Law Office of David P. Shapiro - San Diego Criminal Defense Attorney




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Juvenile court proceedings begin with the arrest of a minor. If law enforcement decides to detain the minor, then the minor may be taken to juvenile hall and face charges in juvenile court.

Who can be charged in juvenile court?

To be charged in juvenile court in California you typically must be under the age of 18. However, it is possible to be tried in juvenile court, even when 18 or older, when the alleged crime was committed when the individual was still a minor (under 18).

Can a juvenile ever be tried in adult court?

There are situations where a juvenile may be tried as an adult if the juvenile is 16 or 17 years old. For a 16 or 17 year old to be tried as an adult they must have committed one of the crimes listed under Welfare and Institutions Code section 707(b). Some common “707(b) offenses” include murder, rape, robbery, and arson.

Juvenile court uses different terminology.

Juvenile court does not refer to the person being charged as the “defendant,” but rather the “minor.” There is no “complaint” with charges, but rather a “petition” brought against the minor.  These are just a few of the many differences between criminal court and juvenile court key terms.

You can’t get “bailed out” of custody as a juvenile.

While there are release conditions, there is no bail in the juvenile court system. If a minor is detained in juvenile hall, their parents will not be able to bail them out. The court will decide at a “detention” hearing whether the minor will be released to their parents/guardians or to some program.

There are no jury trials in juvenile court.

In adult court, you are entitled to a trial before a jury when charged with a crime, but not in juvenile court. In juvenile court, if you want to go to “trial” (called an “adjudication”) your case is heard in front of a judge, who will ultimately decide whether the prosecutor has proven the case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Hearings are not open to the public in juvenile court.

In adult court, hearings are, with a few exceptions, open to the public. Juvenile hearings are typically only for the parties involved in the case and close family members.

Parents/Guardians play a huge role in juvenile court.

It is normal for the judge to ask parents/guardians questions about the minor’s behavior in juvenile court. This is not something that typically happens in adult court. The answers the parents/guardians give may very well determine how the judge rules certain key decisions pertaining to the case.

Sentences/punishments in juvenile court are less harsh than adult court.

In adult court, a minor can be sentenced to life in prison, but in juvenile court the court loses jurisdiction when the minor turns 21. In cases where the minor commits a 707(b) offense (serious or violent felony) and gets committed to Division of Juvenile Justice (juvenile prison), jurisdiction expires when the minor turns 25 years old. This means that juvenile courts are limited in how long they can sentence a minor to be locked up. For example, if a 15-year-old is convicted of murder (they can’t be charged as an adult because they are not 16 or 17 years old), then the max amount of time the minor can be locked up for is ten years because by age 25 the court loses jurisdiction.

Minors under the age of 14 who commit nonviolent felony convictions have the option of a “deferred entry of judgment program,” which can offer for a complete dismissal of the charges after a maximum period of 3 years of probation. Informal probation is also available for minors younger than 14 charged with less serious crimes.  These situations are when the case can potentially be dismissed without having to admit to any charges.

Juvenile criminal history typically cannot be used against you in future convictions.

In adult court, a person’s criminal history can be used for criminal sentence enhancements, but not when that criminal history was from a juvenile delinquency adjudication. This is because juvenile adjudications are not meant to be “convictions”. However, the Three Strikes Law in California does allow a serious or violent felony committed by a minor aged 16 or 17 to count as a strike, and this can be used in adult court for purposes of criminal sentence enhancements.

Juvenile “convictions” are not considered convictions for immigration purposes.

The federal Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”) states that any non-citizen in the United States may be removed/deported if convicted of certain crimes. It will not matter how long the person has been in the country or if they are here legally, they will be subject to deportation if they are convicted of any crime in the “Deportable Crimes” categories. In juvenile court, “convictions” do not have the same effect on immigration as convictions in adult court. The juvenile “conviction” will not count against the minor as a conviction. However, it can become a reason for conduct-related deportation or a bar to admission.

You can learn more about juvenile crimes in San Diego from our Managing Partner, David P. Shapiro, here.

If your child is facing charges in juvenile court, and you want to learn how you can best protect their freedom and future, give us a call at (619) 295-3555.

The contents of this article and blog are meant for informational and marketing purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. Viewing and/or use of the blog does not form an attorney-client relationship. No statements in this post are a guarantee, warranty, or prediction of a particular result in your case.