Arrests are traumatizing experiences for adults and minors alike. When you learn of your child’s arrest, you may be confused and uncertain about the proper steps to protect them. If a minor is arrested for committing a crime in California, they are referred to a prosecutor, who files a juvenile petition against them.

The minor will then undergo the juvenile court process, where the judge can dismiss or sustain the petition against them. A sustained petition means that the child is found to have committed the underlying offense and will be sentenced to juvenile disposition.

The Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) is a disposition imposed on minors charged with serious crimes, and juvenile offenders are declared wards of the court. This includes detention in a DJJ facility for a specific period.

Some offenses that could land your child in DJJ detention include murder, arson, carjacking, and rape. Whether or not your child will be sent to DJJ detention depends on your child’s age, education, and medical needs. If your child faces juvenile delinquency charges in Chula Vista, CA, they will benefit from our expert guidance at Chula Vista Criminal Attorney.

An Overview of the Juvenile Justice System

Children who commit crimes in California are handled in the juvenile court system. The juvenile court exercises jurisdiction over children between twelve and seventeen years of age. If law enforcement officers do not release a minor with a warning, the child will be referred to a prosecutor, who will file a juvenile petition against them.

After an arrest and filing a juvenile petition, a minor will undergo the juvenile court processes, including detention, adjudication, and disposition hearings. At the adjudication hearing, the judge determines whether or not your child committed the underlying offense before imposing DJJ as the appropriate disposition.

The juvenile court system focuses on the rehabilitation of minors through education, treatment, and counseling. However, sometimes detention is necessary to ensure the child does not repeat the delinquent acts. DJJ detention is the harshest disposition in juvenile court and is designed for:

  • Juveniles who have been declared wards of the court.
  • Youths who have committed serious offenses under California PC 290.008.
  • Minors who commit serious felonies that are listed under Welfare Institutions Code 707(b).

Factors that Impact Your Child's Placement in a DJJ Facility

Most juvenile court dispositions aim to rehabilitate minors while they remain in their home environment. Sending a child to a DJJ facility is not easy for the judge. The court imposes this disposition after considering the following factors:

The Child's Age

If your child is placed in DJJ detention, they will be locked up until the court-ordered period elapses. Minors as young as eleven could be charged with serious crimes. However, the court must consider the child’s age before imposing a juvenile disposition.

The age of an offender helps determine their ability to comprehend the nature of their offense and the consequences. Under Senate Bill 439, minors under twelve are no longer in the juvenile justice system. Therefore, they cannot be sent to DJJ. For younger offenders, the court will explore alternative dispositions like probation or deferred entry of judgment.

A skilled lawyer is critical to convincing the court that your child is too young for DJJ detention.

Your Child’s Education Needs

The juvenile court dispositions aim at rehabilitating minor offenders instead of punishing them. Most juvenile offenders are still in school when charged in juvenile court. Since all children have a right to education, the court will consider the child’s educational needs before deciding on the DJJ sentence.

The minor’s Medical History

The juvenile court system agrees that children receive their families' best care and attention. Although removing a child from home and placing them in a DJJ facility is sometimes the best course of action given their criminal offenses, the court will consider the specific health needs of the minor before imposing the DJJ disposition.

Minors with medical issues that could worsen in detention may be sentenced to alternative dispositions. The judge determines a child’s medical history and status by ordering a medical examination and requiring you to submit past medical records. If your child has a troubled medical past, you could protect them from DJJ detention by presenting relevant medical records to the court.

Offenses that Could Result in DJJ Detention

Minors commit different types of offenses in California. Some violations resulting in juvenile petitions do not count as criminal offenses for adult offenders. However, there are times when juveniles commit serious offenses that could result in harsh penalties even when committed by an adult. Since DJJ detention is the most severe disposition in juvenile court, offenses that attract this disposition are serious, and they include:

Aggravated Kidnapping

Under California Penal Code 209, aggravated kidnapping is kidnapping done in the commission of another offense or for ransom. The prosecutor proves your child’s liability under Penal Code 209 by showing that you used force or violence to move a person a certain distance against their will.

Additionally, it must be clear that the kidnapping occurred during the commission of a crime like rape, robbery, or carjacking. If your child is charged with aggravated kidnapping and the court sustains the petition against them, they could end up in DJJ detention.

Attempted Murder

A juvenile could be charged with attempted murder for making a direct attempt at killing another individual. Before the juvenile court sustains a petition of attempted murder against your child, the prosecution must prove the following elements of the crime:

  • The minor made a direct but ineffective attempt to kill another person. Under California Penal Code 664, a direct attempt could be anything more than simply planning to commit the crime.
  • The juvenile acted with the intent to kill the alleged victim.

If the prosecutor proves these elements beyond a reasonable doubt, the juvenile court judge can sustain the petition and place your child in a DJJ detention center.


California law defines arson as the willful and malicious burning of property or forestland. The elements that are specific to these offenses and must be clear to obtain a juvenile petition include:

  • The juvenile set a fire on a property or burned a forest.
  • The child’s actions were willful and malicious.

When a minor faces arson charges and meets the eligibility requirements for transfer to adult court, the juvenile court may decide on a transfer. This means that the child will be handled in adult court. If a child’s juvenile petition for arson remains in the juvenile court, they could be sent to the Division of Juvenile Justice for rehabilitation.


Under California Penal Code 251, carjacking involves taking a vehicle from another person through force or fear. The prosecution must prove these elements to secure a conviction or a sustained juvenile petition under this statute:

  • The defendant took a vehicle from another person’s immediate presence.
  • The vehicle was taken against the victim’s will.
  • The defendant intended to deprive the victim of vehicle ownership.

Carjacking is a serious felony that attracts a lengthy prison sentence when charged against an adult. For minor offenders facing a sustained juvenile petition for carjacking, the juvenile court could send them to DJJ detention for up to two years.

Assault with a Deadly Weapon

Under California law, assault with a deadly weapon involves attacking another person with a weapon capable of causing death or serious bodily harm. The elements of assault with a deadly weapon under Penal Code 245(a)(1) include:

You engaged in an act that could cause the application of force against someone else.

  • You performed a dangerous act with a lethal weapon.
  • Your actions were willful.
  • You knew that your actions could cause injury to another person.
  • You could apply force against the alleged victim.

If a juvenile is found to have violated this statute, the juvenile court can send them to detention in a Division of Juvenile Justice facility.

Facilities Under the Division of Juvenile Justice in California

Most minors who are found to have committed serious felonies will be admitted to the DJJ facilities. Your child could be placed in a juvenile prison or a forest camp to serve their sentence. Although the DJJ detention facilities resemble adult courts, the main focus when placing minors in these facilities is rehabilitation instead of punishment for their acts.

A minor could succeed in these endeavors during their time in DJJ detention:

  • Rehabilitation through education, treatment, and counseling. While in DJJ, a child could complete their high school education and move forward. If the child has mental health or drug use problems, they could receive the necessary counseling and treatment at these facilities.
  • Victim restitution. If your child's crime resulted in injuries or substantial loss to another person, the court will order that the juvenile pay the victim restitution. As the parent of a juvenile delinquent, you will be responsible for the payments to victims.
  • Community restoration. By guiding minors to become law-abiding citizens, the DJJ programs will restore the community by preventing future crimes.

Detention at a Division of Juvenile Justice facility will not only arise from matters handled in juvenile court. Your child could end up in a DJJ facility under the following circumstances:

Your Child is Tried as an Adult, and the Court Sends Them to DJJ

If a minor commits a serious offense and cannot be rehabilitated with the juvenile programs, they can be transferred to criminal court for trial as adults. After a trial and conviction, the judge can place the child in prison or return them to the juvenile justice system for DJJ detention. DJJ would be a favorable outcome in the child’s case compared to adult prison.

This is because they will benefit from the rehabilitation programs and avoid interaction with adult offenders. However, if your child becomes an adult before they complete their sentence, they could be transferred to the adult prison.

Life for Minors During DJJ Detention

Placement in a DJJ facility resembles imprisonment for adult offenders. While in the facility, your child is required to continue going to school. The minor could also receive employment after completing school. These jobs may include janitorial duties, food preparation, and landscaping.

Depending on a child’s specific needs, the offender could also enroll in different forms of treatment, including mental health, behavioral therapy, and sexual behavior therapy. Before a child is detained in a DJJ facility, the court must determine the duration of time that the child must spend in the facility.

Although DJJ is a harsh disposition for a juvenile, the duration of detention cannot exceed the maximum prison sentence for the offense. Most offenders will be released from DJJ after two years or when they turn twenty years old.

Juvenile Appeal

Your child will be sent to DJJ after a sustained juvenile petition. Sustaining a petition is a decision made by a judge after reviewing the evidence presented by the prosecution and defense in a juvenile case. Detention in a division of a juvenile justice facility can take a toll on your child’s life.

Fortunately, your child does not have to settle with the judge’s verdict. In California, juvenile offenders can appeal the judge’s decision to send them to DJJ. Before your child files a formal appeal, their attorney can try to secure a new hearing from the judge. If this option does not yield the expected results, the minor can file a formal appeal within sixty days of the disposition hearing.

When a juvenile offender files for an appeal, the court will not review new evidence. Instead, appeals are based on prosecutorial and defense errors that could have occurred during the adjudication and disposition phases of the case. A successful appeal will allow your child to avoid the harsh consequences of DJJ detention. In this case, the court can modify the DJJ disposition by imposing other alternatives for the offender.

Alternatives to DJJ Detention

Confinement in a division of a juvenile justice facility is one of the most severe dispositions that a juvenile offender can receive in California. Often, this disposition is reserved for minors who have been declared wards of the court or have a sustained juvenile petition for severe crimes like rape and murder. If a minor is not sent to DJJ, they could face the following alternative dispositions:

Formal Probation

If your child is declared a ward of the court, the judge could send them on formal probation. Formal juvenile probation could be served at home or in a juvenile camp. Whether or not the child remains at home or is placed in a juvenile camp is determined by the suitability of the home environment for the child’s rehabilitation and its impact on public safety.

While on probation, the court can impose the following conditions for the minor to follow:

  • Curfew restrictions. If a child can remain home while serving formal probation, they must adhere to set curfew violations. Although curfew violation is not a criminal offense, it could attract an arrest for a person under the age of eighteen.
  • Mandatory school attendance. Juvenile dispositions aim at rehabilitation and not punishment of minor offenders. Whether the minor is in a probation camp or at home, they must continue attending school.
  • Perform community service. The court will assign a particular number of community service hours to a minor on probation.
  • Attend counseling. Depending on the exact offense for which your child is charged, the juvenile court can offer drug, anger management, or alcohol counseling.
  • Avoid committing other offenses. Like an adult on formal probation, a juvenile must avoid engaging in truancy and other delinquent behavior.
  • Avoid Associating with Certain individuals. Outside influences and the home environment play a significant role in juvenile delinquency. Therefore, the court could order your child to stay away from individuals who contribute to their criminal acts.

If your child is placed in a juvenile camp for probation, they will undergo training, education, and treatment programs.

Informal Probation

If your child is charged with less serious crimes like shoplifting, the juvenile court can place them on informal probation. Under Welfare and Institutions Code 654, the child’s case will be diverted to probation before the prosecution files a juvenile petition. This means the child will avoid the juvenile court system and escape the consequences of a sustained juvenile petition.

Deferred Entry of Judgement

Under Welfare and Institutions Code 790, deferred entry of judgment is a form of juvenile probation when a juvenile offender admits to committing the crime for which they are charged. The judgment will then be delayed as the child undergoes a probation program. After completing the program, the child’s case will be dismissed and the juvenile records sealed.

Deferred entry of judgment is imposed on first-time offenders facing charges for non-violent crimes. The disposition aims at rehabilitation for juveniles and preventing future crimes.


Minors are treated more leniently than adult offenders in California. Therefore, most dispositions for crimes committed by children aim at rehabilitating the juvenile and making them law-abiding citizens. Confinement in a division of juvenile justice is the closest a minor could get to incarceration.

Sometimes, your child may be tried and convicted as an adult. Crimes that result in DJJ detention could cause your child to be transferred to adult court. In this case, the minor will be convicted and sent to adult prison. Transferring a child to adult court can devastate you and your family.

Some of the factors that could contribute to your child’s transfer to adult court include:

  • The severity of the crime. Minors facing charges for serious crimes like murder, rape, carjacking, and robbery may be eligible for trial as adults. If your child faces a petition for an offense listed Under WIC 707(b), they will require a skilled lawyer to convince the court that they deserve to remain under juvenile court jurisdiction.
  • The minor has a high level of criminal sophistication. Although minors are considered to lack the proper mental capacity to understand their crimes, some children commit serious offenses that are skillfully planned. The degree of criminal sophistication is measured by the child’s ability to plan an offense and make efforts to avoid capture carefully.
  • Circumstances of the case. The court will consider the specific circumstances of a juvenile case before considering a minor for trial in adult court. For example, carjacking is a serious crime, even when committed by a child. Under normal circumstances, the juvenile court may send the child to DJJ detention after a sustained petition. However, if the victims of the crime suffered severe injury or death, the offender could be transferred to adult court.
  • Child's age. Juvenile offenders can only be transferred to adult court if they are over fifteen. The juvenile court must find age-appropriate rehabilitative programs if your child is under this age.
  • Presence of rehabilitation programs in juvenile court. The Division of Juvenile Justice and other juvenile dispositions offer rehabilitation programs for minor offenders. Before sending your child for a particular disposition, the court will determine whether the programs needed for rehabilitation are available.

If your child is eligible for transfer to adult court, a transfer hearing will be held to determine their suitability for trial as an adult. Most children who beat the transfer hearing and remain in juvenile court are placed in DJJ.

Find a Reliable Juvenile Delinquency Lawyer Near Me

Although the juvenile court system aims at rehabilitation instead of punishment, the type of disposition that your child receives depends on the nature of their offense. Confinement in a Division of Juvenile Justice is the harshest disposition in juvenile court. This disposition involves detention in a DJJ center for two years or until the minor turns twenty years old.

DJJ detention is closely related to adult court in that minors must remain in the facility until the court-ordered period ends. While in the DJJ facility, your child will receive education, counseling, and treatment aimed at rehabilitation. Understanding the Division of Juvenile Justice allows you to be prepared for what your child might go through and how you could help them avoid it.

Seeking legal guidance is critical for a minor facing juvenile delinquency charges. At Chula Vista Criminal Attorney, we will work hard to ensure that your child’s petition is dismissed to avoid detention in a DJJ facility and other juvenile dispositions in Chula Vista, CA. Call us at 619-877-6894 for expert legal guidance.