Juvenile Court Process

Juvenile crimes or juvenile criminal charges can be prosecuted in juvenile court or in adult court, and often depends on the facts, type of crime, or severity of the crime involved.  Not only can a juvenile crime have immediate, devastating consequences on the gavelminor and his or her family, but the process can be very different, inherently involving the probation department and their involvement early on in the case.  That is why it is imperative that you contact a criminal defense attorney with experience handling juvenile crimes right away.

A juvenile crime is categorized as such when the alleged crime occurred prior to the suspect turning 18 years old.  Juvenile crimes can be either felonies or misdemeanors just the same as in adult court.  Juvenile strikes, within the meaning of California’s Three Strikes laws, are generally determined as crimes committed if the juvenile was 16 years or older at the time of the offense, with some exceptions if the juvenile was younger.

Once a juvenile is detained (arrested), the parents are then called and advised of the situation.  It is critical that during this process, the parties try to refrain from making incriminating statements to police.  The days when police would simply investigate a situation and let the parties go home, chalking it up to “kids will be kids”, are generally gone.  Political pressure, liability, and other concerns have forced police agencies to take all precautions if they are called to investigate, and that generally includes interviewing the juvenile, and eventually bringing the suspect into the court process.  Juveniles have the same constitutional rights that adults do, and this includes the “the right to remain silent”, the right to ask for a lawyer (or parent), etc.  If your son or daughter is being investigated, contact a lawyer BEFORE discussing the case with the investigators.

Once detained (arrested), a juvenile can either be detained or cited to the parents.  The first appearance in court is called the detention hearing.  For serious offenses or violent crimes, the prosecuting agency may do a “direct file” to adult court, or they can hold a “fitness hearing”, requesting that the case be sent up to adult court even if it started in juvenile court.  If the case goes to adult court, it follows the normal procedures of criminal procedure in adult court, regardless of the juvenile’s age.

If the case stays in juvenile court, a jurisdictional hearing is set.  This is the equivalent of a trial.  In juvenile court, there is no right to a jury trial, only a court trial, meaning the judge or juvenile referee will hear the case.  If the juvenile is found to have committed the offenses in the petition, a dispositional hearing is set, which is similar to sentencing in adult court.

There are critical differences in juvenile court, such as no right to bail, probation and sentencing differences, options for house arrest and alternative sentences, some different rights regarding searches and seizures, interviews and evaluations by the probation department, etc.  This is why it is critical that you hire a criminal defense attorney with knowledge of all of these alternative proceedings.  We can help you.

You have rights.  You should exercise those rights.  And the only way to do so is to hire a criminal defense attorney who handles these cases properly.

Do not talk to police.  Do not provide statements, even if you think they are statements which declare your innocence – they will only be twisted and used against you.  First, consult with a lawyer.

Do not consent to a search of your person/residence/vehicle.  Demand a search warrant.

Ask for your lawyer.  These are your constitutional rights – exercise them!

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