JUVENILE COURT PROCEEDURES

The process of filing a juvenile court case is much like that for an adult case with some notable differences. An officer can take a minor into custody or release him or her to the minor's parents. The officer might release the minor after he or she signs a promise to appear. These procedures parallel those in an adult proceeding.

An alternative to these procedures, the officer can release the minor to his or her parents, and sometime later submit his or her report to the Juvenile Division of the Probation Department. Probation will review the report and determine whether the minor is an appropriate candidate for pretrial diversion under Welf. & Inst. Code § 654. If the initial review suggests this might be a possibility, the Probation Officer making this review will invite the minor and his or her parents to interview. If the probation department does not feel the minor or his or her case is appropriate for diversion, the officer will pass along the report to the District Attorney's office to evaluate, much like in an adult prosecution.

If your child has been arrested, he or she can be either released to you or detained in custody in a juvenile detention facility (usually referred to as juvenile hall). Once detained, there is no right to bail, but he or she does have the right to be rapidly brought before a judge.

Within 48 hours of their arrest (excluding non court dates) the prosecution must file a petition (much like a complaint in adult court). If the petition is timely filed, the minor must be brought before the court before the end of the next court day.

Detention Hearing
If your child has been kept in custody, he will first appear in court at a detention hearing, where the bench officer (a judge, commissioner or juvenile court referee) will determine whether it is safe to release your child, to release on house arrest (where he or she is under arrest at home with or without electronic monitoring)) or to continue to detain your child pending the outcome of the proceedings. A report from probation known as a detention recommendation will be available to the judge. Both the prosecutor (the district attorney) and the defense attorney will also have the right to be heard from; there is also a specially assigned probation officer known as a court officer who will comment in support of the views of the probation department. In the end, the judge will determine whether the child should be released. Most frequently, the court will consider: 1) Is it reasonably necessary for the protection of the person or property of another that the minor remain detained, 2) Is it a matter of immediate and urgent necessity for the protection of the child that he or she be detained, 3) your child’s likelihood of appearing in court (e.g. is he or she a flight risk) and 4) is your child in violation of a court order.

In addition to determining the detention issues, the child’s lawyer may enter a denial (a plea of not guilty), may admit the petition (a guilty plea), or defer the entry of a plea by asking that no action be taken on the petition.

If your child is detained, he has the right to have his trial (with a judge and no jury) within 15 judicial days of his detention hearing. If your child is not kept in custody, he has a right to have his trial within 30 calendar days. Occasionally, if the prosecution is not ready within the 15 judicial days, they will move to have your child released, and will attempt to still bring the case to trial in the remaining (of the 30) calendar days. Often, it is in the child’s interest to waive their right to proceed so rapidly, such that their defense attorney can spend additional time preparing the case for trial.

Arraignment Date
If your child has not been held in custody, his first date will be for arraignment. At an arraignment, the child’s lawyer may enter a denial (a plea of not guilty), may admit the petition (a guilty plea), or defer the entry of a plea by asking that no action be taken on the petition. The lawyer will then verify the statistical information on the petition (the address, birth date, age) and set the case for a pretrial conference or directly for trial.

Pretrial Conference
The pretrial conference is a settlement conference, which allows the attorneys of both sides to seek a possible disposition of the case, as well as to resolve any other outstanding issues (discovery, possible motions, etc.). Often, the prosecution will post offers in a central location for the defense lawyers to review. This, at best, might serve as a baseline for discussions. In addition, a pretrial conference will generally involve the preparation of a probation recommendation and report. If one or the other of these are amiss, the attorney might be well served to conference the case in the judge’s chambers, with Judge, Court Officer, Prosecutor in one setting.

There are three possible outcomes from the Pretrial Conference:

1. If the case is resolved, there will be a plea bargain available where the minor admits the offense previously agreed upon, receives the sentence agreed upon, and the case is over.

2. If the parties reach agreement on the charges, but the disposition is not to the family’s liking, the plea can be entered and the case continued for a contested disposition (a formal hearing on the sentence to be imposed).

3. If the parties can agree on nothing, the matter is set for adjudication (trial).

Juvenile Court Adjudication (Trial)
When the parties fail to agree on a settlement, or there are legal issues to be resolved, the attorneys set the case for adjudication. An adjudication is a trial, except that in juvenile court, the child is not entitled to choose 12 jurors, but instead proceeds in front of a judge or commissioner who can act as both the judge (finder of law) and jury (finder of fact). There are various ways to see that your trial proceeds in front of an unbiased judge. For example, the child is absolutely entitled to a judge who has not read the social study. A minor has other rights to control which court is ultimately assigned to the case, for example, if the child is accused of conduct which offends the assigned judge.

Once a judge has been selected, the child’s trial is set to begin. First, the prosecution begins the presentation of evidence, which can be witnesses, photographs, documents, and numerous other things. The child has the right to see and hear all which is presented to the judge.

When the prosecution rests, your attorney should seek dismissal pursuant to Welf & Inst. Code sec. 701.1 This indicates the prosecutor hasn’t meet the burden of proof (beyond a reasonable doubt) and the case (or at least those charges reviewed in this motion) should be dismissed.

After the prosecution rests, the minor, through his attorney, has the opportunity to present evidence on the minor’s behalf. This is the minor’s opportunity to present defenses, whether witnesses, physical evidence, photographs, or whatever evidence might exist to either contradict or perhaps to explain the prosecution’s story or to negate the elements of the offense. If there are witnesses you wish brought to court, the attorney can generate a subpoena; like a summons, a subpoena has the effect of a court order to appear at the trial.

After all of the evidence, both sides have an opportunity to argue, and the judge must decide whether the case has been proven (as to each of the charges) beyond a reasonable doubt.

Disposition (Sentencing)
If any of the charges are determined to be true – whether by plea or following a trial, the court will consider disposition.

After Trial. Generally, the judge who has heard the trial will not have read the social study prepared for the pretrial conference. They may sentence the minor at that time, or may defer the sentencing for up to ten days. Alternatively, the minor might again set the matter for a contested hearing where evidence is submitted.

After Pretrial. If the case is resolved, there will be a plea bargain available where the minor admits the offense previously agreed upon, receives the sentence agreed upon, and the case is over.

If the parties reach agreement on the charges, but the disposition is not to the family’s liking, the plea can be entered and the case continued for a contested disposition (a formal hearing on the sentence to be imposed).


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You should consult an attorney for individual advice regarding your own situation.

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