Information on Juvenile Proceedings

What Are the Steps in a Juvenile Proceeding?

The importance of having an attorney at the early stages of a juvenile proceeding cannot be emphasized enough. Often the intervention of an experienced attorney can prevent the case from being sent to the District Attorney’s office, thereby avoiding the entire court process. Even if the DA has filed charges, the likelihood of a favorable outcome is often much greater with early intervention by the attorney. Mr. Loewenstein has handled over a thousand juvenile cases and has frequently been able to not only avoid or lessen the severity of the court proceedings, but he has made a positive difference in the life of many minors, often altering the course of their lives for the better.

The entire juvenile justice system is based on the premise that juveniles or minors are different from adults. Juveniles are treated differently from adults and have their own courts, detention facilities, rules, procedures and laws, all designed to protect and rehabilitate them. However in recent years punishment, which was not originally a large part of the juvenile system, has played a much greater role. A juvenile or minor is anyone under the age of 18 at the time of the alleged offense.

However, juveniles can be charged and convicted of the same types of offenses as adults:

Felonies: These are the most serious types of offenses, punishable by up to a sentence to a state institution (the California Youth Authority). Felonies generally include violent crimes, sex offenses, and many types of drug and property violations.

Misdemeanors: These are less serious offenses for which a juvenile may be sentenced to probation, detention in a juvenile facility, fine, community service or some combination.

Infractions: Infractions are the least serious offenses and are generally punishable by a fine. Motor vehicle violations are frequently infractions.

When a juvenile comes to the attention of the judicial system the usual steps involved are as follows:

1. Arrest. When a juvenile is arrested the police or other law enforcement agencies have options. They can release the minor to the custody of the parents or take the minor to juvenile hall, which is the county juvenile detention facility.

After the arrest, law enforcement, usually the police, refer the matter to the probation department. In turn, the probation department has options. They can handle the matter informally, in which case the District Attorney’s office and the court system is NOT involved. Rather, the minor must follow conditions set out by the probation department. If the minor follows those rules and completes the tasks requested, then no charges will ever be filed in court.

Or, for more serious offenses, even though the minor may still be released back into the custody of his/her parents, the probation department will send the case to the District Attorney’s office. If the DA decides to file charges, then the probation department will send the minor a letter informing him that he must show up in court on a particular day for what is called a pro per pre trial. The letter will also list the charges against the minor in a document called The Petition.

2. Pro Per Pre Trial. This is the first court appearance and is similar to an arraignment in adult court. The minor and at least one parent or guardian must attend this and all court proceedings. At a pro per pre trial, if the minor does not have an attorney already, the judge will appoint a public defender if the minor wants one or give him time to hire his own attorney. The judge will also determine whether the minor should be detained and placed into custody at juvenile hall or be allowed to stay in the custody of the parents pending settlement or trial. Usually if the minor is with the parents before the pro per pre trial he will remain that way afterward. The minor will enter either a denial or an admission to the charges. This is similar to pleading not guilty or guilty in adult court.

The case will then be set for a settlement conference.

3. Settlement Conference. This is the same as a pre trial in adult court. Several different things can happen at the settlement conference.

Deferred Entry of Judgment. In this case the minor admits the petition, or portions of the petition. The minor is put on probation and must follow certain conditions, such as doing community service or paying restitution. The case is then continued for one year. At the end of the year, if the minor has completed everything correctly the case will then be dismissed.

Entry of an Admission. The minor admits the petition (similar to pleading guilty in adult court). The judge them imposes the sentence that the minor’s attorney and the Deputy District Attorney have previously agreed upon.

Continuance. If a settlement cannot be reached initially and the minor does not admit the petition, the case will be continued to give the attorneys an opportunity to negotiate the case and come to an agreement at a later date.

4. Trial. Minors do not have a right to a jury trial. A trial in juvenile court is held in front of a judge only. The standard of proof that the Deputy District Attorney must meet is the same as in adult court; beyond a reasonable doubt.

Once a minor has successfully completed probation, graduates from high school or received a GED, and/or turns 18, he can have his juvenile records sealed. In order to do this, the minor must go back to the probation department, obtain the appropriate forms and file these documents with the court.