Crackdowns on juvenile crime in the state of California have led to more cases then ever where minors are being arrested, going to court (and being tried as an adult, depending on the crime), and being put on probation or sent to rehabilitation. Juvenile court has many variances from the usual court process.
Juvenile delinquency proceedings, sometimes referred to as “Section 602 proceedings” after the respective governing section in California law, is technically not part of the California criminal law system. Instead, juvenile court is part of the civil law system where cases are are heard by judges, but there are no juries. Juvenile court proceedings are typically held confidential.
In the California juvenile court system, a minor is not found as either “guilty” or “innocent.” Instead, if it is found by the judge that the minor committed the crime, the judge will sustain the petition filed by the district attorney. A 602 Petition states that a minor committed an act that would still be a crime if he or she was 18 or older. This can be either a misdemeanor, like petty theft or assault, or a felony, such as theft, certain drug crimes, rape, or murder.
In lieu of guilty or innocent findings, there are multiple different sentences, or “dispositions,” available through juvenile court. The juvenile court’s equivalent of an innocent finding is informal probation, where the minor never admits any allegations of wrongdoing and the charges are dismissed.
However, if the judge determines that the minor did commit the act and that the 602 petition is true, the child will become a “ward” of the court and considered a delinquent. The specific punishment will vary, depends on the crime the minor committed.
Wards of the court
A minor becoming a ward of the court does not necessarily mean your child will be taken away. When a minor is ruled by a judge to become a “ward of the court” it simply means that the court will take over primary responsibility for control and treatment of the minor. A minor can be a considered a ward of the court and still be allowed to serve out probation at home. However, there are certain cases where the minor may be placed in foster care or into a group home.
In the most severe cases, where a serious crime has been committed, the minor may be sent to the Division of Juvenile Justice, previously known as the CYA (California Youth Authority). The DJJ is essentially “prison for minors,” and provides education and rehabilitating treatment for serious offenders aged 25 or younger.
The conviction of crime and sentencing of jail time is meant to serve as a punishment, if the offender is an adult. However, the offender is minor and they placed on probation, or committed to the DJJ, the goal is to rehabilitate the minor.
In order for minors in the juvenile court system to become productive members of society, it is important for them to go through a rehabilitation program. This involves education, treatment, and other services they may need to learn from and move past their offense.
When might a minor be tried as an adult?
A minor may be tried as an adult if they:
- are already a ward of the Court for a different felony crime,
- were 14 or older when the crime happened,
- have a previous record and were between the ages of 16 and 18 when the new crime was committed,
- are charged with:
- 1st degree murder
- attempted, premeditated murder
- aggravated kidnapping if the penalty is life in prison
- serious felonies when the minor fired a weapon
- arson resulting in injury or death, or arson upon an inhabited building
- certain sex crimes using force
If the case goes to adult criminal court, the minor is treated like an adult, and can receive the same sentence as an adult if they’re convicted of the same crime.
Any questions? Contact us.