Juvenile Delinquency Proceedings
Juvenile delinquency proceedings are considered civil proceedings, but changes in the law over the last decade have resulted in juvenile adjudications that approximate criminal convictions. Juveniles may even be directly prosecuted in adult court for some types of offenses. And juvenile records may follow a child long into adulthood.
Proceedings in juvenile court may be initiated under circumstances where a child is habitually disobedient and uncontrollable, violates curfew, is habitually truant, or violates any criminal law.
Is Your Child Accused?
This office focuses on situations where a petition alleging criminal conduct has been or may be filed against your child, especially here in San Diego. Any San Diego law enforcement contact with a child that results in the child being detained should be considered a good reason to contact an experienced juvenile defense attorney. This office provides free consultations to parents seeking advice regarding possible San Diego juvenile court proceedings.
Four Phases of Juvenile Matters
Juvenile matters can be divided into four phases: the pre-filing of charges period, detention, jurisdiction, and disposition. The pre-filing period is that time between law enforcement contact and the involvement of the courts. This is a critical time for those minors that have been contacted and released for alleged criminal conduct. Contact an attorney immediately if your child has been detained and released to you.
The detention hearing is the first step in the court process. The hearing occurs after law enforcement detains a minor and a petition is filed alleging criminal conduct by the child. If the allegations in the petition are in dispute, the court will set a jurisdiction hearing, similar to a trial in adult court. The jurisdiction hearing is for the judge, not a jury, to consider whether the court should be formally involved in exercising control over the child. Allegations of criminal conduct must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt at the jurisdiction hearing. The disposition phase involves the court deciding the proper action to take in the case, similar to a sentencing hearing in adult court. Finally, the minor may later be eligible to have his or her juvenile record sealed.
An experienced juvenile defense lawyer is obviously critical to each stage of these proceedings.
For example, juvenile law allows for some cases – even felony matters – to be dismissed entirely by the judge even over objection of the prosecutor. The court will allow for a period of “informal supervision” lasting six months to a year before actually dismissing the case. While each case is different, common factors considered by the court in deciding for informal supervision and dismissal include:
- Whether the minor has problems in the home, school, or community that indicate juvenile court supervision would be desirable;
- Whether the minor and the parent or guardian seem able to resolve the matter with the assistance of the social worker or probation officer and without formal court action;
- Whether further observation or evaluation by the social worker or probation officer is needed;
- The attitudes of the child and responsible parent or guardian;
- The age, maturity, and capabilities of the minor;
- Whether the minor has been involved in juvenile court in the past;
- The recommendation, if any, of the referring law enforcement party or state or county agency;
- The attitudes of affected persons, such as the complaining witness (“victim”), if any; and
- Any other circumstances that indicate that a program of informal supervision would be consistent with the welfare of the child and the protection of the public.
The last factor is significant: the court has the authority to consider “any other circumstances” that indicate dismissal is the appropriate outcome. The attorney is in the best position to identify such favorable circumstances which may exist in any particular matter. Success in these matters therefore depends on the minor, together with the parent or guardian, working closely with the attorney to favorably develop the above-referenced factors on behalf of the minor.
This office has successfully argued for dismissal of charges involving, for example, drug possession, using an explosive device, burglary and vandalism.
If your child is involved in a juvenile court proceeding, especially here in San Diego, or if you have received a petition filed against your child by the Office of the District Attorney, contact this office for accurate, honest advice from an experienced juvenile defense attorney.