Court Incarcerates Truant Kids

Bad KidThe Superior Court of San Diego recently decided that a juvenile court can incarcerate a minor during non-school hours for being truant.

The minor in the case before the court was 12 years old and had missed several days of school.  The juvenile court ordered her to attend school, obey rules, earn passing grades, and complete community service.  The child did not obey any of the court’s orders.  Instead, she missed 23 of 27 possible further days of school and refused mental health counseling.  The court held the child in contempt, and incarcerated her for six days in a juvenile detention facility.

In California, a juvenile court can take wardship over a minor when that person persistently and habitually refuses to obey their parents or guardians, or if they have four or more truancies within a school year.  This is called a 601 wardship – referring to Welfare and Institution Code Section 601.  The court is permitted to have jurisdiction over these wards only during school hours and their parents or guardians retain full parental rights.

The child appealed her case, asking the Superior Court to find that the lower court did not have the authority to incarcerate her during non-school hours.

The Superior Court held that nothing in the statues prevented a court from full use of its contempt authority, even during non-school hours. “[C]ompelling the court to release a juvenile…when the juvenile has egregiously disobeyed its orders…would plainly undermine the dignity and authority of the court.”

The Superior Court did find, however, that in order to incarcerate a 601 ward for contempt the court must:

  1. Give the juvenile sufficient notice to comply with the court order and ensure the juvenile understood the provisions of the order;
  2. Find that the violation of the court order was egregious;
  3. Have considered less restrictive alternatives and found them to be ineffective;
  4. Make sure that the 601 ward will not be confined or intermingled with delinquents.

Children detained by the juvenile court have the right to an attorney.  This office handles all matters related to juvenile delinquency and detention in San Diego County.  For a free consultation, contact us.

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