The juvenile delinquency court deals with the cases of persons below 18 years who violate the law. Even though it’s more focused on rehabilitative than punitive sentencing, delinquent minors can face harsh disciplinary action. During the adjudication hearing (similar to a trial in adult court), both the prosecution and your child’s attorney will have the opportunity to present their arguments before the presiding judge. If the court passes a guilty verdict, the judge will rule during the disposition hearing, also known as the sentencing hearing. We invite you to contact the Chula Vista Criminal Attorney if your child is in legal trouble. Our team of skilled lawyers can fight to achieve the most favorable outcome, irrespective of the charges imposed.

A judge may consider various sentencing options, and some are more favorable than others. Then again, there is always a chance that the prosecution will want to push a case to adult court, especially if a minor is 16 or older and faces serious charges. We understand how the other side thinks and can anticipate their moves. This puts us in the ideal position to defend your child and give them the best chance of returning to school and regular routines sooner than later.

A Brief Overview of the Juvenile Delinquency Court Process

Children between the age of 14 and 17 fall into a particular group of citizens that can undergo adjudication if involved in illegal activities. If the police arrest your child, knowing what to expect can ensure you provide the best help or support.


Like in adult criminal cases, juvenile delinquency cases begin with an arrest. The young defendant is ferried to the probation facility, where they remain in custody, waiting for further directives. Children have the right to know why they are in custody. The arresting officers should also read their Miranda rights, inform them of their right to remain silent, and request their attorney’s presence.

Filing a Petition

If there is adequate evidence, the prosecutor will file a petition against the minor. If the prosecution lacks substantial evidence, your child may be released into your custody without any case to answer. The juvenile court judge will also review the filed petition and only allow a lawsuit to proceed if the prosecution can build a strong case.

Detention Hearing

If the judge approves the petition, the minor may remain in juvenile hall until the detention hearing. Because minors don’t have a right to bail, make sure you have a competent attorney representing your child during the hearing. The expert will help to convince the judge to allow your child to go home and continue with school pending the adjudication hearing (trial).

An Arraignment

During the arraignment, the judge will inform the minor about the charges they face. Because minors cannot enter a “guilty” or “not guilty,” they simply need to accept or deny the charges.

Transfer Hearings

If a minor is at least 16 years old, certain circumstances may force a judge to transfer their case to adult court. These factors include the nature of a crime, and the level of sophistication demonstrated in carrying out an illegal act.

Adjudication Hearing (Trial)

During the adjudication hearing, the judge will deliver the final verdict. Juveniles also have a right to cross-examine witnesses and not to self-incriminate. An attorney will ensure that your loved one enjoys their right to a fair trial process.

Disposition Hearing

The disposition hearing is also known as the sentencing hearing. A judge may opt to dismiss a case or impose a sentence designed to correct and rehabilitate the delinquent minor.

Juvenile Disposition Hearing Explained

The trial phase in juvenile delinquency court is called the adjudication hearing. If a minor doesn’t prevail during the trial, a case proceeds to the next stage, the disposition hearing. At this point, the judge will sentence the minor after considering aspects such as their age, the magnitude of the offense, and the delinquent history of the defendant.

Moreover, the judge will also consider the remorse portrayed by the youth defendant and whether they gave their accounts truthfully. While there are no penalties for failure to confess to a crime or accept guilt, Penal Code 118 makes it an offense to commit perjury (give untruthful testimonies in court).

The disposition hearing may happen during the adjudication hearing, especially if the judge already has vital information.

A judge may push the hearing to a later date if:

  • The probation officer is yet to provide their recommended sentence
  • The accused juvenile wishes to present relevant materials that may clear their name
  • The defendant’s parents want to submit material that can showcase the character of their child in good light
  • The accused minor shows signs of possible psychological issues (in this case, a judge will order a psychiatric evaluation before the disposition hearing)

Generally, a judge cannot postpone the disposition hearing indefinitely. For instance, if the juvenile is still in custody, the hearing must happen within ten court days following the adjudication hearing.

Possible Sentences (Disposition Orders) Imposed During the Disposition Hearing

It is perfectly normal to feel anxious when preparing for the disposition hearing of your child. Fortunately, several sentencing options are available if a minor is found guilty. It is even possible for a judge to dismiss the case if this seems to be in the best interests of the minor and the public.

As aforementioned, the judge must consider the severity of a crime, the child’s age, and delinquent past, among other factors, before passing sentence. If the minor is at least 16 years old and faces charges for a serious offense, the prosecutor may argue that it’s best to transfer the case to adult court.

A transfer to adult court can be a devastating outcome for any minor, making it imperative to seek prompt legal counsel and representation. A juvenile delinquency attorney can make all the big differences in the result of a case. This is irrespective of the charges imposed and whether the young defendant is innocent or guilty.

Here are some of the possible sentences a judge may pass during the disposition hearing:

Informal Probation

The majority of minors find themselves on the wrong side of the law because of petty offenses. Still, they must answer their charges and benefit from the rehabilitative solutions offered by different juvenile sentencing options. If a minor faces charges for nonviolent crimes like vandalism, a judge may find it best to impose an informal probation sentence.

Informal probation is a diversion program a judge may order before the prosecution files a petition against your child. If the defendant meets all probation terms and conditions, the judge may dismiss the case. On the other hand, the prosecution can file a lawsuit if the informal probation is unsuccessful.

Probation officers run probation programs and set the guidelines that delinquent juveniles must follow. The core aim of the programs is to provide counseling and rehabilitative education to bring the child back to track. Once the program is completed, the officer will present their recommendation to the court.

A minor can be put under informal probation under Welfare & Institutions Code Section 725 or 654. The former involves raising a petition against a minor where the judge postpones the disposition hearing to give the defendant a chance to prove they can change. Informal probation programs run for a maximum of 6 months. As long as the juvenile defendant satisfies all the terms of probation, the judge will dismiss the filed petition.

Some of the standard informal probation terms may include:

  • Attending school without fail
  • Attending guidance and counseling lessons
  • Sticking to a proposed curfew
  • Steering clear of particular locations or avoiding a specific company of people
  • Submitting to a random drug test (when a minor faces charges for a drug crime)
  • Paying restitution to the victims
  • Providing community service

Formal Probation

The probation terms of formal probation and informal probation are somewhat similar. The main difference between the two sentencing options is that formal probation makes a minor a ward of the court. Depending on the placement a judge deems fit, the young defendant can complete the probation program from a relative’s home, a group home, or their usual home.

Sometimes, the usual structures of serving a formal probation sentence may not be adequate. This may force a judge to order the defendant to do their sentence for 3 to 12 months from a probation camp. There are over 70 probation camps in California, and the majority of them offer a dormitory setting and structured daily schedules.

Deferred Entry of Judgment (DEJ)

As the term suggests, Deferred Entry of Judgment is when a judge delays sentencing during the disposition hearing. For delinquent minors to benefit from DEJ, they must first admit to the charges they face. This sentencing option involves a judge dismissing all charges upon completing a 12 to 36 months DEJ program.

If your child faces charges for committing a felony not listed under Welfare & Institutions 707(b), they may qualify for a DEJ program. You need a skilled legal representative that can help convince the judge that your little one has the potential to change. A solid argument that puts the defendant in good light may just prove that education and rehabilitation efforts can work.

CYA Commitment

Minors who commit crimes listed under Welfare & Institutions 707(b) or those whose offenses require registration as California sex offenders may qualify for CYA Commitment. If the case still goes through the juvenile delinquency court,  CYA Commitment is the harshest punishment they may receive.

Depending on the age of a juvenile, serious crimes that warrant CYA Commitment could quickly leave them facing charges in adult court. This is more so if they are repeat offenders and show advanced sophistication when carrying out illegal activities. With a competent juvenile delinquency attorney in your corner, your little one will have increased chances of benefitting from CYA Commitment instead of a transfer to the criminal justice system.

Issuing Of Sanctions

Irrespective of the sentence imposed during the disposition hearing, the judge may also issue sanctions alongside rehabilitative orders. For instance, your child may receive a sanction to pay a fine, complete community service, or enroll in a mandatory victim impact program. It remains imperative for a parent to ensure that all orders are followed to the latter.

As a parent, you are the strongest support system your child can have. Irrespective of the wayward ways of your little one, you owe them the favor to provide your full support if they find themselves brushing shoulders with the law. The best help you can provide is to enlist the services of an experienced attorney who understands how the juvenile justice system works. The right specialist will ensure that your loved one has the best chances of dodging a harsh or borderline punitive outcome.

Ways Juvenile Adjudication Can Affect Your Child

Dealing with a delinquent child is never an easy affair. This is more so if your attempts to counsel your little one have borne no fruit. Even so, it’s best to understand that once the minor is arrested and charged, this would not be the ideal time to “teach them a lesson.”

Even though the juvenile justice system aims to rehabilitate minors instead of punishing them, many factors may influence a judge’s decision during the disposition hearing. Furthermore, the DA may have your child’s case transferred to adult court. You owe your loved ones the favor of standing beside them and ensuring they have the best possible legal support.

If a minor is found guilty as charged, the judge will impose a sentence during the disposition hearing. Their charges and case record will remain with the court and affect future convictions. Depending on the charges behind adjudication, future convictions may be subject to sentence enhancements under California’s Three Strikes Law.

Juveniles found guilty of committing sex crimes may have to register as California sex offenders. Life with a “sexually violent predator” tag hanging on their necks can be challenging, especially when it’s time to apply for college or find meaningful employment. Fortunately, it is possible to work with your attorney and have their record sealed once they complete their sentence and remain law-abiding citizens for a specified number of years.

Understanding How a Juvenile Offender Ends Up In Adult Court

The juvenile delinquency court handles both felonies and misdemeanors like the criminal court. The main difference between the two courts is that while the former handles criminal offenses committed by adults, the latter solely focuses on minors between 12 and 17 years. It is only in rare circumstances that a child under 12 years has to answer their charges. Then again, a legal adult can face trial in the juvenile court if they commit a crime while underage, only to be prosecuted when older.

It is important to note that the litigation processes in the two courts are different. For instance, there is no jury in the juvenile court, and the presiding judge decides what happens during the disposition hearing.

Moreover, proceedings in the juvenile court are not open to the public, a move that further protects the minor from unconstructive scrutiny by community members. When dealing with controversial criminal activities that attract media attention, the public will only receive information approved by the judge and prosecutor. Having a skilled attorney in your corner can reduce the chances of sensitive information leaking to the public domain.

Even though the juvenile court has jurisdiction over minors, the prosecution may transfer the case to adult court. This only happens when a minor faces charges for committing a grave offense.

Let’s have an in-depth look at some of the factors that may prompt a transfer hearing:

Type of Crime

The number one factor a judge will consider before allowing a transfer hearing is the nature of the crime committed by a minor. Often, delinquent juveniles face charges for petty and non-violent offenses like shoplifting, trespassing, and skiving school, just to mention a few. Therefore, a judge will allow a transfer to adult court only when juvenile delinquency penalties cannot impose a sentence equivalent to the magnitude of the atrocities committed.

This may include crimes such as:

  • Murder
  • Attempted murder
  • Arson causing severe bodily harm
  • Kidnapping
  • Violent sex offenses
  • Carjacking, etc.

Level of Sophistication Portrayed When Committing a Crime

Often, the minds of minors are not advanced enough to allow them to “willfully” commit a crime with a “malicious afterthought.” In most cases, juveniles do ‘stupid’ things that end them in legal trouble. Such situations warrant the rehabilitative sentencing imposed in the juvenile court.

Rehabilitative sentencing may not be enough when a minor portrays sophistication in carrying out illegal activities. For instance, if a child stalks their victim for days, lures them to a private location, rapes, and attempts to commit murder, a judge may find it best to transfer the case to adult court. After all, the move would also be in the public’s best interests.


Another factor that may result in a juvenile offender being transferred to adult court is their age. During the fitness hearing, the juvenile court will consider a minor’s age, among other factors, before making the final decision.

It’s best to note that the DA (District Attorney) also has the discretion of filing a case directly in adult court under the following circumstances:

  • The minor is between 14 and 17 years old and faces charges for an offense that attracts a death or life sentence without the possibility of parole
  • The juvenile offender used a firearm during the commission of a felony
  • A minor faces charges for committing a serious offense listed in California’s Welfare & Institutions Code 707(b)
  • The defendant committed a hate crime or a crime against an elderly or disabled person
  • The juvenile committed a crime allied with or for the benefit of a criminal street gang

If a minor goes through the adult court system, this means they may receive the same sentencing as an adult. This includes harsh punishments like life without the possibility of parole. It is also possible for a juvenile aged 16 years and older to go through the adult criminal justice system and be sentenced to the state prison or the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. In the best-case scenario, a convicted minor could be sentenced to DJJ (Division of Juvenile Justice).

A Juvenile’s Delinquent Past

A transfer may not be necessary for a child with a clean delinquency past. However, a history of committing one offense after another may just prove that the sentencing imposed by the juvenile court is not enough.

You should also expect the judge to consider the outcome of past rehabilitative measures. A history of violating probation orders and being uncooperative may force the juvenile court to push a case to adult court.

Sometimes, the situation is not ideal, and all arrows point at the probability of a judge allowing a transfer hearing. Irrespective of how bad it seems, an attorney can do much to help your child. The trick to enjoying the best winning chance is to seek legal representation as soon as the police arrest your loved one.

Find A Juvenile Delinquency Attorney Near Me

No parent is ever prepared to hear that their child is arrested for juvenile delinquency. You may find yourself navigating through unfamiliar territory, especially if your loved one is facing charges for a first offense. A skilled criminal defense attorney can dispense the much-needed counsel to ensure that you understand the processes that lay ahead. Knowledge is power, and you will be in a better position to help your child once you acquaint yourself with the various requirements, guidelines, and sentencing policies allied with the juvenile justice system. At Chula Vista Criminal Attorney, we have a team dedicated to ensuring that you and your child don’t walk through the challenging path alone. Call us at 619-877-6894 and let us help you devise the best course of action.