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California’s juvenile justice system operates a bit differently than the one used to prosecute adult defendants. This is primarily because adults are presumed to not only understand the difference between right and wrong, but also to maintain the self-control not to act out in a manner that causes harm to another individual. By contrast, juveniles may be lacking in one or both of these areas. Thus, the juvenile justice system focuses on rehabilitation, while retaining some ability to punish juveniles found guilty of crimes. Being arrested, in light of the consequences, will always be scary, and retaining the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney can be crucial to ensuring that any punishment is mitigated to the greatest extent possible. Unfortunately, according to a recent study, although the number of juveniles that are arrested has decreased, a greater percentage of those placed under arrest are receiving relatively severe punishments, including incarceration. A discussion of the juvenile justice system in California, including some distinctions with the adult justice system, will follow below.




Generally, the juvenile justice system is designed to rehabilitate, educate, and counsel juveniles. However, in some cases, the alleged crime may be so serious that a juvenile will be tried in adult court. The juvenile justice system is intended to be for minors who are under the age of 18 at the time of the offense (even if the offense was discovered, or the minor was tried, after becoming 18). However, minors aged 16-18 may be subject to transfer to adult court based on a few factors. First, the judge will look at the sophistication of the minor, the potential for rehabilitation, and the minor’s previous history. Second, the judge is only permitted to transfer a minor to adult court if the minor has committed one of the following offenses:


  • Murder or attempted murder;
  • Arson;
  • Robbery;
  • Rape or other forceful sexual penetration;
  • A lewd or lascivious act on a child under 14;
  • Kidnapping;
  • Torture;
  • Mayhem;
  • Carjacking;
  • Assault with a firearm, destructive device, or by means of force;
  • Other violent felonies.


Distinctive Aspects of the Juvenile Justice System


In light of the different focuses of the juvenile and adult justice systems, some distinctive aspects between the two are apparent. Some of these aspects include:


  • The defendant in a juvenile case is not entitled to a jury trial;
  • There is no bail in the juvenile court process;
  • The juvenile justice process consists of four hearings:
    • A detention hearing, concerning whether the juvenile can be released to his/her parents during the process (this must occur within 48 hours of the minor’s arrest);
    • A fitness hearing, which determines whether the juvenile will be transferred to adult court;
    • An adjudication hearing – effectively, the trial; and
    • A disposition hearing, laying out the decision or sentence.
  • Probation may consist of the following conditions: attending school; following a curfew; attending counseling; performing community service; and paying restitution to the victim;
  • Juveniles will not go to jail, but can be sentenced to time in a probation camp, a foster or group home, the California Division of Juvenile Justice (prison for minors), or juvenile hall;
  • Juveniles will not have their sentence commuted merely by turning 18; and
  • Juveniles may be able to seal or destroy their juvenile criminal record.


Speak to a Criminal Defense Attorney


If you are aware of a minor who has recently been arrested, contact the criminal defense attorneys at Manshoory Law Group, APC as soon as possible. The attorneys at our office can help ensure that the juvenile does not fall prey to the serious consequences described in this post that it will prevent him/her from leading a full life. After an analysis of the circumstances of his/her crime, we will work to get the best possible outcome. The attorneys here are available 24/7 to take your call. Contact us today for an initial consultation.


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