The Juvenile Court Process In California

There are two criminal justice systems in the US–the adult and the juvenile.

Overview Of The Juvenile Court Process

The adult system is geared toward punishment, public safety and rehabilitation. The juvenile system is directed towards treatment and rehabilitation, though public safety is a consideration as well.

Young minds are more susceptible to change before their minds mature. A juvenile charged with an offense has the benefit of intervention by schools, social service departments and other community-based organizations dedicated to their education and molding them into law-abiding and productive adults.

Juvenile Delinquency

This occurs from a variety of factors, including family dysfunction, peer pressure, gang affiliations, mental illness and substance abuse. If an agency or social services organization becomes involved, juveniles can benefit if motivated and offered opportunities so as to avoid becoming an adult offender.

What Is Juvenile Court?

Any individual who commits a crime while under the age of 18 is subject to the juvenile justice system. When placed in juvenile hall, the prosecuting attorney or probation department may file a petition with the juvenile court.

However, there are serious crimes that if committed by a person at least 14 years of age, requires that they be tried as adults. There are 30 offenses under Welfare & Institutions Code 707(b) for which such juveniles can be tried as adults, including:

In such cases, the prosecution can file charges in juvenile court to determine the juvenile’s fitness. The issues in a fitness hearing that a judge will consider concern:

  1. The degree of criminal sophistication exhibited by the juvenile
  2. If the minor can be rehabilitated within the time allotted to the juvenile justice system’s jurisdiction (age 21 or age 25 if committed to the California Youth Authority)
  3. Prior criminal history
  4. If previous rehabilitation attempts were made
  5. Severity and circumstances of the offense

The Juvenile Justice System & Fitness Hearings

The circumstances under which a prosecutor may file for a fitness hearing are:

  • The minor is at least 16 and has committed any offense
  • The minor is at least 16 years of age and has been a ward of the court based on a prior felony offense and has committed at least 2 additional felonies since turning 14; in these cases the minor is presumed unfit for juvenile court

If the child is at least 14, the prosecution can file for a fitness hearing if the minor committed a crime for which an adult would be subject to death or life imprisonment, or personally used a weapon in committing a felony or committed any of the 707(b) crimes. If the latter, there must also be a showing of one of the following:

1. Commission of a prior 707(b) offense

2. Offense was gang-related

3. Offense was a hate crime

4. Victim was disabled or at least 65 years of age

Where the minor is presumed to be unfit and a prima facie case for unfitness has been made by the prosecution, the minor can offer evidence to show that he/she is amenable to treatment within the juvenile system, usually with the assistance of mental health testimony.

Minors who are at least 14 and commit murder with special circumstances or a violent or forcible sex offense must be tried in adult court.

The Initial Process

The juvenile justice system handles misdemeanor and felony matters as well as status offenses. A status offense is one that can only be committed by juveniles such as curfew violations or truancy or chronic disobedience of their parents.

Following the arrest of a juvenile, the police may simply take the minor to the parents and release him/her without further process. If taken to juvenile hall, which is operated by the probation department, a probation officer may elect to:

  1. Release the juvenile to the parents with a citation to appear in court
  2. Release the minor to the home with a probation program to follow
  3. Detain the juvenile and let a judge review the matter

There are two kinds of petitions that may be filed against the child:

601 Petition

Filed by the probation department for a status offense. If sustained, the child becomes a ward of the court (under its jurisdiction) and is considered a “status offender.”

602 Petition

Filed by the prosecutor for offenses that would be crimes if committed by an adult. If sustained, the juvenile becomes a ward of the court and is considered “delinquent.”


There are a number of hearings within a juvenile matter:

There are a number of hearings within a juvenile matter:

  • Detention hearing to determine if the child should remain in custody until the case is resolved. This is required if the child is not released after 2 days. The hearing is scheduled within 3 court days.
  • Fitness hearing to determine if the minor should be transferred to adult court or remain under the juvenile court’s jurisdiction.
  • Pretrial or settlement hearing.
  • Adjudication or Jurisdiction–the court hears the case at a trial to determine if the juvenile committed the offense.
  • Disposition–sentencing if the court sustains the petition (finds the minor guilty).
  • Review hearings–discusses the child’s progress

If the petition is filed in juvenile court and an adjudication hearing ensues, the juvenile can be tried before a judge only. Juveniles are not accorded jury trials and the proceedings are generally not open to the public.

Sentencing, Disposition & Potential Penalties In Juvenile Court

If the petition is sustained, the court has several sentencing options:

  • Community service
  • Diversion
  • Deferred entry of judgment
  • Informal probation
  • Formal probation–placement in a relative’s home, group home, residential treatment center or institution or probation camp
  • California Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) commitment

These dispositions often require that the juvenile and parents participate in treatment or parenting programs. The juvenile must abide by a curfew and usually must submit to warrantless searches, random drug and alcohol testing and attend school without any unauthorized absences.

Those juveniles who are not tried in adult camp and who committed serious felonies may be committed to the California Division of Juvenile Justice, previously known as the California Youth Authority or CYA, where education, training and treatment are provided up to the age of 25.

A juvenile disposition can have adverse consequences when you become an adult. If you commit an offense while an adult, the court can consider any juvenile adjudication in determining your sentence.

If the juvenile offense was a 707(b) one, it could be a “strike” whereby a subsequent adult strike offense can double your sentence and a third subject you to life imprisonment. Sex crimes committed as a juvenile may require you to register as a sex offender and civil commitment if considered a sexual predator.

Note: California Senate Bill 190 lays out changes to costs for juveniles and or their parents/guardians including the following.

  • No longer responsible for the cost of a court appointed lawyer.
  • No longer responsible for the cost of appliction and administration fees for home detention.
  • No longer responsible for the cost of substance treatment or testing.

Hiring A Juvenile Attorney

The Aizman Law Firm exclusively practices in California and specializes in criminal defense and DUI. We have a high level of experience with both Adult and Juvenile cases and understand how to fight them.

Hiring the right California Juvenile attorney is the absolute most important step in successfully fighting your case or helping your childs future. Contact the Aizman Law Firm at 818-351-9555 for a free confidential consultation and receive powerful representation.

Request A Free Consultation 818-351-9555 


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