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Juveniles who are arrested for committing a crime are generally tried in juvenile delinquency court. Juvenile delinquency court handles misdemeanor and felony cases that are alleged to have been committed by a minor. Additionally, juvenile courts also handle what are known as “status offense,” offenses that are only crimes because of the age of the defendant. Typical status offenses are truancy or curfew violations.
When your child has been arrested or accused of criminal behavior, you cannot afford to wait to speak to a Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer from Moaddel Law Firm who can fight to protect them from the potential consequences. Our firm has worked on countless juvenile cases, working hard to ensure the child’s future is not affected by a mistake made as a youth. We are a highly-regarded criminal defense firm who does whatever it takes to find the optimal outcome when it comes to criminal charges, so speak with us as soon as you can to begin building a defense.
What constitutes a juvenile crime?
Technically, juvenile proceedings are civil, not criminal, proceedings. A juvenile is not found “guilty,” instead, the judge will “sustain the petition” if the judge finds that the juvenile committed the crime beyond a reasonable doubt (the same standard as in criminal cases). If the petition is sustained, there are a number of different “dispositions,” or sentences, available, ranging from informal probation (often with the minor never admitting guilt and the charges being dismissed upon successful completion) to incarceration in the Division of Juvenile Justice (formerly known as California Youth Authority or “CYA”).
The juvenile system’s goal is to rehabilitate—rather than punish—the offender, and dispositions are supposed to focus on education, treatment, and services in order for the offender to grow into a productive citizen. Sanctions are designed to discipline offenders, and can include fines or restitution, community service, classes, commitment to juvenile hall or camp, or incarceration in CYA.
Juvenile dependency court is different than juvenile delinquency court. Juvenile dependency court handles the cases of abused, neglected, and abandoned children.
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Most minors who are arrested are placed in the juvenile delinquency system. However, minors arrested for serious offenses can be—and in some cases, must be—tried in the adult criminal system.
When a prosecutor wants to have a minor’s case tried in adult court, the judge holds a “fitness hearing” to determine whether the minor is fit for the juvenile system. The judge will determine whether the minor will benefit from the rehabilitative services available in the juvenile system. If not, the case is transferred to the adult criminal system.
A prosecutor can request a fitness hearing for minors who are age 16 or older, or age 14 or older when they are accused of certain serious offenses.
In determining whether the case should stay in juvenile court, the judge will consider:
- The minor’s criminal sophistication
- The minor’s rehabilitation potential
- The minor’s delinquency history
- The success of any previous rehabilitation by the juvenile court
- The circumstances and seriousness of the alleged offense
Previously, prosecutors could file certain cases directly in adult court. Under the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016, also known as Proposition 57, prosecutors can no longer file petitions directly in adult court. Any transfer to adult court must be done after a fitness hearing in the juvenile court that determines whether transfer is appropriate.
Mandatory Criminal Cases
When a minor who is at least 14 years old is accused of a serious crime, including murder with special circumstances and certain sex offenses, the minor will automatically be tried in adult court. Even in the most serious of cases, minors are not eligible for the death penalty. Similarly, for a non-homicide crime, a minor cannot be sentenced to life without parole.
Sealing Juvenile Records
Under Welfare & Institutions Code § 781, an individual who was a convicted of a crime while a juvenile can petition to have their records sealed. Records that are sealed are no longer public records and can assist with employers, lenders, landlords, and education opportunities.
Under WIC § 781, juvenile records are eligible for sealing if the following are true:
- The defendant is now 18 years old or older, or the juvenile court’s jurisdiction was terminated five years ago
- The defendant has not been convicted of a misdemeanor or felony involving moral turpitude as an adult
- The defendant was not convicted of certain serious felonies after the age of 14
For the petition to be granted, your attorney must convince the court that you have been rehabilitated. Juvenile records are not automatically sealed without a judicial order under WIC § 781.
For juveniles that were arrested for a misdemeanor but not convicted—either because charges were never filed, charges were dismissed, or they were acquitted—the records can be sealed at any time.
Don’t hesitate to retain legal representation!
If your child has been arrested, don’t let them face the accusations without a skilled Los Angeles criminal defense attorney from Moaddel Law Firm who can petition for the charges to be dropped or reduced in order to protect their future.
Call the firm today to discuss your case: (877) 375-8188!
 Examples include murder, robbery, rape, kidnapping, or assault with a firearm. WIC § 707(b).
 WIC § 707.
 WIC § 602
 Roper v. Simmons (2005) 543 U.S. 551.
 Graham v. Florida (2010) 560 U.S. 48.