“Any person who is under the age of 18 years when he or she violates the law of this state is within the jurisdiction of the juvenile court, which may adjudge such person to be a ward of the court.” Welfare & Institutions Code 602. This means that all minors who commit crimes will be charged in the juvenile court, right? Wrong. Depending on the charges, the government can, and does, ask the court to certify minors for prosecution in adult court subject to the same penalties as an adult offender. Typically this happens with crimes of violence and is used very frequently in gang crimes. If your child has been arrested and charged with a crime, law enforcement may choose any of number of paths, such as informal contact with parents, public or private diversion, citation and referral to probation, or arrest. Once probation receives the case, probation may exercise its limited discretion not to submit the case to the district attorney and handle the matter informally. When the district attorney receives the case, they may file or refuse the case. You must have an experienced criminal defense attorney to guide you through this process.
Choosing a Juvenile Defense Attorney
Mr. Flores has many years of experience handling criminal charges against minors, both as a prosecutor and defense attorney. As a juvenile deputy district attorney in Orange County for 2 years and a juvenile serious offender prosecutor thereafter, Mr. Flores handled many juvenile cases, including gang charges, child molestation, rape, theft, robbery, burglary, vandalism, assault, battery and many others. Mr. Flores is not only familiar with the judges and prosecutors handling these cases, but also with the charging policies of the district attorney’s office. When choosing representation for your child, consider the attorney’s experience in this arena.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What are my child’s rights?
A: Minors do not have the right to bail or a jury trial. All trials are heard by a judicial officer (judge, commissioner, or referee). A police officer must notify a minor’s parent or guardian after taking the minor to a probation officer at juvenile hall. The minor has the right to be arraigned within 48 hours of the minor’s detention, excluding weekends and holidays. A minor has a right to make two phone calls – one to a parent, guardian, responsible relative, or employer, and one to an attorney.
Q: What is a “fitness hearing”?
A: A “fitness hearing” is the hearing conducted by the court to determine if the minor is amenable to the facilities of the juvenile justice system. “Not fit” means that the minor will be tried as an adult. “Fit” means that the minor will be tried as a juvenile and be cared for and treated within the juvenile justice system. The court makes this determination based upon five factors: criminal sophistication; rehabilitation before the juvenile court’s jurisdiction expires; previous delinquent history; success of prior attempts to rehabilitate the minor; circumstances and gravity of the offense. A minor may be tried as an adult as early as the age of 14 years, depending on the nature of the crime.
Q: What happens after probation submits my case to the District Attorney and my child is in custody?
A: If your child is in custody, the first court date is a detention hearing at which the judicial officer informs the child of the charges against him or her. Your child’s attorney will either admit or deny the petition. If your child is detained, he or she has a right to a trial within 15 court days of this hearing. If your child is not in custody, the child must be tried within 30 calendar days unless there is a time waiver.
Q: Can my child be released from custody?
A: At the detention hearing the court determines whether your child should stay in custody pending adjudication of the charges. A probation officer, deputy district attorney, and defense attorney will all have input into this decision. The court considers the following criteria when making this decision: Is continued detention reasonably necessary for the protection of persons or property? Is detention necessary for the immediate and urgent protection of your child? Is your child a flight risk? Has your child violated a prior court order?
Q: What if my child is convicted of the charges?
A: The focus of the juvenile justice system is to rehabilitate minors. Juvenile courts use various methods to achieve this goal, including incarceration, probation, rules of conduct while on probation, counseling, volunteer service, and community work. The likelihood of incarceration increases with the severity of the alleged crime. If your child is granted probation he or she will be expected to abide by the terms and conditions of probation, including going to school, obeying parents, curfew, and associate restrictions, to name a few. Violations of probation can result in a return to juvenile hall. Serious violators who have been found “fit” can be sent to the California Youth Authority. “Unfit” minors will be tried as adults and, depending upon the sentence, will serve time in the Youth Authority until 25 years of age, after which they will be transferred to state prison.
Q: Should I seal my child’s record?
A: You should seal your child’s juvenile record as soon as possible. This results in physically sealing and/or destroying the records of arrest, detention, prosecution, and conviction. To be eligible your child must be 18 years old or 5 years must have passed from the last arrest or discharge from probation. The child must not have had any recent contact with the police nor participated in any further criminal activity. Cases in which a minor has been found “unfit” by the juvenile court because the minor committed an offense listed in subdivision (b) of Section 707 may not be sealed. If the minor’s case was handled informally sealing can happen much sooner than set forth.
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