Navigating the Juvenile Court System

Juvenile Home Page
My Child Is At Risk
Navigating the System
Resources for Victims

Origins of Juvenile Cases

The differences between juvenile and adult prosecution begin at the initial police contact. These important distinctions are emphasized in the following documents dealing with the origins of a juvenile case.

    Police Contact and Detention

A "minor" is a person under the age of 18. Laws and procedures governing the handling of a minor's case differ significantly from that of an adult. The Welfare & Institutions Code defines these laws and procedures. One of a minor's first points of contact with the Juvenile Justice system is a detention or arrest.

After a minor has been detained or arrested, the officer has several release options. In determining which of the options to take, the officer should always make the choice that is the least restrictive alternative for the minor, yet considers the best interests of the community and the minor. An officer may do any of the following given the above guidelines:

  • Release the minor with no further action; (usually to parent/guardian)
  • Deliver or refer the minor to a community agency to provide shelter, counseling or diversion services;
  • Enroll minor in the police department diversion program;
  • Release minor under 14 or who committed a misdemeanor, to parents/guardian with a "Promise To Appear" ["PTA"] ; or
  • Deliver minor to Juvenile Hall without unnecessary delay.
  • A minor who is 14 or older and arrested for the personal use of a firearm in commission or attempted commission of a felony or for an offense described in WIC 707(b) may not be released until minor is brought before a judicial officer.
  • A minor who is 14 or older and arrested for the commission of a felony offense shall not be released until the minor, his parent, guardian, or relative, or both, have signed a written promise to appear provided by the probation officer, or has been given an order to appear in juvenile court at a certain date.
    The Probation Department's Role

The Probation Department has vast discretion over most misdemeanor cases, and even has discretion over most felony cases for minors under the age of fourteen. A Probation Intake Officer does the initial screening of these cases. If the minor is in custody, the Probation Department makes a decision on whether or not to release the minor.

If the minor is released, then the case becomes an out-of-custody case. If the minor is released on home supervision, then the minor is still considered to be in custody.

If the minor is out of custody, the Probation Intake Officer will screen the case and make a determination of whether or not the case should be forwarded to the District Attorney's office for the filing of a petition. Otherwise, the case will remain with the Probation Department for informal supervision or other action.

Juvenile Proceedings

Unlike proceedings in adult court, most juvenile court hearings are closed hearings and the public is generally excluded. Only authorized individuals are allowed to hear those closed hearings. Among those allowed access are victims, support person and those with a direct and legitimate interest in the specific case. However, the public is allowed access to certain cases, most of which are enumerated in Welfare and Institutions Code section 707; subdivision (b). The court must post in a conspicuous place, a list of all of the cases open to the public for that day. As a consequence of most juvenile court proceedings being closed, access to those juvenile court records is also limited.

    Confidentiality of Proceedings and Disclosure of Records

Juvenile court proceedings are confidential. There are two general exceptions: (1) the prosecution witnesses may have up to 2 support persons present in the courtroom; and (2) victims may be present and have up to 2 support persons.

The Welfare and Institutions Code also limits the disclosure of juvenile records. Certain people (who are listed in the Code) may inspect the materials and petition a court to have them disclosed. The records can only be disclosed with a court order.

    Detention Hearing

The initial hearing for an in custody case is a detention hearing. The Probation Officer sets the hearing and notifies the parent or guardian of the hearing. At the hearing, the minor will be informed of the pending charges contained in the Petition. Unlike adult court, there is no bail in juvenile. The court will weigh several factors and make a ruling on whether to release the minor or keep the minor detained. The court must release a minor unless one or more of the following grounds for detention exist:

  • Violation of a court order
  • Escape from a commitment of the court
  • Likely to flee jurisdiction
  • Immediate and urgent necessity for the protection of minor
  • Reasonably necessary for the protection of person or property of another
  • At-risk of entering foster care placement (continuance in the home is contrary to the minor's welfare).

At the close of the detention hearing, the court will set a readiness hearing.

    Readiness Hearing

When an out-of-custody petition has been filed by the District Attorney's Office, the clerk of the court sets the initial court appearance called the Readiness Hearing. This is held 10 court days after the filing of the petition. The minor and his or her parents receive notice of the hearing by the court through first class mail.

If the minor fails to appear at the initial Readiness Hearing, the clerk issues a citation directing the parent or guardian to appear at another Readiness Hearing. The citation is personally served on the parent. If a minor still fails to appear for this hearing, the court may then request an affidavit for a warrant from the District Attorney's Office. The court may also issue a warrant of arrest for a parent or guardian.

The Readiness Hearing is the second court appearance for a minor who is in custody or was released at a Detention Hearing. A minor may accept an offer from the District Attorney and admit all or a portion of a petition. The matter will then be set for dispositional hearing, where a judge will pronounce a sentence.

    Settlement Conference

If a case is not resolved at the Readiness Hearing, the next hearing is the Settlement Conference. A Settlement Conference is an opportunity for a judge to talk to the prosecutor and the minor's attorney. Discussions revolve around the offense, the minor, and what placement or program would be beneficial to the minor yet still protect the community. Although a judge will not have a social study report with all of the pertinent information about the minor, a judge can still indicate a case sentencing plan, provided the social study report does not list anything new or significant information which was not known at the time of the Settlement Conference. If the minor admits the petition, the case is set for a Dispositional Hearing. If the minor does not admit, the case is set for a Jurisdictional Hearing.

    Jurisdictional Hearing

If a minor does not admit the charges and allegations in the petition, the case is set for a trial. Juvenile trials are called Jurisdictional Hearings or Adjudications. They are heard and decided by a judge, not a jury. Juveniles are not entitled to a jury trial unless they are being tried as adults. A judge will hear the evidence in the case as presented by the District Attorney's Office and the defense. The criminal rules of evidence apply to the hearing and the proof required is proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

If a minor does not waive time, a Jurisdictional Hearing is set 15 judicial days from the date of the Detention Hearing for an in-custody minor, and 30 calendar days from the initial court hearing for a minor who is out of custody.

    Dispositional Hearing

If the minor admitted the petition or a court found the petition to be true after a Jurisdictional Hearing, the court will hold a Dispositional Hearing. The Dispositional Hearing is the Juvenile Court version of a sentencing hearing. At the Disposition Hearing, the judge declares the minor a ward of the court and then places the minor in a program or in custody. This is done to benefit the minor and protect the community.

    Fitness Hearing

If a minor is 16 years or older and is charged with committing certain serious offenses, the District Attorney's Office has the option of requesting a hearing to determine whether a minor is fit to be dealt with in the juvenile court system or should be tried as an adult. At the hearing a court will consider evidence related to the behavioral patterns and social history of the minor and make a decision to try the minor as a juvenile or an adult.

    Other Hearings

Officers, victims or Probation Officers can still be called in to court for hearings after a minor has admitted a petition.

Restitution hearings are set if the amount of restitution is disputed and was not resolved when the minor admitted the charges.

Probation Violation/Evidentiary hearings are set if the minor has violated specific conditions of probation, but not necessarily committed a new offense. The burden of proof in an evidentiary hearing for a probation violation is preponderance of the evidence and reliable hearsay is admissible.

Juvenile Rehabilitation Programs

Perhaps the primary difference between the juvenile justice system and the adult system is the goal of rehabilitation as opposed to punishment. This goal is clearly reflected in the options available for disposition. Juvenile offenders are "sentenced" to participate in programs designed to meet their specific needs and level of delinquency. See the following information on various rehabilitation programs available for juvenile offenders.

    Home Supervision and ESP

Home Supervision or "house arrest" can occur in lieu of physical confinement pending each successive step in the minor's proceedings or even as a part of the minor's disposition. Essentially, while on home supervision, the minor must remain at home at all times, must not use the telephone, and must abide by certain specified conditions. Usually, the court will provide exceptions to home supervision to allow the minor to leave the house to attend school activities. When minors in Breaking Cycles are released from custody at JRF or GRF, they are initially placed on home supervision to facilitate the transition to the less structured home setting.

If the minor needs special attention or monitoring the court may order that the minor be placed on home supervision with electronic surveillance (ESP). With this condition, the minor must wear an ankle bracelet. The bracelet is a water-proof device which transmits a continuous signal to a field monitoring device (FMD) - which is attached to the phone line in the house. Violations are reported via the telephone line. The bracelet has built-in sensors to detect tampering, and in the event of a power failure, the FMD device has a back-up battery that keeps the system running. For obvious reasons, ESP is not an option for families without a land phone line./p>

Home supervision can also be an option for minors with limited custody time. When a minor is adjudged a ward of the court, section 726 of the Welfare and Institutions Code states that the minor shall not be held in "physical confinement" for a term exceeding the maximum term of imprisonment as determined under Penal Code section 1170. Section 726 further provides that "physical confinement" includes placement in a juvenile hall, ranch, camp, forestry camp, or secure juvenile home pursuant to W&IC § 730, as well as any institution operated by the Youth Authority. This does not include home supervision.

    Camp Barrett

Formerly known as Youth Correctional Center, Camp Barrett provides treatment and education for seriously delinquent boys ages 16-1/2 to 19 years old. The program can accommodate 125 boys who are house in 3 separate dormitories. The goal of the program is to provide youthful offenders with the training and skills necessary for successful reintegration into society.

SCREENING CRITERIA:
The following types of juveniles are NOT appropriate for Camp Barrett:
1. Juveniles with a history of arson or sex offenses
2. Juveniles with a history of suicidal behavior
3. Juveniles who exhibit psychotic or severely emotionally disturbed behavior
4. Juveniles who are medically unable to perform demanding physical labor
5. Juveniles who, in the opinion of the director, present an unreasonable danger to staff or wards

PROGRAM COMPONENTS:
1. Substance Abuse Education - Barrett only provides one 12-hour substance abuse class (along with AA and NA meetings). Thus, minors with serious substance abuse problems may be more benefited in a program that provides more treatment.
2. Anger Management / Conflict Resolution - one 12-hour class
3. Life Skills - ten 2-hour classes dealing with money management, hygiene, health, etc. 4. Communication Skills - seven 2-hour classes
5. Career Guidance and Job Search - covers preparation of a resume, interview skills, etc.
6. CPR/First Aid - one 8-hour course resulting in the receipt of a First Aid card
7. City-County Transportation - education on how to take advantage of bus/trolley systems
8. Vertical Hold - monthly 4 hour activity consisting of vertical wall climbing
9. Aftercare/Reintegration
10. Counseling - full-time psychologist on site to provide individual and group counseling
11. Young Men as Fathers - 8-week course designed to teach parenting skills, etc.
12. Thinking for a Change - 22 session cognitive restructuring program

TERM OF COMMITMENT:
At disposition, the court will order the minor to a term of days ranging from 270 to 547 days. A reduction in actual time is awarded upon entry equivalent to 4019 PC credits (approximately 33%). The one-third sentence reduction is available to reinstitution through administrative due process as a disciplinary response to unacceptable behavior. (Thus, a ward committed to 270 days will spend 180 actual days and be released if there are no behavioral problems. However, he could potentially serve the full 270 days if additional time is added due to behavioral problems). In addition, the director may award up to 15% of the original commitment of additional sentence reduction to wards for positive program experiences and successes.

    Sexual Treatment and Program Services Program (S.T.E.P.S.)
    Breaking Cycles: Commitment Tracks
    Breaking Cycles: Institutional Facilities
    Breaking Cycles: Community Based Programs
    Breaking Cycles: Community Unit

The Community Unit (CU) is a home-based program operated by the Probation Department in partnership with community based agencies who specialize in youth and family counseling and drug and alcohol services. The CU is usually the last phase of a minor's involvement in the Breaking Cycles program.

The CU is comprised of seven regional teams throughout the county. Each team includes a Case Manager, a Community Family Monitor (Probation Officer), a Youth and Family Counselor, and a Drug and Alcohol Specialist.

The role of the CU is to help the minor meet court-ordered conditions of probation.

    Youthful Offender Unit

The San Diego Youthful Offender Unit program is a new self-contained detention facility for male juvenile offenders who can no longer be sent to DJJ and/or who have failed at the probation camp level. The YOU program is part of the larger and newly constructed East Mesa Juvenile Detention Facility (EMJDF), a 380-bed complex located on 25 acres, in a rural area of the county. It is considered a maximum security facility.

EMJDF is similar in design to more recently constructed juvenile detention facilities across the state that incorporate multiple use activities into one structure. According to the facility administrator, the facility also serves as an overflow when the main juvenile hall exceeds its design capacity as a place to hold youthful offenders waiting to be transferred to permanent placements. Previously, overcrowding led to litigation.

Each housing unit has a day room with recreation areas, telephones, classrooms, library shelves and one television set for instructional viewing or a weekly Saturday night movie. Medical services are available 24-hours a day, including psychiatry and dental services.

The YOU offers a four-part program designed for a 12-month term. With good behavior and adherence to an individual case plan, a juvenile's time can be reduced to nine months. Up to 60 days can be earned by completing the program components, and the remaining 30 days can be awarded by the program supervisor and school staff. At any stage of the program a noncompliant, juvenile can have up to an additional four months of time added to his term. In this regard, the program is like other camps or ranches in which the offender is punished for fighting, having contraband, or being kicked out of school (class).

The school portion of the program is critically important to the success of the YOU, because it is where the juveniles must show progress in earning class credits towards a GED, high school diploma, or a certified vocational skill (ROCP). It is also where they must enroll and participate in programs such as substance abuse treatment, anger management, life skills, and discussions about the negative effects of gang violence. Since none of the juveniles have completed the YOU program yet, there is no way to determine how successful it is in helping youth gain additional educational credits.

Phase two of the program begins 60 days prior to a juvenile leaving the facility, with an assessment involving custody staff, the file probation officer, school staff, and aftercare treatment staff. The parent and/or guardian also may attend. The focus is on continuing the juvenile's education/vocational training, treatment, and court-ordered conditions. Phase three is the case management and community supervision process which is designed to oversee and reinforce what was learned in detention.

Source: Page 34 of County Probation Camps and Ranches for Juvenile Offenders

    California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Division of Juvenile Justice