Being charged with a crime is a scary prospect, even for an adult. For a minor, this fear is magnified. If you are the parent of a minor who has been charged with a crime, your mind is probably swirling with questions. How does the juvenile court system work? Will my child have a record? Is this something he or she can recover from?
As your Riverside juvenile crimes lawyer, the Law Offices of Graham D. Donath, APC believe in keeping our clients informed through every step of the process. We cannot promise you an exhaustive list of possible outcomes, because every case and child is unique. However, our award-winning Riverside criminal defense attorney can give you a general idea of how the juvenile justice system works.
Juvenile court is not the same as a criminal court. Although your child may be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony, it is actually treated as an offshoot of the civil courts under California law. This means, essentially, there are no juries to rule on the case. A juvenile proceeding consists of a judge, defense attorney, and prosecuting attorney; these events are generally closed to the public.
The state of California views the juvenile system as one centered on rehabilitation, not punishment. As such, judges do not assign verdicts like “guilty” or “not guilty” as they do in criminal proceedings. Rather, they look at the cases presented by the defense and the prosecution and decide whether or not the minor being charged should be subject to “sanctions.” These may include things like:
Generally speaking, anyone under the age of 18 can go to juvenile court. However, there are some instances in which minors under the age of 18 may be tried as adults and will be subject to criminal proceedings. It is important to note that the minor should be tried based on when the alleged crime was committed. That means if a child committed a crime when he or she was 14, but the case does not go to trial for five years, he or she will still be tried as a minor.
Under California law, there are some instances in which a minor must be tried as an adult. If a minor over the age of 14 commits a serious crime, he or she is automatically charged as an adult. These are the circumstances:
There are also certain times where a minor may be tried as an adult. These are usually violent crimes in which the victim faces grievous bodily harm or was killed. In most cases, though, children under the age of 18 are subject to civil proceedings.
If your child is tried in juvenile court, a judge will ultimately decide what kind of sanctions he or she will face based on the gravity of the alleged crimes. Just like in a criminal proceeding, the prosecution must prove to the judge beyond a reasonable doubt that your child is “guilty.” If the defendant has committed a simple lark, like trespassing or vandalism, he or she may be subject to informal probation.
As long as your child follows the condition of probation, he or she will have no lasting record. On the other end of the spectrum, if your child has been found “guilty” of a more serious charge, he or she could face time in juvenile detention – usually for no more than one year.
We know the process can be confusing. At the Law Offices of Graham D. Donath, APC we work aggressively to give your child the best chance for a bright future. If you have questions or would like to schedule a consultation, contact our office.