Since the inception of the juvenile law system, the main goals have been rehabilitation and treatment as opposed to punishment in the adult system. As a result, more agencies are involved in providing educational and other programs to steer juvenile offenders toward a productive and law-aiding life.
Juvenile offenders refers to individuals under the age of 18, although for certain crimes a juvenile can tried as an adult. Most cases are handled in the separate juvenile justice system with its own courts and proceedings. For offenses that would be considered criminal if committed by an adult, the child’s proceedings are conducted under Code Section 602.
For offenses that only a child can commit and are not illegal for an adult, such as truancy or violating curfew, the proceedings are conducted under Code 601. These are also referred to as status offenses.
Juveniles can still be charged with misdemeanor, felonies, or infractions.
If arrested, law enforcement has the option of either releasing the minor to his or her parents or guardians and citing them or not, or placing the offender into custody at juvenile hall. Most juveniles are released after booking unless the offense is serious. If a prosecutor decides to have the minor found accountable, he or she will issue a Petition, similar to a Complaint in adult court.
These apply to certain activities that only a juvenile can be found to violate, such a running away from home or incorrigibility. Their proceedings are under Code 601. The minor cannot be detained or sent to a juvenile facility but can be placed under formal probation where an officer is assigned to them.
If a child commits a misdemeanor or felony, he or she has a proceeding under Code 602.
Juvenile proceedings are not open to the public. All trials are court trials, meaning no juries so that the judge is the sole finder-of-fact in an adjudication hearing, similar to a trial. If the juvenile is found to have committed the crime, the Petition of delinquency is sustained. The sentence can be formal probation, detention in a juvenile facility, or “incarceration” in a camp, ranch or by the Youth Authority. A minor offender can be supervised by a Youth Authority parole officer up to the age of 24.
If a child commits a certain serious felony and is at least 16 years of age, or is age 14 or older and commits a homicide or a serious sex offense, he or she can be remanded to the adult court system and tried as an adult. Should the offender be convicted, he or she is sent to Youth Authority facility if under 16; otherwise, they can be sent to a state prison.
The determination whether a juvenile 16-18 years of age can be tried as an adult may depend upon the minor’s previous criminal history, the severity of the present crime allegedly committed, any previous attempts at rehabilitation, and whether the juvenile is amenable to rehabilitation before the juvenile system’s jurisdiction ends.
In some cases, a juvenile can be tried as an adult in the juvenile system and if convicted, sent either to a juvenile facility or state prison.