Having a child arrested and accused of committing a crime can be one of the most difficult and trying times for a parent. Most parents are not familiar with the criminal law process, particularly when it involves their own child. Hiring a qualified juvenile attorney to protect and fight for your child’s rights is of utmost importance.
This first thing a parent needs to know is that juvenile crimes are handled in a very unique and different manner than adult cases. This is very important to understand when making a decision about hiring an attorney. Although many defense attorneys will gladly take on a juvenile case, a great majority do not have extensive experience or knowledge in this area of the law. You absolutely need to find an attorney that has devoted a large portion of his/her practice to juvenile law. Southerncaliforniacriminalattorney.com
Stage 1: Investigation
Similar to any criminal case investigation, the police either respond to a complaint made by a “victim”, or they witness what they believe to be a crime committed by a child. If the police believe that your child may have been involved, they will want to question him/her. In almost every single juvenile case, the child is more than willing to cooperate and tell their side of the story, whether that story is the truth or not. This, without fail, results in a disaster. Typically, the police will question your child outside of your presence, and often without your child’s full understanding of what his/her legal rights are, or the consequences of their statements.
Stage 2: Arrest
After conducting their investigation, the police may arrest your child. If so, your child will either be booked and released back to your custody, or will remain in custody and taken to juvenile hall. This determination is made by a combination of factors, including the seriousness of the crime, your child’s involvement, his/her family life and support, and the physical capacity of the juvenile hall to accept your child. If the child remains in after arrest, he/she will be brought in front of a judge within two days for a “detention hearing”.
Stage 3: The Probation Interview
The probation department will set up an interview with you, the parents, and your child after the arrest. If your child is out of custody, you will receive a letter in the mail with an appointment date that “requires” your attendance before your child’s first appearance in court. If in custody, the appointment will be shortly after the arrest, but before the detention hearing.
During the interview with your child, the probation officer will ask him/her about the incident. They will be armed with the benefit of a police report, and they will ask your child about his/her specific involvement in the crimes alleged. Additionally, they will ask your child about their family life and social history, school history/attendance/grades, prior drug/alcohol use, and prior criminal activities. Juveniles typically agree to discuss these issues with probation, and many times admit to their involvement in the crime (if they were, indeed, involved), as well as every single “bad” thing they have done in their entire life.
You, as parents, will be asked a similar line of questioning as your child. Parents, without knowing the dire consequences of their statements, typically take this opportunity to complain and vent about everything their child has done wrong over the past few years. Usually this involves how disrespectful your child is at home, how he/she doesn’t listen, doesn’t obey rules, has experimented with drugs/alcohol, or has poor performance in school.
All of the statements made to probation are then published in a report. A copy of this report is given to the judge, the prosecutor, and the defense attorney. This report has a dramatic influence on what happens to your child’s case, from start to finish. It can be the basis for continued detention of an in-custody child, or their release back to you. The report will absolutely be used to influence the ultimate outcome/resolution of your child’s case.
Stage 4: Arraignment/Detention Hearing
This is the first court appearance on your child’s case. At least one parent is ordered to attend.
If your child is in custody, this is the date in which the judge will decide whether or not to keep him/her detained, or released back to you. The seriousness of the offense alleged, the probation report, and oral argument by the district attorney and defense counsel will all be considered.
On this date, your child will be advised of the charges against him, and your attorney will typically enter a denial of the allegations and set future court hearing dates. Your attorney will get a copy of the initial “discovery” on the case, which includes the probation report and police reports filed with the District Attorney.
Stage 5: Pre-Trial
Similar to an adult criminal case, this is usually the first stage of negotiations between the defense attorney and the prosecutor (called the “petitioner” in juvenile cases). The two attorneys will talk about the facts of the case, mitigating and aggravating factors, your child’s social history, etc. The probation department and the judge are oftentimes involved in these conversations as well.
If an appropriate resolution of the case is agreed upon by all parties, then your child may decide to admit to the allegations and accept the bargained for agreement. The outcome of your child’s case will vary based upon all of the aforementioned factors, including the crime committed, your child’s involvement, his/her social history, etc.
If an agreement about resolving the case cannot be reached, or your child did not commit the crime alleged, then the case proceeds to trial.
Stage 6: Trial
Your child has a “speedy trial” right to be tried within 15 court working days if in custody, or 30 calendar days if out of custody. Your child, under current law, does not have the right to a trial by jury in California (unless the case is serious enough that it is elevated to adult court). Instead, your child has the right to have his/her trial in front of a judge. The judge, instead of a jury, listens to the evidence presented at trial, and decides whether the petitioner has proven the case beyond a reasonable doubt.
If the judge believes that petitioner has met their burden of proof, your child usually becomes a “ward” of the juvenile court and can be placed into custody, given a work program commitment, community service, or various other types of sanctions. Typically, your child is also placed on formal probation, is required to report to a probation officer, and must comply with certain terms and conditions of probation. If your child does not comply, his/her probation can be revoked and he/she can be further sanctioned for non-compliance.
If the case is not proven beyond a reasonable doubt, your child is acquitted. The District Attorney can no longer prosecute your child for the crime alleged to have occurred.
Sealing Your Child’s Juvenile Record:
Once all court sanctions are complete, your child should hire an attorney to assist in “sealing” his/her record. While a juvenile “adjudication” is not considered a criminal conviction, it is still important to seal your child’s record because it will help preclude future employers from finding out about the mistakes one makes while still a juvenile. Your child can legally say he/she has not been convicted of any criminal offense, and it will make your child’s future that much easier.