What is the California Juvenile Court Process?

When a minor gets into trouble in California, the minor goes to a special kind of court called "juvenile delinquency court."  Juvenile delinquency court is different from adult court and has its own procedures and terminology.

In this article, our California Juvenile Criminal Defense Attorneys outline the California juvenile court process.1 We cover:

1. How does the California juvenile court process begin?
2. What happens if cops take my child to juvenile hall?
3. What court hearings will my child attend?
4. What kind of sentence will my child get?
5. Can a lawyer help my child?

If you have further questions after reading this article, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group for a consultation.

If your child is detained in juvenile hall, please visit our pages on Eastlake Juvenile Hall & Court, Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall & Court, Barry Nidorf (Sylmar) Juvenile Hall & Court, Court, Riverside Juvenile Hall and Orange County Juvenile Hall.

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1. How does the California juvenile court
process begin?

The California juvenile court process begins with an arrest.

If the incident is not serious, the cops may give the minor a stern warning and let the minor go.

The cops may also give the minor a citation to appear in court at a later date, but allow the minor to go home in the meantime.

If the matter is serious, the cops may take the minor to juvenile hall.

Remember, your child has rights!  Please read our related article Police Questioning of Minors for a discussion of what rights a minor has when it comes to being interrogated by the police.

2. What happens if cops take my child to
juvenile hall?

If cops take your child to juvenile hall, it is not the end of the world.  It may turn out your child doesn't end up staying there very long.

Probation officers who run juvenile halls have choices just like cops.  The intake officer will interview your child and do one of the following:

  • send your child home with a citation to come back to court at a later date,
  • send your child home with a probation program that does not require coming back to court (unless your child disobeys), or
  • decide to keep your child in juvenile hall until a judge can look at the case

There are several juvenile halls in Southern California.  The include:

3. What court hearings will my child attend?

As your child's case proceeds, he or she may attend the following hearings:

  • Detention Hearing (to determine if your child has to stay in juvenile hall pending resolution of the case)
  • Fitness Hearing (to determine if your child's case will remain in juvenile delinquency court or be transferred to adult court)
  • Adjudication (this is your child's "trial" and is conducted in front of a judge instead of a jury)
  • Disposition Hearing (this is where your child gets "sentenced" if the judge sustains the petition against your child).

We discuss each of these hearings in detail in our related articles Detention Hearings in California Juvenile Cases, Fitness Hearings and Transferring Minors to Adult Court, Adjudication Hearings (Trials) in California Juvenile Cases, and Disposition (Sentencing) Hearings in California Juvenile Court.

4. What kind of sentence will my child get?

If the judge sustains the petition against your child (which means the judge finds your child "guilty"), the judge will craft a sentence based on the severity of the offense and any past criminal record, along with other considerations.

Judges have a lot of options when it comes to dispositions (sentences).  This is because the goal of the juvenile delinquency system is to rehabilitate the minor, so the judge will try to come up with a sentence that will achieve that goal.

In the best case, the judge will send the minor home with probation conditions.  The minor does not become a "ward of the court" and the petition generally gets dismissed upon successful completion of the probation program.

Probation conditions include things like

  • going to school,
  • keeping a curfew,
  • attending counseling,
  • doing community service and
  • making restitution to the victim

In more serious cases, the minor might get sent to a probation camp, a living facility that the judge finds more "suitable" than the minor's home, or even the California Youth Authority (now called the Division of Juvenile Justice).

Please visit our related articles Juvenile Criminal Defense in California and Probation in California Juvenile Court Cases for more information on possible juvenile dispositions.

5. Can a lawyer help my child?

It is certainly beneficial to have a lawyer by your child's side at every point in the California juvenile court process.

Our California Juvenile Criminal Defense Attorneys have worked on both sides of the juvenile delinquency court system.  We prosecuted youth offenders as deputy district attorneys and we arrested them as cops.

Now we bring all that experience to bear on behalf of our juvenile clients!

We'll get in there and fight for your child.  We'll help bring your child home, develop a plan of action to rectify any behavior issues, and get your child back on the path to a productive and fulfilling future.

Our California Juvenile Criminal Defense Attorneys Can Help...
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If you or loved one is charged with juvenile crime and you are looking to hire an attorney for representation, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group. We can provide a free consultation in office or by phone. We have local offices in Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley, Pasadena, Long Beach, Orange County, Ventura, San Bernardino, Rancho Cucamonga, Riverside, San Diego, Sacramento, Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose and throughout California.

For information about Nevada juvenile crimes, go to our page on Nevada juvenile crimes.

Helpful links:

Prison Law Office

Center of Juvenile and Criminal Justice

Ella Baker Center Books Not Bars Campaign

Youth Law Center

Juvenile Law Center

Burns Institute For Juvenile Justice, Fairness & Equity

Youth Justice Coalition

Healing Justice Coalition

Fair Sentencing for Youth

Violence Prevention Coalition of Greater Los Angeles


1 Our California Juvenile Criminal Defense Attorneys have local Los Angeles law offices in Beverly Hills, Burbank, Glendale, Lancaster, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Pasadena, Pomona, Torrance, Van Nuys, West Covina and Whittier.  We have additional law offices conveniently located throughout the state in Orange County, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities.





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