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Juvenile Crime in California: What Parents Should Know

Juvenile Crime in California: What Parents Should Know

Juvenile Crime in California: What Parents Should Know

Parents need to be aware of California crime rate trends over the past decade. Recent reports indicate an increase in arrests of minors for juvenile crimes such as homicide, rape, robbery, and assault.

The Laws and Rules for Juvenile Courts in California

The key to a good defense is to choose an experienced California criminal defense attorney with inside knowledge of how the laws work for juveniles so you can help your child get back on track. Let’s look at how the juvenile court system works.

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Juvenile Delinquency Court

This juvenile delinquency court is committed to handling felony and misdemeanor crimes allegedly committed by juvenile offenders. It also manages status offenses, curfew, or truancy violations. Courts can only charge juveniles with status offenses.

The Juvenile Division of the Superior Court of Los Angeles presides over the Juvenile Delinquency Court and the informal juvenile court. The informal juvenile court hears cases that involve low-level misdemeanors or infractions. The Superior Court’s juvenile division also oversees the juvenile dependency court, which decides cases that involve abandoned, neglected, and abused minors.

If you live in Los Angeles, prosecutors in this jurisdiction tend to refrain from pressing charges, diverting youth to community-based programs for rehabilitation.

Minors between 12 and 17 years old, including some minors under 12 years old, fall under the jurisdiction of the Juvenile Court.

Section 602 Proceedings

A 602 petition refers to the filings made under California's juvenile justice system, specifically under the Welfare and Institutions Code (WIC) Section 602.

Therefore, a juvenile delinquency crime is introduced into the legal system beginning with a filing under the Welfare and Institutions Code (WIC), section 602, or WIC § 602; § 630; and § 650.

If law enforcement detains a minor, the prosecutor must file the petition within 48 hours of the juvenile's custody.

From a technical standpoint, the juvenile court is not considered a part of the state’s criminal law system. Instead, it is part of the civil law system, where cases are adjudicated or formal judgments are made about problem behavior. These proceedings are sometimes called Section 602 proceedings.

Juvenile Crime

A 602 petition is filed when a person under the age of 18 is accused of committing a crime or violating a law. Offenses can fall into three categories: felonies, misdemeanors, or infractions.

The minor is a ward of the court, which places them under its authority and jurisdiction.

The minor, if declared a ward of the court, may be placed on probation or even ordered to serve time at a ranch or camp.

Besides detention or probationary measures, dispositions in 602 cases may involve restitution fines, community service requirements, participation in diversion programs, or other rehabilitative alternatives aimed at promoting the minor's well-being.

How Cases Are Heard in Juvenile Court

While judges hear cases in juvenile court, juries are not part of the proceedings. Instead, the process is typically confidential.

SB 439

SB 439, a bill signed into law in 2018, allows the juvenile court to assume jurisdiction over minors under 12 years old if they’re charged with murder, rape, oral copulation, sodomy, or sexual penetration by threat of bodily harm or violence or force.

Otherwise, children under 12 are not tried in the juvenile court. Therefore, the judge does not find a minor innocent or guilty in the juvenile court. Instead, the judge must find that the minor committed an offense beyond a reasonable doubt.

Dispositions or Sentencing

Several dispositions or sentences are available in juvenile court cases.

Sentencing may involve informal probation. In this event, the minor doesn't admit to any allegations of wrongdoing, and charges are dismissed after successful completion of sentencing.

For more severe cases, the youth may be committed to the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), which is part of the state’s Department of Correction and Rehabilitation.

Wards of the Court

Juvenile judges define juvenile offenders as wards of the court. This means that the court is managing the control and treatment of the offender. Therefore, a minor who is a ward of the court may still be allowed to serve probation at home. In other cases, a minor may be placed in a group home or in foster care or be sent to juvenile hall.

Rehabilitation Versus Jail or Prison Time

Again, California’s juvenile justice system emphasizes rehabilitation over jail or prison time. Part of this rehabilitation involves education, treatment programs, and counseling services. Sanctions are designed to discipline a juvenile, not to incarcerate.

For example, a fine or restitution payment is preferred, as is community service, probation, or parole. Commitment to a juvenile hall or a camp or ranch, as noted, may also be a part of the sentencing.

Common Types of Juvenile Offenses in California

As a parent residing in California, it is essential to have an understanding of the crimes committed by juveniles so that you can identify any warning signs.

Theft and Burglary

Theft, burglary, and shoplifting are among the common offenses that juveniles commit. Peer pressure, seeking thrills, or financial need may drive teenagers to steal.

Assault and Battery

Unfortunately, incidents of violence involving teenagers do occur. Assaults, battery incidents, and bullying are significant concerns.

Property Damage

Sometimes, teenagers may engage in behaviors that lead to damaged property - often due to anger, defiance, or peer pressure.

Factors That Contribute to Juvenile Delinquency: A Closer Look

As a parent, it's essential to understand the factors that contribute to delinquency so you can recognize signs in your child and provide them with appropriate help.

There are certain factors that can increase the likelihood of juvenile delinquency.

Family environment

The home environment plays a role in shaping a child’s behavior. Factors such as supervision, inconsistent or harsh discipline, lack of emotional support, and exposure to violence can have negative impacts on children. To prevent these problems, it is important to spend quality time with your children, show interest in their lives, and maintain open lines of communication.

Peer influence

During adolescence, teenagers are particularly susceptible to peer pressure as they try to fit in. Associating with peers can, therefore, lead to the commission of criminal activities to gain acceptance and approval.

Mental health issues

Some young people turn to delinquency as a way of coping with experiences, abuse, depression, anxiety, or other mental health disorders they may be facing. It is crucial for parents to be vigilant for warning signs such as withdrawal from family or friends, frequent angry outbursts, declining academic performance, or substance abuse. Seeking counseling or therapy can help provide support for your child and assist them in developing coping strategies.

Socioeconomic factors

Factors such as poverty, limited access to educational opportunities or employment prospects, or the presence of gangs within the community and residing in a high-crime area all contribute to the risk of juvenile delinquency.

Substance abuse

When individuals use drugs, alcohol, or other substances, it can impair their judgment and decision-making abilities. It's essential to keep an eye out for signs of substance use disorder (SUD) in your teenager, such as changes in friendships, a decline in academic performance, lying, or stealing.

Filing Charges

The district attorney (DA) examines the case to determine whether charges should be filed against the minor. If charges are indeed filed, both the teen and their parents will receive a summons for their court appearance. It is advisable at this stage to seek legal counsel.

The Court Proceedings

Juvenile court proceedings are not open to viewing. During their appearance, the minor enters their plea. A trial date will be scheduled if they state they are not responsible for the crime. Parents should make it a point to attend all court dates with their teens.

How a Case Begins

The district attorney or probation department will file a petition. The petition requests the court’s involvement. In turn, the judge must determine if the petition is true. As a parent, you have the right to obtain a copy of the document. While the petition says what the youth is accused of, it is not a declaration of guilt.

If your child is 16 or 17 years old and faces accusations of a serious crime, they may be charged in adult court. You’ll need to confer your questions with an attorney, as your child’s rights differ in the adult court system.

The 602 Petition

In most juvenile cases, the district attorney’s office files a 602 petition. Basically, the petition states what crime was committed by the youth. The crime may be a felony, like a drug sale, murder, or rape.

It may also be considered a misdemeanor in an adult court, like petty theft.

If the judge decides the petition is true, the juvenile will be tried, and the judge will decide on the sentencing.

The 601 Petition

A less common petition, the 601 Petition, is used if the minor skipped school, broke the curfew law, or ran away - legal infractions that apply only to minors. If the judge decides the petition is true, the youth is defined as a status offender.

The Court Process

The juvenile court process in California involves several essential steps, as described below.

  1. The initial hearing or detention is similar to an arraignment in adult court. Therefore, the initial hearing is the first court date in juvenile court. If you haven’t done so already, you must hire an attorney. Your child, at the hearing, will be told of their alleged crime and may admit or deny the charge.
    In some instances, a youth may be held in detention. However, by law, detention cannot last longer than 15 days. Even if the court orders that a juvenile be detained, they can still be released on home supervision.
    At this stage, the youth will either be held in custody or stay at home. No bail is required, as is required when an adult is arrested and charged.
  2. The pretrial conference and motion hearings establish whether a case can be settled or needs to go to trial. Attorneys may argue any issues with the evidence (discovery). Motions, if required, may be filed, asking the judge to decide an issue in the case.
  3. A transfer hearing is recommended when a youth is over 15 years old and is alleged to have committed a serious crime. During the hearing, the judge decides if the juvenile should be tried as an adult or remain in juvenile court.
  4. A jurisdictional hearing may lead to a trial. Either that or the juvenile may admit they are guilty to some or all the alleged charges.
    If a trial occurs, the district attorney (DA) must show the youth did what they said they did beyond a reasonable doubt.
    Sometimes, the judge will decide that the evidence is insufficient and dismiss the case. The youth can then go home.
    If the judge believes the offender is guilty, they will decide on a punishment on the same day or at a later date.
  5. A disposition hearing is where the judge reads a report that the youth’s probation officer has drafted. The report may include statements from the juvenile as well as their parents. If a victim is involved in the case, they may speak during the hearing.
    The probation report includes the details of the probation. For example, the judge may order the youth to stay at home while on probation. This period may span up to six months. Or, the juvenile may be ordered to remain at home under the formal supervision of a probation officer. The judge will establish the rules for probation.
    The judge may also order the youth to go to a probation camp or ranch.
  6. Review hearings are held to check on a juvenile’s progress when they’re in placement as a ward of the court.


If a juvenile is found to have committed a crime, it falls upon the court to determine a sentence - one that is based on the severity of the offense and the prior record of the minor.

Common sentences for individuals may involve probation, community service, counseling, or being placed in a facility. The main objective is to focus on rehabilitation rather than punishment.

Criminal History

Records that pertain to minors are typically sealed once the offender reaches the age of 18. This ensures that the offenses committed during their youth remain confidential and do not show up on background checks. Some of the more serious crimes may not be sealed.

Contact a Juvenile Defense Attorney Now

Navigating through the justice system can be a distressing experience for any family. That’s why it’s helpful to know what to expect. Make sure you retain a top-rated criminal defense law firm in California for help to ensure the best outcome.

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