It can be devastating and confusing when your child has a sustained juvenile petition (the court has found them guilty of a crime). You can be worried that this legal trouble could change the trajectory of your baby’s life for the worse. Luckily, it does not have to end this way. The delinquency system aims to rehabilitate young offenders into productive citizens instead of punishing them. Darwish Law, an established Santa Ana law firm, can aid you in understanding and navigating the system and fighting for your son or daughter’s rights, future, interests, and freedom. We are dedicated to helping your family make the most of the opportunity for the delinquency system to rehabilitate and counsel the youth, reintegrate them into society, and offer practical skills.
Defining California Sustained Petitions
Like an adult, a minor can be accused of committing a crime. Criminal law recognizes that a child is less morally culpable than an adult defendant. Consequently, they face a juvenile delinquency system focusing on rehabilitation instead of punishment, mostly in non-violent cases involving first-time offenders.
The California Juvenile Delinquency Court uses a different language from the adult criminal court.
One legal term in juvenile delinquency court is sustained juvenile petition. It is similar to a guilty verdict in California adult court.
How the Juvenile Court Process Starts
Before a petition is sustained, knowing the court process that culminates in this judicial development is crucial. Initial court proceedings occur before a judge makes a ruling. The judicial process starts with an initial arrest when your minor breaks the law.
After your child’s arrest, police officers will deliver them to probationary officials at the juvenile hall, who will evaluate the case circumstances and offer the following options:
- Allow your baby to go home and issue a warning after ascertaining the involved offense is less severe.
- Upon discovering that the situation needs further investigation, they will release the minor and cite them to make a future court appearance.
- Detain the minor in a juvenile holding facility after reviewing and discovering proof of a severe offense. The police officers should notify you, the guardian or parent, of the minor’s arrest and their holding facility.
Next, the prosecution team will present evidence against the minor in a trial (juvenile court adjudication hearing). The judge will sustain a petition after the prosecutor proves the case facts beyond any reasonable doubt.
The judge will dismiss the petition if the prosecution fails to satisfy its burden. Then, your child will not have a sustained petition against the allegations.
Court Hearings Before a Juvenile Petition is Sustained
There will be many case hearings the court will subject your minor to while the case progresses. They include the following:
It is the initial court hearing where the judge decides whether to send your child to a juvenile facility or release them while awaiting trial. Retaining a knowledgeable legal professional is wise. Unlike the adult court, young defendants are not entitled to bail, but your aggressive defense attorney can persuade the judge to release the minor.
Based on the prosecutor’s case strength and evidence, the judge determines whether to release the juvenile. The judge will approve the minor’s detention if the prosecution proves the following:
- The child broke their court order.
- The minor is a flight risk after escaping the court.
- The minor needs urgent protection by staying detained.
- Holding the minor is essential and reasonable for another party (victim) or property.
The judge considers the recommendations and opinions of different court players, including the following:
- Probation officer.
- The minor.
- District attorney (D.A.).
- The child’s guardians.
- The juvenile’s defense attorney.
Furthermore, whether detained or not, the child must be arraigned in this hearing. The court will also inform them of their ongoing criminal case, charges, rights, and when to take a plea.
The court hearing should occur 48 hours following your minor’s arrest for a non-violent, non-serious, or misdemeanor crime. The court schedules arraignment within 72 hours of the arrest if the nature of the crime is violent and a California felony. The juvenile court should notify you, the guardian or parent, of the venue and the court hearing date. If you feel the notification is short notice, you should apply to have the hearing conducted within twenty-four hours to ensure your attendance. If the judge approves detention for your minor, they will stay detained until the following court appearance.
Transfer Court Hearing
During the transfer court hearing, the court determines whether the minor should face the case in a juvenile delinquency court or be tried as an adult. The fitness hearing aims to assess the minor's fitness for the juvenile system. The judge could transfer the child to an adult court if the facts presented justify it.
The prosecution will initiate this court hearing when the minor is at least 16 and has committed a California felony. The judge can also transfer the juvenile if the child committed the crime at fourteen or fifteen and was arrested at eighteen.
The judge will consider the following when deciding whether the transfer is necessary:
- Complexity of your child’s alleged offenses.
- Whether rehabilitation is viable.
- Any previous record of delinquency.
- The juvenile court’s previous unsuccessful child rehabilitation attempts.
- The extent and facts of the alleged crime.
A judge will transfer a child if they engage in a criminal activity listed in Welfare and Institutions Code Section 707(b) WIC. These crimes include arson, murder, robbery, sodomy or violent rape, lewd behavior with another minor under 14 years, and attempted murder.
The judge will enter an adjudication court hearing if the child’s crimes do not validate a transfer.
Adjudication Hearings in a Juvenile Court
A child’s trial is an adjudication hearing and differs from a California adult court, where the jury finds a defendant guilty or innocent.
During the child’s adjudication court hearing, the court makes various decisions, like whether the juvenile infringed on the law. When the judge validates the accusations, they will sustain the prosecution’s petition.
Your child and their defense attorney should refute the criminal charges during adjudication proceedings. The hearings are similar to those in adult courts in several ways, including the following:
- Right to an attorney — The court can assign a public defender if you cannot afford a defense lawyer.).
- Entitlement to present their defense.
- Constitutional right to subpoena witnesses.
- The entitlement against self-incrimination under the 5th Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Also, the prosecution should verify the charges beyond any reasonable doubt. If your child is in detention, the minor can adjudicate proceedings within fifteen court days, excluding holidays and weekends.
If the child is undetained, they can attend the court hearing within thirty working days following the petition filing. However, the court can extend the timeframe, provided:
- there is a probable cause, and
- the child consents to the delay (waives time).
What to Expect During Your Child’s Adjudication Hearing
Minors are not entitled to jury trials during their adjudications. It means that a judge at a juvenile delinquency court determines case facts and assesses the witnesses’ credibility.
The judge being in charge of everything can be negative or positive. Often, the court is immune to emotionally heated or factual accusations that could raise the jury’s passions.
On the contrary, a trial by jury needs a defendant to convince one juror out of 12 in adult court to avoid a criminal conviction. In juvenile adjudication, the judge has the discretion to make decisions.
The adjudication hearing has many similarities to an adult court trial. In both cases, witnesses present testimonies. Also, the lawyers will do the following:
- Make evidence-based objections.
- File motions.
- Use facts and professional witnesses to make viable legal arguments that defend their positions.
The judge can dismiss or sustain your child’s petition after the adjudication. Note that, in a juvenile delinquency court, a sustained petition is the same as an adult court criminal conviction. The judge will sentence the young offender at the disposition hearing if they sustain the petition.
Sustained Juvenile Petition Consequences
During your child’s disposition hearing, the judge decides on the disciplinary measures to use as the repercussions of the offense committed. The court’s objective is for the minor to get adequate rehabilitation and counseling to become a responsible and productive citizen. When determining the most appropriate sentence, the juvenile judge looks at the following:
- The minor’s age.
- The juvenile’s delinquent record.
- The seriousness and facts of the alleged criminal activity.
Your child receives no punishment when they decline to admit to criminal activity or enter a guilty plea. Nevertheless, your minor can testify before the judge at this disposition hearing.
The judge can consider whether the juvenile broke California perjury law under PC 118 by lying at the adjudication hearing.
The sentencing can happen after the trial, provided the court has the required information for sentencing. Sometimes, the probationary official could still need to present a social evaluation of the child, causing the disposition to be delayed. In addition, as a guardian or parent, you can petition the juvenile court to allow adequate time to present essential case material depicting your son or daughter’s good character. If the judge grants your request, they will reschedule your child’s disposition.
The court postponement is not indefinite. It should render the sentence within a suitable time frame.
Before disposition, the judge could instruct a psychological assessment if the minor has mental health disorders. The psychological assessment is crucial as it maintains fairness and guides the judge before imposing a sentence.
Various sentencing options include the following:
- Dismissal per Welfare and Institutions Code 782.
- Informal probation (WIC 725).
- Formal probation at home or county probation camp.
- Commitment to a Secure Youth Treatment Facility (SYTF).
Irrespective of the delinquency case's seriousness, the delinquency system cannot detain a child after attaining 25 years.
Rehabilitation enables the child to receive a formal education and gain access to learning materials to help them stay out of trouble. Although a sustained juvenile petition means your minor can still face sanctions, those sanctions include the following:
- Paying a fine or restitution.
- Engaging in community service.
- Attending victim impact assessment classes.
Secure Youth Treatment Facility Commitment
The judge can commit your child to the Secure Youth Treatment Facility (SYTF) (formerly the Division of Juvenile Justice) if they are over 14 and meet the criteria below:
- The juvenile above 14 was adjudicated and found to be a ward after committing a WIC 707(b) crime.
- The adjudication is the latest crime for which the minor has been adjudicated.
- The court has discovered that a less restrictive alternative disposition is unsuitable. When determining this, the judge will consider the recommendations of any agency or person designated to advise the court of the appropriate case disposition, including the probation officer and your defense counsel. The court will also consider the following factors:
- The severity of the crime, including your child’s responsibility for the criminal activity, harm or damage suffered by alleged victims, and the minor’s conduct.
- The minor’s prior delinquent history, including the success and efficacy of the court's previous attempts to rehabilitate the minor.
- Whether the treatment, education, and programs offered in a SYTF can meet the ward’s security and treatment needs.
- Whether ordering an alternative and less restrictive disposition can achieve community safety and rehabilitation goals.
- Your child’s age, emotional and mental health, gender expression and identity, sexual orientation, developmental maturity, and special needs or disabilities affect the ward’s safety.
A child becomes a ward of the court if the judge imposes probation following the sentencing. The legal term ward of court means the delinquency court assumes the treatment and control of the juvenile.
Common probation conditions are as follows:
- Compulsory school attendance and maintaining good grades in school.
- Prohibition against socializing with some people.
- Substance abuse counseling.
- Abiding by curfew restrictions.
- Performing community service.
- Paying restitution.
- Compulsory substance abuse counseling.
The judge will send minors requiring enhanced structures to probation camps for up to nine months. While your child stays at the camp, they can visit your family.
Since the ultimate goal of a juvenile probation camp is to reunite the minors with their loved ones, reintegrate the young offender into society, and assist them in developing behavioral and social skills, the camps offer the following mental health, medical, and educational services:
- Vocation training.
- Work experience.
Before the probation department releases your child, it will perform a home evaluation to check whether your home is suitable for the ward to return to. The probation department can place the child in another location if they consider your home unsuitable. The young offender can qualify for probation termination or independent living services once they are over 17.5 years old.
Deferred Entry of Judgment (DEJ)
DEJ is a form of probation where the young offender admits to violating a felony. The court does not enter or defer judgment and orders the minor to comply with specific terms. The probation can last up to three years.
Your child must meet all the following requirements to qualify for DEJ:
- The child cannot have been a ward of the court due to a California felony charge.
- The alleged crime is not a strike under the Three Strikes law.
- The child has never been committed to DJJ or SYTF.
- The juvenile is above 14 during the court hearing.
- Your child is eligible for probation per PC 1203.06.
- The crime is not a serious sex offense.
After completing the DEJ probation, the court will dismiss your child’s criminal charges. The arrest is considered never to have happened, and the court seals all criminal records.
However, the probation department and the prosecution can access the record to determine whether a youth qualifies for DEJ in another criminal case.
Sustained Juvenile Petition: Lasting Consequences
There could be long-term repercussions for a sustained juvenile petition.
Per the Three Strikes Law, a sustained petition is a California strike. The law also allows adult courts to analyze juvenile adjudication files before making sentencing and probation decisions. A sustained juvenile petition can be used when determining aggravating or mitigating facts during sentencing. It will guide the court when choosing an appropriate sentence duration to impose.
Furthermore, the defendants have their names added to the sex offender registry when a juvenile petition is sustained. In California, they can also be held in custody as sexually violent predators (SVP). Adults with a sexual crime history face criminal charges per the Sexually Violent Predator Act.
Juvenile adjudication is eligible under this California Act if a minor commits a sexual offense when at least sixteen. It could further apply when the violations are enumerated as sexually violent crimes that caused the minor to be transferred to the SYTF.
Also, a juvenile criminal record can affect your child's ability to secure affordable housing, lucrative employment opportunities, and educational admission. Most people conduct background checks.
Luckily, the ward can seal their juvenile criminal records if they:
- Are above 18.
- Do not have a conviction as an adult.
- Can prove their rehabilitation.
Contact a Skilled Juvenile Delinquency Attorney Near Me
Engaging in foolish things is part of growing up. However, you should not take the matter lightly when your child has a sustained juvenile petition. Seeking immediate Santa Ana legal representation is essential to mitigating potential life-altering penalties. Darwish law understands that a charge is not the end of the world. We can collect and review evidence to develop practical legal defenses and present convincing arguments in court. Regardless of the criminal charge, your child deserves a bright future, and we can aggressively work to obtain the most favorable case outcome. Please contact us at 714-887-4810 to schedule your initial free consultation and learn how we can help you and your family.