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Dealing with Juvenile Crimes

If your child commits a crime in California you may be concerned about his or her future. A conviction for a criminal offense can have significant consequences, including difficulty finding employment, housing, or even getting into a good school. California recognizes that growing up and maturing is something that may require leniency and understanding and, as a result, has created a criminal justice system specifically for minors. The system – known as the Division of Juvenile Justice – offers young people who break the law an alternate route in which they can be tried and punished for their indiscretions.

Rights and Responsibilities After a Child’s Arrest

If your minor child has been arrested for a crime in California, both you and your child are entitled to certain rights. Your child has the Constitutional rights to remain silent and to be represented by an attorney. If you or your child cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided. The police are required to notify you, as the child’s parent or guardian, immediate after an arrest is made. You must be told where your child is located and how you can contact or get to them.

In addition to these rights, you may also have certain responsibilities if your child is arrested for a crime in California. Most of these responsibilities are financial and may include compensation for:

  • Restitution to victims of your child’s crime;
  • Costs stemming from physical damage caused by the crime;
  • Your child’s attorney;
  • Juvenile detention facility services, including food or laundry; or
  • Fees to keep your child at a juvenile detention center.

Punishments for Juvenile Offenses

While some crimes may be referred to as “juvenile crimes,” the only thing that, in fact, makes a crime “juvenile” is the age of the person committing it. The Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) generally allows young offenders to be tried in a special court and to receive special punishments. The purpose of this alternate route is to rehabilitate child offenders and get them back on the right path. Punishments awarded to juvenile offenders often look quite different from punishments awarded to adult offenders for the same crime. 

Juvenile punishments may include:

  • Probation;
  • Fines;
  • Rehabilitation;
  • Mandatory counseling;
  • Electronic monitoring;
  • Special education courses; or
  • Detention in a dedicated juvenile facility.

Juvenile probation is markedly different from traditional probation and may require child offenders to attend school without absence, follow a curfew, attend mandatory counseling sessions, perform community service, and/or pay restitution to any victims of their crime(s). Juvenile punishments are aimed at the rehabilitation, rather than the punishment, of a young person. Despite this difference in punishments, speaking to a juvenile crimes attorney may be your best option to minimize the consquences.

Trying Juveniles as Adults in California

There are, however, instances where juveniles commit crimes that are so egregious and harmful that the state chooses to treat them as an adult. If this happens, a child will be transferred from the DJJ to California’s criminal court system, where they will not receive juvenile treatment. Rather, those child offenders will be tried as adults and face punitive sentences generally associated with the crime. California allows children over the age of 14 to be tried as adults for the commission of serious crimes, including:

  • First Degree murder;
  • Rape;
  • Forcible sex offenses;
  • Setting fire to an occupied building;
  • Carjacking;
  • Kidnapping;
  • Serious drug offenses; and
  • Crimes with weapons.

California also permits children between the ages of 16 and 17 to be tried as adults for the commission of any criminal offense. However, the state would have to determine that the child would gain little-to-no benefit from juvenile proceedings and punishments. The process for determining whether a child will be tried as a juvenile or an adult is discussed below.

Process of Trying a Juvenile for a Crime in California

When a child is charged with a crime they are brought to the Division of Juvenile Justice for a series of hearings. It is here where the court decides whether a child can be remanded to the custody of his or her parents and if the charges will be heard in the juvenile court or transferred to California’s criminal courts.

Detention Hearing. A judge reviews the case and determines whether the child can be released back to his or her parents or if it is best to keep the child at a juvenile detention center for the duration of the proceedings. The judge will consider factors such as the seriousness and nature of the crime, prior delinquent acts, and household stability. If a child is released to his or her parents, special probationary conditions often apply. For example, a child may be required to attend school without absence, perform community service, or abstain from drugs and alcohol to remain in their home rather than state custody.

Pretrial Settlement. The court may try to solve the problem without a full trial. The court may ask for the child and parent(s) to agree to a series of penalties that are designed to help them get back on the right path.

Fitness Hearing. This is where a judge determines whether the case will be heard in the juvenile court or transferred to the criminal court. In making this determination the judge will consider:

  • The degree of criminal sophistication in executing the crime;
  • Whether the minor can benefit from juvenile proceedings before he or she reaches the age of 18;
  • Any existing criminal record;
  • Previous attempts by the DJJ to rehab the child; and
  • Facts and circumstances surrounding the crime itself.

Jurisdiction Hearing. If the juvenile is tried in the DJJ, he or she is not granted the right to a trial by jury. Rather, the case is presented to a judge or commissioner who determines the outcome and punishment(s).

Disposition Hearing. If the DJJ finds the child to be guilty of the offense the court will impose penalties intended to rehabilitate the child.

My Child Has a Juvenile Record – Will That Stay With Them Forever?

Criminal records can severely limit an individual’s ability to enjoy certain privileges and freedoms. Employers, landlords, and lenders who run a background check are likely to see the applicant’s indiscretions and may opt to move in a different direction, leaving the individual with few options. Luckily, California permits individuals with juvenile records to petition the court for expungement and/or sealing. If a juvenile record is successfully expunged or sealed the convictions will not appear when criminal records are viewed. This permits a freedom to move on from youthful indiscretions and lead a fulfilling and productive life.

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