Juvenile law in California refers to the body of law that governs individuals under the age of 18. Juvenile law cases generally fall into three categories:
As described in California Welfare and Institutions Code, Section 602, these are law violations that, if committed by an adult, would be considered crimes. But the procedures and goals of juvenile court and adult criminal court vary significantly as it relates to these violations.
In general, juveniles are not prosecuted for committing crimes, but rather “delinquent acts.” When the delinquent acts are very serious, they may be considered crimes and the juvenile may be tried in the adult system, but this is not common and is typically reserved for the most serious of offenses. Unlike in adult criminal court, juveniles do not have a right to a public trial by jury. When a juvenile charged with an offense, the trial portion of the case involves a judge hearing evidence and ruling on whether or not the minor is delinquent. This is commonly referred to as “an adjudication hearing.”
If the juvenile has been deemed delinquent, the court will determine what action should be taken. This stage differs from the adult system in the purpose of the action. In the adult system, the primary goal is to punish. In the juvenile system, on the other hand, the goal is to rehabilitate and serve the minor’s best interest so that the minor can resume functioning normally in society. Thus, the focus is more on alternative sentences that keep the juvenile out of jail, such as probation, parole, and diversionary programs.
Juvenile Status Offenses
As described in California Welfare and Institutions Code, Section 601, these include non-criminal behaviors that are illegal because of the child’s age – for example, truancy (missing school), being out of the control of a parent or guardian, or running away from home.
Pursuant to California Welfare and Institutions Code, Section 300, a juvenile might become a dependent of the court if abused, molested, neglected, or abandoned by parents or caretakers. In some cases, the judge may refer families to mediation. Mediation affords the the family, agencies, and attorneys an opportunity to find solutions that are sufficient to protect the children’s best interest without requiring formal court intervention. However, if this is not possible, the courts will get involved to protect children from a variety of unfortunate situations. When this occurs, the court may make a variety of orders that it deems necessary to protect the children, including, in extreme cases, removing children from their homes and ordering their placement with relatives or in foster care or group homes. The court may also terminate a parent’s parental rights, create new parental rights, and facilitate the involvement of a number of agencies and facilities to assist the children and their families.