A juvenile court judge can dismiss charges or sustain a juvenile petition against a juvenile offender if a child commits a crime and appears in a juvenile court. If the latter occurs, the judge has found the young offender guilty of the petition against them. The judge will render the final decision depending on the gravity of the underlying charges and the minor's criminal record. For example, the judge can sentence the child to detention or probation. The juvenile system can sometimes be complicated. You could experience difficulties navigating the system if your loved one faces criminal charges in Chula Vista. Retaining the services of a skilled criminal attorney who can advise and support you while protecting your child's rights is beneficial. We could also fight for a favorable outcome in your child's case at Chula Vista Criminal Attorney.

An Overview of the Juvenile System

The juvenile judicial system deals with minors or people under 18 who face criminal charges. It is sad to note that youth crime rates are on the rise. However, rather than putting juvenile offenders through adult criminal processes and punishing those found guilty, the juvenile system approaches criminal cases involving minors differently. For example, law enforcement can release a minor with a stern warning or send them to a juvenile hall where the probation department decides what action to take against them if they arrest a child on suspicion of breaking the law.

A probation officer investigates the case and interviews the child and their parents once they arrive at the juvenile hall to establish the case’s facts. The probation officer can work on reconciling the offender and victim and reintegrating them into society if the minor is willing to change their behavior and has no criminal record. However, if the minor faces severe charges and/or has a severe criminal history, the officer can request that a prosecutor file a petition in juvenile court against the child.

A juvenile court judge has up to 48 hours to hold a hearing to determine the facts of the minor's case when a prosecutor files a petition against a minor. A juvenile court hearing is not the same as a criminal court hearing.

For example, a juvenile court hearing is not a trial in which the jury hears evidence and arguments to decide the case. Only the judge in a juvenile court hears the evidence and opinions from the prosecutor and the child/defense team to determine the matter. Depending on the evidence presented in court, the judge can either dismiss the charges against the minor and allow them to return home or sustain the petition against them.

A sustained juvenile petition is equivalent to a guilty judgment in an adult criminal proceeding. A guilty judgment means that the court found the accused guilty of the charges leveled against them. After a judge sustains a petition against a young offender, they will have another hearing where the judge will render a final verdict. Remember that the final judgment is less about punishment and more about rehabilitation and treatment. But it can include separating a minor from their parents, removing them from their homes, or confining a child in a juvenile detention center in some cases.

The judge's final decision in some cases is lenient and harsh in other cases. Having a criminal attorney represent your child's best interests is beneficial to ensure the judge's final verdict is fair.

Legal Processes Leading To Sustained Juvenile Petitions

Remember that children can commit misdemeanors and felonies like adults. But minors are treated more leniently because they are under 18, the legal age for adults. Juvenile offenders are subjected to a more lenient juvenile justice system that provides rehabilitation and treatment instead of a harsh criminal process that results in punishment for the guilty offenders. Minors' criminal acts are broadly classified as follows:

Status Offenses

They are punishable by law for minors but not for adults. For example, running from home, breaking curfew, truancy, and consuming alcohol while underage. Status crimes do not result in harsh penalties. Most juvenile offenders charged with status offenses do not go through the entire juvenile justice system. They are usually released with a stern warning or sent on probation.

Delinquent Offenses

They are unlawful acts children and adults commit, like misdemeanors and felonies under criminal law. Examples include theft, vandalism, rape, and criminal threats.

When your child commits a delinquent offense, the prosecutor will most likely file a petition in juvenile court against them. The child must appear before a judge to answer the petition against them. The judge will most likely sustain their petition if the district attorney successfully proves the case against the minor. The judge will determine the sentence depending on the gravity of the crime and the child's criminal history.

Remember that juvenile court judges have complete discretion regarding cases involving juvenile offenders. The judge can throw out the petition and order for the child to be returned to their parents if they believe that the evidence presented by the prosecutor is insufficient to support the child's allegations. However, the judge does not make this decision after the first hearing. Several processes involve a law enforcement arrest and a probation department assessment. Remember that once the police and probation department has obtained the details of your child's case, they have several options. They can dismiss the case and send the child home or refer it to the subsequent process.

Here are the main processes involved before the judge sustains your child’s petition:

Detention Hearing

Law enforcement can immediately release your child after arrest or refer their case to a probation officer for further assessment and recommendations. If the latter occurs, the arresting officer can detain the child in a detention hall rather than a police cell. A probation officer will meet with the child to assess them. Following the evaluation, the officer can make the following decisions:

  • After issuing the juvenile offender with a citation to appear in court at a later date, release them.
  • After putting them on probation, send them home.
  • Detain them in a juvenile facility pending the outcome of the case.

Your child will face a detention hearing before a judge if the probation officer decides to detain them. This hearing will determine if they should remain in juvenile detention or attend all hearings from home. The judge presides over this hearing and makes the final decision based on all evidence and arguments presented by the prosecution and defense.

Transfer Hearing

In most severe juvenile cases, a transfer hearing happens after a detention hearing. Keep in mind that the severity of the crimes committed by children varies. Some juveniles commit minor offenses, while others commit heinous crimes. A transfer hearing is necessary to determine whether your child will go through the juvenile system or face trial as an adult in an adult criminal court for a serious felony.

A transfer hearing is simply a hearing to determine whether your child should be placed in the justice system depending on the seriousness of their actions. If they are seventeen or older and commit a serious or violent felony, they can face criminal charges like an adult. That could be the case if they are repeat offenders who have not benefited in the past from rehabilitation and treatment programs recommended by juvenile courts.

A transfer hearing is not required in all juvenile cases. The hearing is only for specific felonies under WIC 707(b). The DA can also request a transfer hearing in the following situations:

  • Your child was 14-15 when they committed a serious felony and did not face arrest for the offense until they reached 18.
  • Your child has committed a serious or violent felony and is already 16 or older.

You will proceed through the criminal justice system until a jury delivers the final verdict or a judge agrees to transfer your child's case to an adult criminal court, depending on the evidence and arguments. But you can fight with a criminal attorney's help if you believe your child's case should remain in a juvenile court.

Adjudication Hearing

It is a hearing during which the judge hears and decides on your child's case, depending on the evidence and arguments presented by the prosecutor. A jurisdiction hearing is comparable to a criminal trial in criminal courts. The prosecutor presents the court's evidence against the child during the trial. The defense team also presents evidence to refute the allegations against your child. The judge makes the final decision on whether your loved one committed the offense. The judge also determines the appropriate discipline for your child's actions.

Even if they establish that your loved one committed the crime, the judge does not find your child guilty during the adjudication hearing. The judge only determines whether they violated the law and what should be done to prevent future violations. In this hearing, your child can defend themselves and call witnesses to testify for them. They can also seek the advice of an experienced criminal lawyer. The judge can dismiss the child's petition if the defense is strong. However, the judge will grant the petition if the district attorney’s case is more compelling.

What Follows a Sustained Juvenile Petition

If the judge grants your child's petition after the adjudication hearing, the case will proceed to the disposition hearing. The judge will decide based on your child's needs and the gravity of their actions during this hearing. A disposition hearing is similar to sentencing in the criminal justice system, in which a judge sentences an adult offender after they are found guilty of the petition against them. The judge will impose the most appropriate punishment if they determine that the child did violate the law.

The juvenile system provides various disposition options. They are usually tailored to the specific needs of juvenile offenders, with rehabilitation as the primary goal. Judges consider various factors when determining the appropriate disposition for a particular juvenile offender, including their age, delinquent history, case circumstances, and the gravity of their actions. The judge's decision is not based on whether or not the minor admitted to the violation. They can, however, consider whether your loved one committed the crime of perjury by lying in court through false testimony.

A disposition hearing could happen right after an adjudication hearing if the judge has all the necessary information to make the final decision. However, if the judge intends to involve the probation department in determining the proper disposition for your child, they will set the disposition for another date. In that case, the probation department will evaluate the child to develop an appropriate treatment and rehabilitation program to help them and prevent further violations. If the defense team (including the child's parents) wishes to submit evidence to support the child's case, the judge can postpone the disposition hearing.

If the judge suspects your child has a mental illness, they can order a psychological evaluation before the disposition hearing. However, the judge cannot extend the disposition hearing beyond what is legally required. Note that disposition hearings must take place within ten days of adjudication hearings. The judge must act within the specified time limits to avoid other legal issues. In addition, the victim of your child's crime is welcome to attend the disposition hearing. They can speak during the hearing or present a victim impact report. During the disposition hearing, your child can also speak.

Following a disposition hearing, the judge has several options:

Formal Probation

After granting your child's juvenile petition, the judge can sentence them to probation. They could serve probation at home while still living with you or in a camp away from home. If their home environment is not conducive to the rehabilitation or treatment they will receive, the judge can send them to a different home. In that case, the court will look for a suitable home for the minor, like a relative's home. If the court determines that your child is severely emotionally disturbed, they could be sent to a group home for children with similar issues for treatment and rehabilitation.

Formal probation comes with strict terms and conditions that your child must follow throughout the probation period. They could be as follows:

  • They must go to school.
  • They must receive counseling for drug abuse or related issues.
  • They must adhere to strict curfew regulations.
  • They must not associate with specific people.
  • Remove graffiti.
  • Pay restitution to the victim of their crime.
  • Participate in community service.

The judge will send your child to a juvenile probation camp for three months to a year before releasing them to you if the court determines they require more discipline. For juvenile offenders, the state operates several probation camps. Most provide dormitory facilities and structured daily schedules, including education and treatment programs. The state also has wilderness or fire camps that provide forestry and firefighting training and military-style training camps for juvenile offenders with severe behavioral issues.

Commitment to a DJJ Facility

DJJ, or the Division of Juvenile Justice, is a rehabilitation and detention system for the most severe juvenile offenders. It is part of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in the state.

DJJ is a correctional facility, the closest thing to an adult prison in the juvenile judicial system. A juvenile offender's most severe punishment is confinement in a DJJ facility. If your loved one committed an offense listed in WIC 707(b) or a crime requiring them to register as a sex offender, they could receive this disposition. Minors made wards of the court could receive the same disposition.

While it appears to be a harsh punishment, committing a child to a DJJ facility is not intended to punish them. Instead, your child will get assistance with the following:

  • Community restoration.
  • Victim restoration.
  • Treatment and training.

There are three main ways in which a youth can be committed to a DJJ facility:

  • Through commitment by the juvenile court after being made a ward of the court.
  • After facing trial as an adult, a criminal court could commit them to a DJJ facility instead of sending them to prison.
  • After facing trial as an adult and receiving a prison sentence, the judge could order them to be housed in a DJJ facility until they reach adulthood.

However, before committing your child to a DJJ facility, the judge can order a 90-day diagnostic study. The findings of that study will aid the judge in making their final decision.

Deferred Entry of Judgement

It is a form of juvenile probation in which your child admits to a felony petition being filed against them. Instead of passing judgment, the judge postpones it to allow the minor to receive treatment and rehabilitation. Even if the juvenile agrees to have committed the underlying offense, they do not receive punishment. Instead, the court sentences them to one to three years of probation. They are also required to follow the probation conditions imposed by the judge, including going to school without fail, going through counseling, receiving treatment, and adhering to a curfew.

The judge dismisses the charges against your child and allows them to return home if they complete the court-ordered probation programs and treatments. In addition, the court seals all of their juvenile court records. The judge can impose an alternative punishment if they violate their probation and do not complete the recommended treatment and rehabilitation.

However, DEJ is typically granted to first-time offenders facing charges for nonviolent felonies. The sentence is intended to rehabilitate the minor and prevent future offenses. Before the judge decides during the disposition hearing, the prosecutor must establish your child's eligibility for DEJ. The prosecutor will notify the judge and your child's criminal attorney if your loved one is eligible. If the court determines that your child would benefit from the court-ordered treatment, rehabilitation, and education, they could be suitable for DEJ.

Informal Probation

Informal probation is typically given in less severe juvenile cases. If it is your child's first offense and the crime is not violent, like vandalism or trespass, they could be eligible for informal probation and diversion. Before a prosecutor files a petition against a minor, the probation department can place them on informal probation. However, if your loved one goes through the juvenile court system, they can be eligible for informal probation under WIC 725.

If your loved one is eligible for informal probation, your attorney can petition the court for diversion immediately after the judge grants their juvenile petition. If the judge grants their request, they will defer the minor's judgment until they complete probation and the recommended rehabilitation and treatment. The judge can dismiss all their charges if your loved one does well on probation. If a court places a juvenile offender on informal probation before the court process, the prosecutor does not file a petition against them if they perform well on probation.

Informal probation periods can last up to six months. During that time, a probation officer ensures that the minor follows all probation conditions. The officer will also create a program for the child that balances the child's needs and the community's interests.

Note that informal probation does not require the child to admit to any wrongdoing. Most importantly, they follow all probation conditions for the judge to dismiss their petition.

Find a Skilled Criminal Attorney Near Me

Is your child facing a juvenile petition in a Chula Vista court?

Understanding the processes that occur before and after the judge grants their juvenile petition is beneficial. However, navigating the juvenile justice system without proper legal guidance can be difficult. You require the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney for that reason. At Chula Vista Criminal Attorney, we will work closely with you to ensure you understand every step of your child's case before its resolution. We will fight for their rights, your rights, and the best possible outcome. Contact us at 619-877-6894 to learn more about our services.