If you, your son or daughter, or another child in your family is in trouble with the law, it can be an extremely frightening experience. Among other things, juvenile legal problems can continue to haunt you long after your (or your family member’s) case has been resolved. In addition to the immediate consequences of an adjudication that there has been a violation of the law, we are mindful that there are, in many cases, long-term consequences to the child and his or her future. The best decision you can make in these circumstances is to engage the services of an attorney who has experience with the juvenile justice system. At the Steel Law Group, we regularly deal with juvenile cases, we understand the system in which these cases are handled, and we will work tirelessly to insure that the result in your case is the best possible one under all the circumstances.
How does the Juvenile Justice System Differ from the Criminal Justice System?
The answer to this question has two parts. The first concerns the goals of the two systems, which goals are far from identical. The second relates to what happens after an arrest; again, the process is different for juveniles than it is for adults.
- Goals. The criminal justice system, at least theoretically, has several goals. They include punishment and increasing public safety. Not so with juvenile justice, whose stated goal is the treatment and rehabilitation of youthful offenders. This translates into numerous methods of dealing with juveniles who have run afoul of the system, including, in addition to incarceration and detention, various treatment programs, as well as community supervision. Numerous agencies have roles in this process, among them schools and social service agencies. Nevertheless, as with adults, the severity of the system’s response tends to increase with the level of the offense.
- The Process. When an adult is charged with the commission of a crime, criminal justice takes over, and, with certain variations, the process includes arrest, arraignment, setting bail, and movement though the court system, up to and including trial, and, if convicted, sentencing. There may also be grand jury proceedings in some cases, the issuance of an indictment, and so on. On the other hand, when a juvenile is arrested, the arresting officer may bring the youth to juvenile hall, but also has the discretion to release the juvenile to the custody of his or her parents. Overcrowding in juvenile halls often means that in many cases only the more violent offenders are held there. Unlike adult court, juveniles are not entitled to a trial by jury. Finally, in some cases, the charge or charges against the juvenile may be filed in criminal court.
- Consequences for Juvenile Offenders. If the petition against the juvenile is sustained, there are a number of different possible consequences. They include probation, placement in a foster care or group home, incarceration in juvenile camps or ranches, or placement with the Division of Juvenile Justice.
Trying Juveniles as Adults in California
There are several ways in which a juvenile may be tried as an adult.
- Indirect Filing. In these cases, the prosecutor files a fitness motion after the case has already been filed in juvenile court. A “fitness hearing” will then take place, and a decision will be based upon several factors, among them the nature of the offense, the juvenile’s history, and the chances of rehabilitation. If the judge determines that the child is unfit for rehabilitation, the trial will proceed in adult court.
- Discretionary Direct Filing. The second method is discretionary direct filing in adult court by the prosecutor. This is an option when the youth (a) is 16 years of age or older, and is accused of certain felonies (including robbery), or (b) is at least 14 years old and is accused of an offense carrying a sentence of life in prison or death, or one involving use of a firearm while committing a felony, or certain serious offenses (listed in section 707(b) of the California Welfare and Institutions Code), and (i) had a prior conviction for any one of certain enumerated offenses, and (ii) committed the offense as part of street gang activity, a hate crime, or a crime against an elderly or disabled victim.
- Mandatory Direct Filing. Under the provisions of Proposition 21, the prosecutor must file charges against a juvenile 14 years of age or older in criminal (adult) court where the charge is that the juvenile personally committed murder with special circumstances (see PC 190.2(a)), or that the juvenile committed one of a number of sex crimes.
Underage DUI and Minor in Possession
A significant percentage of juvenile arrests involve the use of alcohol. Offenses range from minor in possession, to underage DUI, among others. For a first offense of possession of alcohol by a minor, the consequences are a fine or community service. Consequences increase with subsequent offenses.
With regard to underage drinking and driving, California has a “zero tolerance” policy. For adult drivers, the legal limit is a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 (0.04 for commercial drivers). For minors, if you have a BAC of 0.01 or greater (that is, any measurable amount of alcohol in your system), you are prohibited from driving a vehicle. A violation is a civil offense. If your BAC is 0.05 or greater, a violation is a criminal charge.
Protecting the Rights of Minors in California
Representing juveniles is similar in some ways to representing adults charged with crimes. But there are many, many differences. Both procedurally and in relation to the potential consequences, those differences are significant.
Juvenile charges have an immediate effect on your (or your child’s) life. Even if your case remains in the juvenile system, probation, incarceration and other consequences are a very real possibility. These charges also have implications for your future. In fact, certain juvenile adjudications can in some situations constitute strikes under the three strikes law.
The fact that the charge you or your family member is facing is being handled in the juvenile justice system does not mean that the consequences are not serious, or that they cannot have lasting effects on the juvenile’s life. At the Steel Law Group, we recognize the seriousness of juvenile charges, and we will fight for the rights of our juvenile clients to insure that their rights are protected. Contact us for a free, confidential consultation.