Juvenile FAQs


What happens when someone under the age of 18 is charged with a crime?

A youth who is charged with committing a crime, with habitual truancy, or with incorrigibility (repeated disruptive behavior, such as running away from home), comes under the jurisdiction of the juvenile delinquency court.  After a youth is arrested, the police may release the youth to a parent and issue a citation to return to court at a future date, or the police may transport the youth to juvenile hall. The police then submit a report of the incident to the District Attorney’s Office or the Probation Department for informal diversion depending on the crime. If the District Attorney’s Office decides to charge the youth with a crime, then a delinquency petition is filed, and the matter is set for arraignment in juvenile court.

At the arraignment, an attorney is appointed to represent the youth. The court will order the probation department to prepare a report which details the youth’s alleged crime, the youth’s history at home and at school, and makes a recommendation on what level of supervision the court should impose.  The court will set the next court date, a pretrial or pre plea hearing. If the matter is not resolved at the next court date, the case is set for adjudication–a trial by the bench officer.  There are no jury trials in juvenile court.

If the charges are admitted or found true at adjudication, a disposition hearing is held. At the disposition hearing, the court decides what level of supervision to impose.  The court could order that the youth be supervised informally, be returned home on probation, be sent to a group home, be sent to a county-run juvenile camp for a commitment of less than a year, or in extreme cases, be sent to the Department of Juvenile Justice for a commitment that can last until age 25.

Throughout the proceedings, a youth is represented by a lawyer appointed by the court. This lawyer is usually a public defender. As in adult criminal court, if there is a conflict of interest between the youth and some other youth or adult which makes it improper for the Public Defender to represent the youth, the court will appoint other counsel.  If the youth is represented by a Deputy Public Defender, that attorney will have the benefit of the input of resource attorneys and psychiatric social workers employed by the Public Defender to assist the attorney in presenting treatment plans to the court.

How can I get my child out of juvenile hall?

There is no bail system for juveniles.  If your child has been taken into custody, the first opportunity for them to be released is the detention hearing, which must take place the 2nd or 3rd business day after their arrest, depending on the charge and the time of arrest.  The court will keep a youth in custody if it finds that the youth is a danger to themselves or to others, based on the charge and any additional information presented at the hearing.  The Public Defender will advocate for your child to be released.

The court will want to know how your child is doing at home and at school.  If they are not a problem at home or at school, the court may be more inclined to release them.  Documents such as report cards, or pay stubs if the youth is working, can help show that they are generally responsible, and the crime charged is out of character for them.

If your child is struggling with drug abuse, school, or mental health problems, it is important to let your child’s attorney know, and show them any records you have related to these issues.  The Public Defender can assist with referrals to community resources to help your child.  If we can set up services early in the case, then the court may feel there is less need to keep your child in juvenile hall, or less need to formally supervise your child as a ward of the court.

What happens at a transfer hearing?

If the case involves a felony committed after age 16, the district attorney may petition the juvenile court to transfer a youth’s case to adult criminal court.  This would typically only happen if the crime involves extreme violence or if the youth is already close to the age limit for juvenile court (21, 23, or 25, depending on the offense).  The district attorney has the burden of showing that there is not enough time left to rehabilitate the youth in juvenile court.

If the youth is represented by the Public Defender, a psychiatric social worker, resource attorney, and paralegal may be assigned to work on the case.  For the transfer hearing, it is extremely important to have a complete history of the youth’s family life, education, mental health history, and prior juvenile dependency and delinquency court involvement.  In making the determination of whether a youth should be transferred, the bench officer will take into consideration five criteria: (1) the degree of criminal sophistication exhibited by the youth, (2) whether the youth can be rehabilitated prior to the expiration of the juvenile court’s jurisdiction, (3) the youth’s previous delinquent history, (4) the success of previous attempts by the juvenile court to rehabilitate the youth, and (5) the circumstances and gravity of the offense alleged in the petition to have been committed by the youth.  (Welfare and Institutions Code § 707)

How do I seal my juvenile record?

If you complete informal diversion successfully with the Probation Department, then no case is ever filed, and the Probation Department will seal its records and notify the police agency that arrested you to seal their records.  (Welfare and Institutions Code § 786.5)  If a case is filed, but the charge is dismissed, then the court automatically seals your record.  (Welfare and Institutions Code § 786)  If your charge is found true, but it is not a serious offense listed in Welfare and Institutions Code § 707(b), then if the court finds you have attained satisfactory completion of probation, the court automatically seals your record.  (Welfare and Institutions Code § 786)  If your charge is found true and it is a serious offense listed in Welfare and Institutions Code §707(b) that was committed after you turned 14, or if the court terminated your probation even though you did not attain satisfactory completion of probation, then you have to return at a later time to show that you have been rehabilitated and ask the court to seal your record.  (Welfare and Institutions Code § 781)  You initiate that process by submitting a sealing application at the Probation Department office in your juvenile court.

Once your record has been sealed, your charge is treated as if it never happened.  Generally, when you apply for jobs, employers may not ask you about your juvenile court history, whether it is sealed or not.  (Labor Code § 432.7)  Juvenile adjudications do not count as convictions.  (Welfare and Institutions Code § 203)   If a job application asks if you have ever been convicted of a crime, you may truthfully answer “no” if you have sustained juvenile charges, but no convictions in adult criminal court.  Likewise, most college applications do not ask about juvenile case history, only criminal court convictions, or school disciplinary history (suspensions and expulsions).  If you are seeking a position in law enforcement or the military, be aware that those entities may always ask about your juvenile case history, even if it has been sealed.  If that is your goal, you should notify your attorney, because some juvenile charges can make it illegal for you to possess a firearm, which would also interfere with that goal.

How do I apply for emancipation?

Emancipation: A person under 18 years is an emancipated youth if any of the following conditions is satisfied:

  1. The person has entered into a valid marriage, whether or not the marriage has been dissolved.
  2. The person is on active duty with the armed forces of the United States.
  3. The person has received a declaration of emancipation pursuant to Family Code section 7122.

A youth may petition the court of the county in which the youth resides for a declaration of emancipation if the youth (1) is at least 14 years of age, (2) willingly lives apart from their parents or guardian with their consent or acquiescence, and (3) is managing their own financial affairs, (4) with a source of income that is not derived from any criminal activity. (Family Code § 7120)  An emancipated minor shall be considered an adult for many purposes, such as signing contracts, giving medical consent, and enrolling in school. (Family Code § 7050)  The California Courts website has a How-to Guide for emancipation.

Skip to content