You are likely to get confused and not know what to do when you receive a call that your child is arrested. At traumatizing moments like this, it is wise that you hire a sensitive, aggressive, and competent California juvenile criminal defense lawyer. A good attorney will not only advise you but guide you through the trial process if your child is charged. With many years of experience, the legal team at LA Criminal Defense Attorney has handled a wide range of juvenile crimes including serious and violent felonies in Los Angeles. We use our experience to restore your child's freedom as well as prove their innocence.
Juvenile Crimes in California
Also known as juvenile delinquency, juvenile crime refers to unlawful behavior by a minor that is beyond parental control and hence, subject to legal action. When a child violates the law, the legal procedures used are different from those of an adult defendant. In California, the juvenile court system and detention facilities are used. While it is common for the state to regard a person below 18 years of age as a minor, California justice system can convict a minor as an adult if the offense committed is serious.
According to 2017 Criminal Justice data reports released by California's attorney general Becerra, on July 9, 2018, there were approximately 56,249 juvenile arrests reported by police. This was lower by 10.4% of arrests made in 2016. The probation department handled 71,791 cases where 38,232 were settled by a juvenile criminal court. Also, 190 juvenile cases were referred to adult courts where 61.1% of these were convicted.
The sections below will give a detailed overview of the California juvenile court system and crimes committed by minors.
The Juvenile Court System in California
If you find yourself on the wrong side of the law and you are a minor, you will be tried in a juvenile court. The juvenile court system is fashioned to educate, counsel, and rehabilitate the minor.
In California's juvenile court system, the judge determines whether the minor is innocent or guilty. Nevertheless, the burden of proof is similar to an adult criminal court. The prosecution team should prove beyond doubt to the court that the minor committed the crime.
The juvenile court process has four main hearings;
- Detention hearing
This is the first hearing and it takes place within 48 hours after your arrest. The court decides whether to release you to your parents or to keep you in custody as you await trial.
- Fitness hearing
Fitness hearing decides whether your case should be handled in a juvenile court or transferred to an adult court. Typically, this hearing doesn't take place in most juvenile cases since they are determined in the juvenile court.
The trial is conducted before a juvenile criminal court judge.
- Disposition hearing
This has to deal with the judge's verdict in the case.
There is no bail in this court process. It‘s, therefore, vital to consult an experienced lawyer who will persuade the court to release the minor at the detention hearing.
Who is Tried in California Juvenile Court?
According to California Welfare and Institutions Code 602, children under 18 years of age are tried in juvenile court. If you commit an offense but it is not tried or discovered until you are 20, you will still be tried in the juvenile court.
There are instances where minors get tried in adult criminal court. For instance, a minor aged sixteen to seventeen can be charged in adult court and face penalties for an adult conviction for committing the following offenses:
- First-degree murder,
- Sex crimes under Penal Code 667.61 (d) to (e) like rape, forcible lewd act with a minor under 14, forcible penetration with an object and sodomy using force or fear, and
- Offenses listed in Welfare and Institution code 707 (b) such as murder, attempted murder, arson, oral copulation by force, kidnapping for ransom, kidnapping causing bodily harm, kidnapping for ransom, assault with a deadly weapon, and assault by force leading to severe bodily injuries… just to name a few.
Moreover, in the fitness hearing, a minor aged 16 and above accused of committing any Section 707(b) offense is assessed to check whether they can be tried in juvenile criminal court. The decision hinges on whether the judge believes the juvenile will respond to treatment, training programs, and care. The judge will also put the following factors into consideration:
- The degree of criminal intricacy demonstrated by the child
- The child's criminal history
- Whether it is possible to rehabilitate the juvenile before the jurisdiction expires
- The success of prior attempts to rehabilitate the child
- Gravity and circumstances of the offenses
Minor below 16 are not tried in adult court.
What Kind of Sentence Does the Minor Get?
If the judge sustains the petition against the minor (finds him or her guilty), the judge will come up with a sentence based on the minor’s past criminal record and the severity of the offense among other factors.
There are numerous sentences (dispositions). This is because the main purpose of a juvenile court system is to rehabilitate the child. If all goes well, the court will allow them to go home but with probation terms and conditions. They will not become a ward of the court and the charges will be dismissed once they complete the probation program.
Some of the probation conditions include attending school, performing community service, attending counseling, electric monitoring, curfews, and compensating the victim.
In severe cases, the juvenile may face incarceration levels like:
- House arrest or home confinement. The court may order the child to remain at home with the exception of attending counseling sessions and school,
- Placement with another person other than their parents or guardians,
- They may be ordered to remain in a juvenile hall for a while,
- Probation after juvenile hall. They could be ordered to stay in a juvenile detention facility before being put on probation,
- They could also stay in juvenile facilities for a longer duration of time,
- Adult jail, and
- Enrolling with the California Youth Authority.
The Relationship Between California's Three Strikes Law and Juvenile Sustained Charges
California's Three Strikes Law is basically a sentencing approach that increases the time to prison sentences of subsequent offenders convicted of violent or serious felonies. It came into effect in the 1990's following initiatives by legislature and voter passage.
With respect to the harsh nature of California's three strikes law, it isn't a surprise that an offense committed by a minor is considered a strike. A minor sustained petition is considered a strike when the following elements are met:
- The conviction is a strike under California's Penal Code definition of serious felony,
- The offense is in California W&I list, and
- The defendant was 16 years and above at the time of committing the crime.
If you are convicted for a crime on serious felony list but not on Welfare and Institution code 707 (b) list, the crime becomes a strike if it was committed in relation with a crime on W&I list.
For instance, Peter is accused of both residential burglary and possessing burglary equipment. He sustained four burglary juvenile petitions. The court dismisses three petitions but considers non-dismissed burglary adjudication as a strike. Residential burglary is a violent felony but was not committed in relation to W&I 707(b) crime. Therefore, it is not a strike.
Common Crimes Committed by Minors in Los Angeles
- DUI Charges for Minors
There are two main juvenile drinking and driving laws in California:
- Zero Tolerance Law for Underage DUI
Vehicle Code 23136 VC makes it illegal for a minor to drive a vehicle with a BAC (blood alcohol content) of 0.01% or higher. Zero tolerance law applies to every beverage and medicine with alcohol. Additionally, it applies whether the driver's driving was impaired by the alcoholic beverage or not.
Violation of 23136 VC carries a one-year compulsory suspension of your driver's license. The driver's license could also be suspended for two (2) to three (3) years if you have a previous conviction of violating the drunk driving laws.
- Underage DUI with a Blood Alcohol Content of 0.05% or greater (underage DUI)
According to Vehicle Code 23140, it is illegal for a minor to drive a car with a blood alcohol content of 0.05% or greater. Normally, BAC is validated by a chemical test which is done after the arrest. It could be either a blood test or a breath test.
Violation of this law is an infraction. Consequently, the violation of this law does not lead to jail time. The penalties include (for first time offender):
- A suspension of the driver's license for one year
- A maximum fine of $100
- A mandatory three-month alcohol education/counseling program
BAC of 0.08% or Greater or Actual Impairment
You can also be accused of violating adult/standard DUI laws if:
- Your driving capability is completely impaired as a result of drugs or alcohol as per Vehicle code 23152 (a), and
- You were driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.08% or greater, Vehicle code 23152 (b).
Breaking Vehicle Code 23152 VC is considered a misdemeanor. If no person is injured, a first-time offender will face:
- One year suspension of the driver's license
- Three (3) to five (5) years of summary probation
- A fine that ranges between $390 and $1,000
- Attend an alcohol and drug education program for three to nine months
- A maximum of a six-month sentence in California county jail (although rarely)
Other adult DUI charges a minor could face include Vehicle code 23152 (f), DUID (driving under the influence of drugs) and Vehicle code 23153(driving under influence leading to injury).
- Possession of Marijuana
According to the California Health and Safety Code 11357 HS, it is unlawful for a minor to have any amount of weed or concentrated marijuana except in cases of medical marijuana laws. Violating this law under Proposition 64 carries the following penalties: four hours of drug counseling and education and performing a maximum of ten hours of community service for a first-time offender; subsequent offenders undergo six hours of drug counseling and perform twenty hours of community service.
- Juvenile Vandalism
The term vandalism can be best defined by highlighting the elements of the crime. They include:
- The defendant maliciously damaged or destroyed property by defacing using graffiti or inscribed material, and
- The defendant didn't own or co-own the property with another person
This term defacing means any illegal inscription, figure, design, or word which is drawn, painted, written or scratched on personal or real property.
You didn't own or co-own the property with another person
This element of vandalism seems obvious but that is not the case. If the vandalized property is a public facility, the judge presumes you didn't possess the property, hence, had no permission to destroy or damage it.
Also, California Penal Code 594 PC applies to assets owned jointly. That means you can be charged with vandalizing your asset if the destroyed or defaced property is a family property.
Examples of juvenile vandalism charges:
- Damage to a school or a place of worship
- Graffiti on a neighbor's home
- Smashing a car's windows
- Keying a car or slashing its tires
Every form of vandalism crime has severe consequences since it is an intentional act of destroying another person's property. A first-time offense that is less than $400 is a misdemeanor. Punishments include fines, compensating the property's owner, three years informal (summary) probation, and performing community service. Fortunately, there is no jail time for minors with vandalism charges.
However, if charged with a felony, the penalties are severe. You will receive formal probation, jail time, and sometimes a suspension of license for a year.
- Minor in Possession of Alcohol
Business and Professions Code Section 25662 BP is the minor in possession of alcohol law. Under this law, it is illegal for a minor to possess alcohol or any alcoholic beverage in a public place. In order to prove you committed the crime, the prosecutor must prove the following elements of the crime:
- The defendant was under 21 years of age when they committed the crime
- The defendant possessed the alcoholic beverage
- The defendant possessed the beverage in a public place, street or in a place that is open to the public
Regarding Business and Professions Code 25662 BP, alcoholic beverage is defined as any solid material or liquid with one-half of 1% of alcohol. It could be beer, wine, ‘'hard alcohol'' or spirits.
If you leave home and bring alcohol in your car, you could be charged with violating open container law (Vehicle Code 23224 VC). Additionally, if you are impaired and leave home, you are subject to charges under California's minor DUI laws and Penal Code section 647(f).
Violation of Business and Professions Code Section 25662 BP is considered a misdemeanor. It is punishable by:
- A maximum fine of $250 for a first violation while second or subsequent offenders pay $500
- First-term offenders must perform 24 to 32 hours of community service at a coroner's office or at a drug or alcohol treatment institution. Second or subsequent violation, on the other hand, is punishable by 36 to 48 hours.
- Enrollment in a youth drunk driving program, and
- Suspension of your driver's license for one year
According to Vehicle Code 13202.5 VC, you can amend your license suspension if:
- You don't sustain any other charges within a year following the Vehicle Code 13202.5 VC conviction or
- You present an essential necessity to drive since public transport is not available and you need to go to work, school or take a sick relative to the hospital.
- Teen Sexting
Sexting occurs when a teen takes a provocative or nude photo of themselves, forward, email or text it to their friends. Most of these photos end up on social media platforms. According to FBI reports, in every six teens (aged twelve and seventeen) with a phone, one has received or sent a naked picture or related text message from/to their peers.
Despite being a minor, you could be tried in an adult criminal court for sexting based on your age. Sexting is one of the crimes outlined in Welfare and Institutions Code 707 (b) and it warrants adult treatment and punishment if committed by a minor aged 14 years and above. Compulsory life sex offender registration is one of the penalties in accordance with California Penal Code 290.
If probation is settled for the juvenile, sex offender registration is not necessary. If probation is not granted, the juvenile is sent to the Department of Juvenile Justice and will be required to register immediately after they are released from custody. Once you register, your picture and home address will be listed on the Megan's Law website.
It is almost impossible for sex offenders registered on the registry to secure any lucrative employment. In addition, most landlords will also say no to you renting their property and educational institutions may close their doors.
According to California Penal Code section 207, kidnapping is moving a victim to a significant distance using fear or force without their consent.
It is classified into two categories namely simple and aggravated kidnapping. Aggravated kidnapping involves a victim below 14 years, holding a victim for cause, the victim suffers injuries or death, or you kidnapped the victim during a carjacking.
Kidnapping in California is a continuing crime; the crime continues provided you have the victim detained. Therefore, even if you take the victim to another place, the court will convict you of one case.
Both simple and aggravated kidnapping are violent and serious felonies and violating kidnapping laws is a strike.
If a juvenile is charged with a felony and have a previous strike on their criminal record, they become a second striker. They also face a sentence that is twice the sentence required by the law.
If they are charged with a third felony and have two previous strikes, they become a third striker. It is punishable by serving a compulsory sentence of twenty-five years or life in California state prison.
Shoplifting is a form of theft crime where one steals from a retail establishment. In order to be convicted of shoplifting, the prosecutor must prove the elements under Penal Code 459.5PC:
- You entered the commercial establishment,
- With an intention to steal worth $950 or less, and
- The establishment was open during the usual business hours.
- A student goes to a public library with an intention to borrow one book but sneaks out three books in his backpack
- A 13-year old girl walks into a department store with the aim of stealing a shoe worth $500
- Two boys enter a store with a plan of one of distracting the cashier as the other put a packet of candy in his bag
Under Penal Code 602, trespassing can be defined as entering into somebody else's property without consent.
It can also be considered trespass when you walk into a restaurant intending to create fracas and drive clients away, leave a facility after failing to pay your bill, or refusing to leave a facility after it is closed. Generally speaking, business owners operate their business with consent that clients can come and engage in the normal business transaction and doesn't apply to a person's obstructing or interfering with their operation.
Example: A destitute teen enters a library and stays there for the entire day. When the facility is closing in the evening, the security guard asks the teen to leave. The teen pretends to leave the premises but instead hides in the ladies' washroom. The next morning, they find the teen in the washroom. The teen is then charged with the violation of Penal Code 602(q) by refusing to leave the library after being asked to.