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Juvenile Charges in San Diego
When minors are eligible for juvenile court, and what to expect in juvenile court.
“Juvenile justice” is an umbrella term for the special procedures set up by every state to deal with young people whose cases belong in juvenile court. Juvenile courts handle most of the cases in which young people (usually called “juveniles” or “minors”) are accused of committing crimes.
Eligibility for Juvenile Court
There is no set age by which a child is accountable in the juvenile court system. In general, a child under seven years of age is considered too young, while a child 14 or older is considered accountable for their crimes, either in juvenile or adult court. Children between the ages of seven and 14 occupy a middle ground, and prosecutors must demonstrate that the accused child is capable of forming the guilty mind required to be accountable in the juvenile court system.
Of course, the treatment of juveniles differs from state to state, judge to judge, cop to cop. And if differences of opinion generally exist about “getting tough on crime,” the conflicting opinions on how to deal with minors accused of crimes are greater still.
Not every young person who commits an offense ends up in juvenile court. A police officer who suspects that a minor has committed a crime may:
- detain and warn the minor against further violations, and then let the minor go free
- detain and warn the minor against further violations, but hold the minor until a parent or guardian comes for the minor, or
- place the minor in custody and refer the case to a juvenile court.
Whether Case Goes to Juvenile Court
If the police refer a case to the juvenile court, a prosecutor or a juvenile court “intake” officer (often a probation officer) must then decide whether to:
- dismiss the matter
- handle the matter informally, or
- “petition” the matter by filing formal charges.
In some localities, the probation officer makes only a preliminary assessment of whether to file formal charges, and leaves the final decision to a prosecutor. (For more information, see Avoiding Formal Charges, below.)
When a Minor Commits a Crime
A decision to proceed informally often means that the minor must appear before a probation officer or a judge. The minor may receive a stern lecture, and may also be required to attend counseling sessions or after-school classes, repay the victim for damaged property or pay a fine, perform community service work, or go on probation. If the intake officer suspects that a minor taken into custody has been abused or neglected, the officer may also initiate proceedings to remove the minor from the custody of his or her parents or guardians.
If the intake officer decides to proceed formally, the officer files a petition and the case is placed on the juvenile court’s calendar. At that point juvenile cases typically flow through the juvenile justice system in this manner:
- The minor is arraigned (formally charged) before a juvenile court judge or referee. At this point, the juvenile court either takes jurisdiction of the case or, if the crime or the juvenile’s personal characteristics indicate that the case should be handled in regular court, the judge sets the case for a “fitness hearing.”
- At the hearing, the judge will determine whether the minor should be tried as a juvenile or as an adult in regular court. As younger and younger minors commit ever more violent crimes, these fitness hearings are becoming more common.
- If the case remains in juvenile court, the minor either enters into a plea agreement or faces trial (often called an “adjudication”).
- If, after trial, the juvenile court judge “sustains the petition” (concludes that the charges are true), the judge decides on an appropriate sentence (usually referred to as a disposition).
- Post-disposition hearings may occur. For example, a judge’s disposition order may require a minor to appear in court periodically so that the judge can monitor the minor’s behavior.
Juvenile Court Procedure
The procedure and organization of the juvenile court system is different from the adult system. After committing an offense, juveniles are detained rather than arrested. Next, a petition is drawn up which outlines the jurisdiction authority of the juvenile court over the offense and detained individuals, gives notice for the reason for the court appearance, serves as notice to the minor’s family, and also is the official charging document.
Once in court, the juvenile case is adjudicated, and a disposition is handed down. Records from juvenile courts are sealed documents, unlike adult records which are accessible by anyone under the Freedom of Information Act. Like diversion, this measure is designed to protect the juvenile so that one mistake does not follow the juvenile for life. Juvenile records may also be expunged upon the juvenile’s eighteenth birthday provided the juvenile has met certain conditions, such as good behavior. Juvenile court procedure is also far less formal than adult court procedure.
The disposition of a juvenile case is based on the least detrimental alternative, so the legacy of parens patriae is still evident. However, one major controversy in juvenile dispositions is the use of indeterminate sentencing, which allows a judge to set a maximum sentence. In such cases, juveniles are monitored during their sentences and are released only when the judge is satisfied that they have been rehabilitated or when the maximum time has been served. Critics argue that this arrangement allows the judge too much discretion and is, therefore, not the least detrimental punishment.
Juvenile courts are typically organized in one of three ways:
1) as a separate entity
2) as part of a lower court, such as a city court or district court
3) as part of a higher court, such as a circuit court or a superior court
The organization model varies state by state, and some states, for example, Alabama, allow each county and city jurisdiction to decide which is the best method of organization. Where the juvenile court sits has profound implications for the juvenile process.
What to Expect: Juvenile Court Chronology
If your child is arrested or referred to the juvenile court by some other means-perhaps even by you-you will undoubtedly face a flood of emotions and have a multitude of questions. An attorney experienced in juvenile law can answer your questions and walk you through the process, while helping to ensure the best possible outcome for you and your child. Although the juvenile court process can vary somewhat from state to state, or even county to county, the following summary outlines the basic steps that you can expect if your child should become involved with the juvenile justice system.
- A juvenile court matter comes to the court’s attention when the police apprehend a minor for violating a statute or a school official, parent, or guardian refers a problem with a juvenile to the court.
- The court intake officer then evaluates the case to determine whether further action is necessary, whether the child should be referred to a social service agency, or whether the case should be formally heard in juvenile court.
- If the situation is serious enough, the juvenile may be detained in a juvenile correction facility pending resolution of the matter or he or she may be sent to an alternative placement facility such as a shelter, group home, or foster home.
- If the intake officer decides that a formal hearing in juvenile court is not necessary, arrangements may be made for assistance for the child from school counselors, mental health services, or other youth service agencies.
- If the intake officer decides that the case should be heard in juvenile court, a petition is filed with the court setting forth the statutes that the child is alleged to have violated.
- In cases of serious offenses such as rape and murder, the matter may be referred to the district or county attorney’s office, after which the juvenile may be charged as an adult, tried in the criminal courts, and even sentenced to an adult correctional facility.
- If the matter proceeds to juvenile court and the child admits to the allegations in the petition, a treatment program is ordered.
- If the child denies the allegations in the petition, a hearing like an adult criminal trial is held. The child has the right to be represented by counsel at this hearing. Rather than trying the case to a jury, however, a judge hears the matter and decides whether the juvenile has committed the acts alleged in the petition.
- If the allegations have not been proven to the court’s satisfaction, the judge will dismiss the case.
- If the judge decides that the allegations have been proven, he or she may rule that the child is a status offender or a delinquent.
- A second juvenile court hearing is then held to determine the disposition of the matter. If the juvenile is not considered to be dangerous to others, he or she may be put on probation. While on probation, the juvenile must follow the rules established by the court and report regularly to his or her probation officer. Serious offenders, however, may be sent to a juvenile correction facility.
- Other treatment options include community treatment, like making restitution to the victim or performing community service; residential treatment, in which a juvenile is sent to a group home or work camp, with a focus on rehabilitation; and nonresidential community treatment, in which the juvenile continues to live at home but is provided with services from mental health clinics and other social service agencies.
If you have any questions about juvenile charges in San Diego contact San Diego Criminal Attorney Vik Monder at 619.405.0063 or visit San Diego Criminal Defense