Juvenile Crime & Justice System

January 7, 2009

I often meet parents whose child is in trouble and has a pending criminal matter. Obviously, this can be a stressful time for a parent. They are concerned about their child’s well being and about the potential consequences. But they are also confused about how the criminal justice system handles juvenile offenses in general. Below are some basics of the juvenile justice system in California.

Juveniles are minors, under the age of 18, and are treated differently from adult offenders. Juvenile offenses can range from shoplifting and drug possession, to serious violent crimes. With certain important exceptions, a minor is generally treated differently than an adult. The process in California provides for a court especially designated for juveniles. Usually only for violent crimes such as murder and rape can a juvenile be treated like an adult. As in the adult process, a juvenile has similar constitutional rights like:

  • Miranda advisement;
  • right to have an attorney present during questioning;
  • the right against self-incrimination;
  • the right to confront the accuser and examine witnesses;
  • the right to appeal the court’s decision

A notable difference from the adult system is that there is generally no right to a jury trial in juvenile court. Any trial will be heard by a judge rather than a jury.

There are separate courts, institutions, and rules governing the juvenile process which generally look to the following factors for sentencing and resolution purposes:

  • seriousness of the offense;
  • prior offenses;
  • prior rehabilitation efforts;
  • school performance and attendance;
  • stability of the child’s home environment

After a close examination of the above factors, their are a number of possible resolutions, including, but not limited to: probation and eventual dismissal of the case (provided a successful completion of the probationary period and terms); youth bootcamp, suitable placement outside the home, and juvenile detention. Of course, the option of taking the case to trial is always avaiable if no satisfactory resolution is reached.