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California Juvenile Justice System

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Juvenile Law

The original purpose of juvenile court law was parental and rehabilitative in nature and motivated by a desire to ensure the mental, physical and emotional welfare of the minor. However, in recent years, the countervailing interest of “protection of the public” has become equally ingrained in the juvenile court system. Although studies and research have shown that children and teenagers are not yet developmentally equipped to make decisions as well as adults, more and more children are being incarcerated at younger ages. Many of them are being tried as adults.

What Is Juvenile Court?

Juvenile court, which is part of superior court, deals with three types of cases:

Juvenile status offenses involve children that commit offenses that are only illegal because they are committed by children. Examples include skipping school (truancy), underage alcohol consumption and running away from home.

Juvenile delinquency cases involve children under the age of 18 alleged to have committed a delinquent act (which would be a crime if committed by an adult) or who are habitually disobedient, truant or beyond the control of a parent. Delinquency proceedings are heard either in stand-alone delinquency facilities or in local court districts. Typical juvenile offenses range from simple possession of marijuana to felony assault to felony sexual abuse, although our juvenile cases have run the gamut through virtually every type of offense.

Juvenile dependency cases involve cases of children who have been or are at risk of being seriously abused, neglected or abandoned. Unlike juvenile status offenses and juvenile delinquency cases, where the child is the target of prosecution, juvenile dependency cases require the juvenile court are tasked with protecting children from a home where the abuse or neglect is alleged to be taking place.

My Child Has Been Taken Into Custody. What Can He/She Be Charged With?

Depending on the seriousness of the charged offense, the prosecutor can file either misdemeanor or felony charges. If a minor is convicted of a misdemeanor, he will be placed on probation, detained in a juvenile facility, such as a boot camp or a ranch, ordered to pay a fine or a combination of these punishments. If the minor is convicted of an infraction, such as a motor vehicle violation, he or she will usually be punished with a fine.

However, the minor will face much more severe consequences if he is convicted of a felony. The court may sentence to incarceration in a state institution, such as the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), which is the equivalent to a state prison sentence for adults. In addition to or in the alternative, the court may order house arrest (electronic monitoring), commitment in a youth center, probation, parole or undergoing treatment programs.

There are rules and procedures that are unique to the California Juvenile Court and, therefore, make it very different from adult criminal court. For instance, juveniles are not entitled to jury trials (the theory being that, since juveniles are being rehabilitated rather than punished, they are not entitled to all protections otherwise afforded adult criminals). Juveniles also have no right to bail.

If My Child Is Convicted, Will The Conviction Remain On His Criminal Record?

If you hire us, we will try to get your child’s case deviated out of the criminal justice system through deferred entry of judgement or to seek informal probation with dismissal or a dismissal after formal probation. If we can secure these as conviction/sentencing options, the offense will not go on his or her criminal record. If a plea of no contest or conviction occurs in a case, the record can be sealed after the juvenile’s 18th or 21st birthday.

What Kind Of Punishment Will My Child Received If She Or He Is Convicted?

Generally, punishments fall into four different categories. First, your child may be sent home on probation. Second, the juvenile may be sent to a placement facility within the community, such as a boys’ or girls’ home. Third, the juvenile may be sent to a camp facility. The camp may be a short-term camp and last as little as four months or as long as 12 months. Finally, your child may be sent to DJJ, which is a juvenile version of an adult state penitentiary.

Should I Hire An Attorney For My Child?


The right counsel can help you avoid pitfalls that may arise in the case, such as the juvenile court’s determination that the case is serious enough (i.e., felony) to justify your child being charged and tried as an adult. If your child is tried as an adult, his or her case is moved to adult criminal court, and if convicted, may go to prison with adult offenders.

The defense lawyers at Ernenwein & Mathes, LLP, have handled over 1,000 juvenile cases over the course of their combined 60 years of experience. We will make every possible effort to allow your child to remain in juvenile court. We can attend your child’s fitness hearing, where the court makes the decision regarding whether to try your child as an adult or a juvenile. Psychiatric reports, probation reports and legal arguments can be arranged to help convince the juvenile court to retain its jurisdiction over the minor.

As Robert Ernenwein is a former Los Angeles deputy district attorney, the lawyers at Ernenwein & Mathes, LLP, know the criminal process inside out, giving them a distinct edge when they represent you in court. They are well-respected and well-known by Los Angeles prosecutors and judges.

If your child has been charged in a criminal case, contact Ernenwein & Mathes, LLP, Los Angeles and Orange County criminal defense lawyers today at 424-552-3901 for a free case review.