    To preserve and promote the welfare of the minor.
    To provide punishment and accountability consistent with rehabilitation.
    Person who is the subject of the proceedings Defendant Minor
    Document initiating the proceeding Complaint Petition
    First hearing Arraignment (for defendants who are in or out of custody) Detention hearing (for a minor in custody); first initial hearing for those not in custody.
    Bail May be applicable Not applicable
    Plea Bargaining Often done Often done
    Fact-finding Trial Jurisdiction hearing
    Right to jury trial Yes in many instances No
    Right to appointed counsel Yes, for indigent defendant Yes, for indigent minor or for those whose parents refuse to pay
    Judgment Guilty or not guilty verdict Charge is sustained or not sustained
    Outcome Sentence Disposition
    Incarceration Few resources directed towards rehabilitation Many more resources directed towards rehabilitation
    Credit for time served in non-secure or home detention Yes Yes

  12. When Are Minors Treated as Adults?

    The process described above generally outlines how minors progress through Delinquency Court. However, there are two significant exceptions in how the system treats minors who are charged with a crime. In both instances, the minor does not process through the delinquency system, but rather is sent to adult court.

    • Direct Filing

      In 2000, the state legislature and California voters changed the method by which the system handles certain minors. After intake and screening the probation officer investigates the circumstances around a minor accused of charges and refers the case for filing, the District Attorney’ Office may choose to file charges directly in adult criminal court.

      The factors the prosecuting attorney must consider in this decision are whether the minor:

      1. Has been previously declared a ward of the court for a felony crime
      2. Was at least 14 when the crime was committed
      3. Has a previous record and was at least 16 but under 18 at the time of the new incident
      4. The current charge is:

        • A first degree murder
        • Attempted, premeditated murder
        • Aggravated kidnapping in which the penalty is life in prison
        • Certain serious felonies in which the minor discharged a firearm
        • Certain forcible sex crimes

        If the case is filed in adult court, the minor is subject to all statutes, procedures and rights of an adult. This would include the range of consequences an adult would receive if convicted of the same crime. However, at the conclusion of the case, the judge may decide that the minor should receive a juvenile disposition if such a disposition would best serve the interest of justice, and the minor being sentenced would protect the community.

    • Fitness Hearing

      After the detention hearing and before the jurisdiction hearing, the District Attorney may request a hearing to determine whether the minor is a fit and proper subject to be handled in Delinquency Court. The request to address this issue is based on the seriousness of the charge and the age of the minor at the time of the offense.

      The probation officer must investigate and provide the court with a report on the behavioral patterns and social history of the minor that would be considered in determining whether the minor would be responsive to the care, treatment and programs offered in the delinquency system. The probation officer must also include a recommendation to the court of the minor’s fitness. This report must also be shown to all of the involved parties to the case.

      At the hearing, the judge must consider the probation report as well as any additional evidence or information presented by both the District Attorney and the minor’s attorney. The court then must make a decision based on whether the minor would be responsive to the care, treatment and programs offered in the delinquency system. In making this determination the court must consider the following criteria:

      • The degree of criminal sophistication
      • Whether the minor can be rehabilitated before the end of the Delinquency Court’s jurisdiction
      • The minor’s previous criminal history
      • The results of previous attempts to rehabilitate the minor
      • The circumstances and the seriousness of the current charges

      If the judge finds the minor fit for Delinquency Court, then the process moves forward to the Jurisdiction Hearing. If the judge finds the minor to be unfit for Delinquency Court, the court would dismiss the petition and remand the minor to adult court. The District Attorney would begin the process in adult criminal court with the filing of a complaint. The minor would then be subject to all of the statutes, procedures and rights in the adult criminal court. The minor may also receive the same sentence as an adult would receive for the same crime. In some instances, the minor may be eligible to serve a sentence in the California Youth Authority.

    • Can an Order From a Fitness Hearing Be Stopped?

      An order made from a fitness hearing cannot be appealed. To receive appellate review, the party must request a writ to stop the process from moving forward. To start the writ process, the minor must file an application for a writ no later than 20 days after the minor's first appearance on the complaint. The District Attorney may also apply for a writ to challenge the judge’s ruling that the minor is fit.
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