Police Questioning of Juveniles (Minors) in
California Criminal Cases

Minors in the California juvenile justice system have rights just like adults.  Minors have a right against self-incrimination and a right to an attorney, as well as other constitutional rights.  This means that cops must read a minor his or her Miranda rights when they arrest that minor.

California police generally are allowed to question minors without their parents approval and without their parents being present. There is no requirement that parents must consent before their children are interviewed by the police. But the juvenile interrogation must be voluntary.

In a recent United States Supreme Court case, the nation's highest court indicated that minors might enjoy similar protections when interrogated by cops at school.  The opinion held that cops must take age into account in determining whether a suspect would feel free to leave... thus creating a "custodial" situation that requires Miranda warnings.

In this article, our California Juvenile Criminal Defense Attorneys review the law surrounding police questioning of minors in California.1 We cover:

1. When can police question a minor in a
criminal investigation?

1.1. Miranda warnings

1.2. Confessions must be voluntary

1.3. School interrogations

1.4. When a minor asks for a parent

1.5. When a minor changes the statement at trial

1.6. Remedies

2. What other constitutional rights are minors
entitled to?

2.1. In re Gault case

2.2. Rights minors DO have

2.3. Rights minors DO NOT have

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

You might also be interested in reading our related juvenile justice articles Juvenile Criminal Defense in California, Probation in California Juvenile Court Cases, The Juvenile Court Process in California, Detention Hearings in California Juvenile Cases, Fitness Hearings in California, Adjudication Hearings (Trials) in California Juvenile Cases, Disposition (Sentencing) Hearings in California Court Cases, Sealing Your California Juvenile Records, and Juvenile Crimes that Count as Strikes under California's Three Strikes Law.

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

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1. When can police question a minor in a
criminal investigation?

Cops can briefly question a minor (just like they can question anyone) if they have reasonable suspicion that minor has violated the law.

However, in California, cops can only arrest a minor when they have probable cause to believe the minor violated a law.

Whenever cops arrest a minor into custody (whether or not they intend to question the minor), under California law they must give the Miranda warnings.

Deriving from the famous case Miranda v. Arizona, Miranda warnings are warnings

  • that the minor has a right to remain silent,
  • that any statement the minor makes can be used as evidence against him or her, and
  • that the minor has a right to the presence of an attorney.2

1.1. Miranda warnings

Police officers are required to "Mirandize" an adult or juvenile whenever that person is subject to "custodial interrogation."  A custodial interrogation is one in which the person is under arrest and is asked questions that are designed to illicit an incriminating response.

Under California law, police officers are required to give the Miranda warnings whenever they take a minor into custody - even if they don't intend to question that minor.

California Welfare & Institutions Code Section 625 provides:

In any case where a minor is taken into temporary custody on the ground that there is reasonable cause for believing that such minor is a person described in Section 601 or 602, or that he has violated an order of the juvenile court or escaped from any commitment ordered by the juvenile court, the officer shall advise such minor that anything he says can be used against him and shall advise him of his constitutional rights, including his right to remain silent, his right to have counsel present during any interrogation, and his right to have counsel appointed if he is unable to afford counsel.3

Further, if the cops bring a minor to a juvenile hall such as Riverside Juvenile Hall, the probation officer must give both the minor and his or her parents the Miranda warnings.4

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This photograph  was originally taken by Flickr user Steve Iyon and the original photo can be found here.

As a parent, the last thing you want to see is a cop car rushing.to arrest your child.  
But if the worst happens and your child is arrested, please be assured that he or she has rights. When cops arrest minors in California, the law requires that the cops
"Mirandize" that minor before questing him or her.

Miranda law is a complex and often-changing area of the law.  Generally speaking, if a suspect waives his or her Miranda rights but then continues to submit to interrogation at a later time, cops don't need to "re-Miranzide that suspect."5

When a suspect is Mirandized and invokes silence but then later initiates further discussion with the police, the statements are admissible.

It is worth noting that these rules were developed with adults in mind.  Given recent opinions emphasizing the differences between adults and children, one might expect the analysis to go out of its way to factor in vulnerabilities of minors when it comes to Miranda.

1.2. Confessions must be voluntary

Let's say a minor is arrested and allegedly confesses to a crime or makes an incriminating statement.  Can the prosecutor use this against the minor at the minor's California juvenile adjudication hearing (trial)?

The answer is that it depends on whether the minor's statement was voluntary.  The judge will look at the totality of the circumstances under which the confession was given and the judge will only let the confession come into evidence if it was given with free will.

As we discuss in our article Coerced Confessions in California, the court will look at the following factors in determining the voluntariness of a confession:

  • Did cops beat, physically harm or threaten to harm the suspect in an effort to get the confession?
  • Did cops threaten the suspect with a harsher sentence or the death penalty?
  • Did detectives threaten to arrest or jail the suspect's family members, or make threats regarding the welfare of the suspect's children?
  • Did detectives make any express or implied promises of leniency or reduced sentence?
  • Did cops repeatedly deny the suspect his/her right to counsel and to remain silent during the interrogation?
  • Did officers isolate the suspect and/or wear the suspect down through deprivation of sleep, water, food and/or toilet facilities?
  • Was the interrogation unrelenting and unduly lengthy?
  • Did detectives exploit a particular weakness of the suspect, such as his/her young age, low IQ and/or precarious mental and emotional state?

In order to admit the confession, the prosecutor must show that it was voluntarily given. This must be demonstrated by a preponderance of the evidence.6

The judge will look at the factors listed above to determine voluntariness, but will pay particular attention to the minor's age.  Age alone is not necessarily the decisive factor. But it's a very relevant factor in the analysis.7

1.3. School interrogations

Sometimes police officers try to get around the Miranda requirements by going to a minor's school and interrogating the minor on school grounds.

Advocates of minors, including our California Juvenile Criminal Defense Attorneys, believe that minors are not "free to leave" school grounds. Therefore we believe that when minors are interrogated there, they should be considered as being in custody and should be advised of their Miranda rights.

In June of 2011, the United States Supreme Court looked at the issue in a case called J.D. B. v. North Carolina.  In the J.D.B. case, a 13-year-old was interrogated at school for burglary without having been given the Miranda warnings.

The high court discussed at length the differences between adults and minors and concluded (over a dissent) that age is an appropriate factor for cops to consider in deciding whether to give the Miranda warnings.  The court held that:

It is beyond dispute that children will often feel bound to submit to police questioning when an adult in the same circumstances would feel free to leave. Seeing no reason for police officers or courts to blind themselves to that commonsense reality, we hold that a child's age properly informs the Miranda custody analysis.8

But the court did not actually say that school interrogations are custodial in each case (or even in the J.D.B. case).  However, the court used language suggesting that such situations are coercive.9

In the end, the court sent the issue back the state court to decide whether J.D.B. was "in custody" at the time of the interrogation.

It is reasonable to assume that we can expect revised police protocols in California erring on the side of giving Miranda warnings in school settings.  We are also likely to see litigation in the area of school interrogations.

1.4. When a minor asks for a parent

What if the minor asks to talk to his or her parents?  Does that mean the minor has invoked his or her constitutional right to remain silent?

Not necessarily.  Again, the test is voluntariness.  If the minor asks to talk to a parent but then goes on to make an incriminating statement, the statement may still be admissible if it was voluntarily given.10

However, the minor can always make a request for a parent and if that request is denied the judge should take it into consideration in determining whether the statement was truly voluntary.

As a parent you have no constitutional right to be present at the questioning of your child.  But you can advise your child that if he or she is ever arrested your child should:

  • Be polite and not resist
  • Give his or her name
  • Ask for a parent
  • Ask for a lawyer
  • Don't write an "apology" letter
  • Invoke the right to remain silent
  • Remain calm and not panic

Also, please remember that cops are tricky.  They are not your friend or your child's friend.  If they suspect your juvenile child of a crime, their job is to build a case against the child.

Cops may have secret video and audio recording equipment in the interrogation room.  Even if they let you have "time alone" with your child, such "time alone" could very well be monitored and anything communicated during it used against your child at trial.

All criminal cases are serious. But criminal cases involving confessions are particularly tricky and can have very serious consequences.  If your child has made an incriminating statement - or is being detained at juvenile hall without legal representation - it is critical that you contact an attorney as soon as possible.

1.5. When a minor changes the statement at trial

Under California Welfare & Institutions Code Section 701, if a minor allegedly makes an incriminating statement to cops and then denies that statement at the California juvenile adjudication hearing (trial), the prosecutor can continue the proceedings for seven days to bring in the officer who supposedly heard the statement in the first place.11

Let's look at an example:

Example:  Alonzo is arrested in the San Fernando Valley for allegedly violating California Penal Code 487(d)(1) grand theft auto.  At the police station, he supposedly tells Officer Moreno that he stole three cars in an effort to get in with a gang.

The cops add a California Penal Code 186.22 criminal street gang enhancement to the list of charges against Alonzo and then deliver him to the Barry Nidorf (Sylmar) Juvenile Hall & Court.

At trial, Alonzo denies he ever made an incriminating statement.  Further, Alonzo denies any gang involvement at all and has arrived in court armed with an arsenal of superb report cards and school attendance sheets.

Seeing its case against Alonzo crumble, the prosecutor asks for a seven-day continuance so it can subpoena Officer Moreno to come testify about the alleged incriminating statement.

When the adjudication hearing resumes, Officer Moreno testifies that Alonzo told him he "jacked" three cars from different shopping mall parking lots "for his homies."

On cross-examination, however, Alonzo's California Juvenile Criminal Defense Attorney elicits testimony from Officer Moreno that he and Alonzo's mother had just broken up and he was very angry with her.

In the end, the judge finds the charges against Alonzo for violating California Penal Code 487(d)(1) grand theft auto and California Penal Code 186.22 criminal street gang enhancement are not true.  

The judge dismisses the petition against Alonzo and he goes on to graduate from high school and just recently started college.  Officer Moreno, on the other hand, is currently under investigation for police misconduct in California and ethics violations.

1.6. Remedies

If cops violate your child's Miranda rights, the remedy under the United States Constitution is to exclude any subsequent incriminating statements from the prosecutor's case in chief.  However, the prosecutor still may be able to use such statements for purposes on impeachment.

If a confession is truly coerced, it is considered more serious than if an otherwise voluntary confession was made in violation of Miranda.  As we explain in our article Coerced Confessions in California, a coerced confession must be excluded from the trial for all purposes.

Additionally, a person whose rights are violated by law enforcement may be able to recover monetary penalties is state tort or federal civil rights actions.  Please visit our related articles Police Misconduct in California and Section 1983 Civil Rights Lawsuits for more information on those topics.

2. What other constitutional rights are juveniles entitled to?

As we discuss in our related article Juvenile Criminal Defense in California, the juvenile delinquency system is technically part of the civil law system and not the criminal justice system.

But the juvenile delinquency system can have big consequences - like being sent to juvenile hall or the California Youth Authority - so the law says that minors in the system are entitled to protections to make sure their rights are not violated.

2.1. In re Gault case

The idea that kids in the juvenile justice system have rights was affirmed in an important 1967 United States Supreme Court case called In re Gault.  The case arose out of the arrest of a 15-year-old boy in Arizona.

The minor (Gerard Gault) was arrested for allegedly making a lewd phone call to a neighbor.  He was arrested and detained but his parents were never notified.  The petition filed against him did not contain any factual basis.  He was sent away to a juvenile facility with barely a trial.

The minor's lawyers decided they had to fight for him.  An adult would not have been treated in such a manner and they believed that the constitution should protect the 15-year-old Gault just like an adult.12

Gault and his lawyers took the case all the way to the nation's highest court, which agreed that for the most part minors are entitled to "due process of law," including the protections of the Fourth Amendment constitutional right, Fifth Amendment constitutional right and Sixth Amendment constitutional right.

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The outcome of any criminal case is never guaranteed.  But when it comes to your child's California juvenile delinquency case, you can take comfort knowing that your child has the protection of important statutory and constitutional rights.  Please contact our California Juvenile Criminal Defense Attorneys to discuss how we can help ensure each and every one of those rights is asserted to the fullest extent possible.  Unlike many lawyers who just represent adults in adult court, our lawyers have tried many cases in California's juvenile courts and know how to get the best results for your son or daughter.

2.2. Rights that minors in California DO have

Thanks to the Gault case, as well as other court cases and statutory provisions, your child has:

  • The right to call his/her parents when detained
  • The right to call an attorney when detained
  • The right to be notified of the charges against him/her
  • The right to an attorney
  • The right to a speedy trial
  • The right to call and cross-examine witnesses at trial
  • The right not to incriminate him/herself
  • The right against unreasonable search and seizure
  • The right against cruel and unusual punishment

2.3. Rights that minors in California DO NOT have

There are certain rights that adults have but minors do not.  These include:

  • The right to bail
  • The right to a jury trial
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.

We invite you to review our related articles Juvenile Criminal Defense in California, Detention Hearings in California Juvenile Cases, Fitness Hearings in California, Adjudication Hearings (Trials) in California Juvenile Case, Disposition (Sentencing) Hearings in California Juvenile Court, Probation in California Juvenile Court Cases, The Juvenile Court Process in California, Sealing Your California Juvenile Records, and Juvenile Crimes that Count as Strikes under California's Three Strikes Law.

Further, we have pages on Eastlake Juvenile Hall & Court, Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall & Court, Barry Nidorf (Sylmar) Juvenile Hall & Court, Ventura County Juvenile Hall Facility & Justice Center, Riverside Juvenile Hall, Orange County Juvenile Hall, the California Youth Authority, Police Misconduct in California, and Section 1983 Civil Rights Lawsuits.

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 & Equity

Youth Justice Coalition

Healing Justice Coalition

Fair Sentencing for Youth

Violence Prevention Coalition of Greater Los Angeles

References:

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.

2Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 444 (1966) ("Our holding will be spelled out with some specificity in the pages which follow but briefly stated it is this: the prosecution may not use statements, whether exculpatory or inculpatory, stemming from custodial interrogation of the defendant unless it demonstrates the use of procedural safeguards effective to secure the privilege against self-incrimination. By custodial interrogation, we mean questioning initiated by law enforcement officers after a person has been taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way. As for the procedural safeguards to be employed, unless other fully effective means are devised to inform accused persons of their right of silence and to assure a continuous opportunity to exercise it, the following measures are required. Prior to any questioning, the person must be warned that he has a right to remain silent, that any statement he does make may be used as evidence against him, and that he has a right to the presence of an attorney, either retained or appointed. The defendant may waive effectuation of these rights, provided the waiver is made voluntarily, knowingly and intelligently.")

3 California Welfare & Institutions Code Section 625 provides:  "A peace officer may, without a warrant, take into temporary custody a minor:  (a) Who is under the age of 18 years when such officer has reasonable cause for believing that such minor is a person described in Section 601 or 602, or (b) Who is a ward of the juvenile court or concerning whom an order has been made under Section 636 or 702, when such officer has reasonable cause for believing that person has violated an order of the juvenile court or has escaped from any commitment ordered by the juvenile court, or (c) Who is under the age of 18 years and who is found in any street or public place suffering from any sickness or injury which requires care, medical treatment, hospitalization, or other remedial care.  In any case where a minor is taken into temporary custody on the ground that there is reasonable cause for believing that such minor is a person described in Section 601 or 602, or that he has violated an order of the juvenile court or escaped from any commitment ordered by the juvenile court, the officer shall advise such minor that anything he says can be used against him and shall advise him of his constitutional rights, including his right to remain silent, his right to have counsel present during any interrogation, and his right to have counsel appointed if he is unable to afford counsel."

4 California Welfare & Institutions Code Section 627.5 provides:  "In any case where a minor is taken before a probation officer pursuant to the provisions of Section 626 and it is alleged that such minor is a person described in Section 601 or 602, the probation officer shall immediately advise the minor and his parent or guardian that anything the minor says can be used against him and shall advise them of the minor's constitutional rights, including his right to remain silent, his right to have counsel present during any interrogation, and his right to have counsel appointed if he is unable to afford counsel.  If the minor or his parent or guardian requests counsel, the probation officer shall notify the judge of the juvenile court of such request and counsel for the minor shall be appointed pursuant to Section 634."

5People v. Smith, 40 Cal.4th 483 (2007) ("This court repeatedly has held that a Miranda readvisement is not necessary before a custodial interrogation is resumed, so long as a proper warning has been given, and "the subsequent interrogation is 'reasonably contemporaneous' with the prior knowing and intelligent waiver."  We have established several factors to determine whether readvisement is necessary prior to a subsequent interrogation held after an earlier valid Miranda waiver: 1) the amount of time that has passed since the initial waiver; 2) any change in the identity of the interrogator or location of the interrogation; 3) an official reminder of the prior advisement; 4) the suspect's sophistication or past experience with law enforcement; and 5) further indicia that defendant subjectively understands and waives his rights.  In Mickle, we found that readvisement was unnecessary when 36 hours had elapsed between interrogations, because the defendant was still in custody, was interviewed by the same interrogators, was reminded of his prior waiver, was familiar with the justice system, and there was nothing to indicate he was mentally impaired or otherwise incapable of remembering the prior advisement." Internal citations omitted)

6In re Aven S., 1 Cal.App.4th 69, 71 (1991) ("In this case we consider and reject a minor's claim that the voluntariness of his confession should have been evaluated under a fundamentally different standard of proof than is applicable to adult criminal defendants.  We hold that in juvenile cases, as in prosecutions of adults, the People need only prove voluntariness by a preponderance of the evidence.")

7In re Aven, id at 75 ("The age of a minor may color all or most aspects of a court's analysis of voluntariness.  Threats, promises, confinement, lack of food or sleep, are all likely to have a more coercive effect on a child than on an adult.  But the fundamental analytical steps are the same in both cases.  The trial court must first determine the evidentiary facts-what happened-and then, weighing all of the circumstances, determine the ultimate question, whether the individual's free will was overborne.  Under the minor's proposal for a differential standard of proof, the trial court would be evaluating the same questions of evidentiary fact-for example, whether a promise of leniency was made-differently depending on the age of the accused.  Neither precedent nor reason supports such a distinction.  The minor has not demonstrated that federal law requires a different standard of proof for juveniles." Citations omitted)

8 J.D.B v. North Carolina, 564 U. S. ____ (2011) ("In fact, in many cases involving juvenile suspects, the custody analysis would be nonsensical absent some consideration of the suspect's age.  This case is a prime example.  Were the court precluded from taking J. D. B.'s youth into account, it would be forced to evaluate the circumstances present here through the eyes of a reasonable person of average years.  In other words, how would a reasonable adult understand his situation, after being removed from a seventh-grade social studies class by a uniformed school resource officer; being encouraged by his assistant principal to 'do the right thing'; and being warned by a police investigator of the prospect of juvenile detention and separation from his guardian and primary caretaker?  To describe such an inquiry is to demonstrate its absurdity.  Neither officers nor courts can reasonably evaluate the effect of objective circumstances that, by their nature, are specific to children without accounting for the age of the child subjected to those circumstances.")

9 J.D.B v. North Carolina, 564 U. S. ____ (2011) ("In fact, in many cases involving juvenile suspects, the custody analysis would be nonsensical absent some consideration of the suspect's age.  This case is a prime example.  Were the court precluded from taking J. D. B.'s youth into account, it would be forced to evaluate the circumstances present here through the eyes of a reasonable person of average years.  In other words, how would a reasonable adult understand his situation, after being removed from a seventh-grade social studies class by a uniformed school resource officer; being encouraged by his assistant principal to 'do the right thing'; and being warned by a police investigator of the prospect of juvenile detention and separation from his guardian and primary caretaker?  To describe such an inquiry is to demonstrate its absurdity.  Neither officers nor courts can reasonably evaluate the effect of objective circumstances that, by their nature, are specific to children without accounting for the age of the child subjected to those circumstances.")

10People v. Lessie, 47 Cal.4th 1152  (2010) ("The only apparent reason to question the validity of defendant's waiver is his claim that, by asking to speak with his father, he intended to exercise his Fifth Amendment rights and that the police induced him to waive his rights by withholding a telephone until after he had confessed.  To be sure, the police chose to continue questioning defendant rather than allowing him to use the telephone.  The trial court noted this with evident frustration in concluding the police had committed 'at least a technical violation' of Welfare and Institutions Code section 627, subdivision (b), by not advising defendant that he had the right to make telephone calls within an hour after being taken into custody.  The bare violation of section 627, however, has very limited relevance in the present context.  The Legislature has not authorized exclusion as a remedy for such violations, and the Truth-in-Evidence provision bars courts from creating such a remedy under the state Constitution.   Defendant's confession would be subject to exclusion under the federal Constitution if the totality of the relevant circumstances demonstrated that his purpose in asking to speak with his father was to invoke his Fifth Amendment privilege.  The facts of the case, however, do not support such a conclusion..Defendant did not say, for example, that he wanted to speak with his father before answering questions or wanted his father to call an attorney on his behalf.  Nor did defendant hesitate at any point to answer the detectives questions.  Under these circumstances, we see no basis for construing defendant's request to speak with his father as an invocation of his Fifth Amendment rights.  Accordingly, and for the additional reasons discussed above, the totality of the relevant circumstances supports the trial court's conclusion that defendant knowingly and voluntarily waived his Fifth Amendment privilege.  That his confessions were properly admitted into evidence necessarily follows."  Internal citations omitted)

11 California Welfare & Institutions Code Section 701 provides:  "At the hearing, the court shall first consider only the question whether the minor is a person described by Section 300, 601, or 602.  The admission and exclusion of evidence shall be pursuant to the rules of evidence established by the Evidence Code and by judicial decision.  Proof beyond a reasonable doubt supported by evidence, legally admissible in the trial of criminal cases, must be adduced to support a finding that the minor is a person described by Section 602, and a preponderance of evidence, legally admissible in the trial of civil cases must be adduced to support a finding that the minor is a person described by Section 300 or 601.  When it appears that the minor has made an extrajudicial admission or confession and denies the same at the hearing, the court may continue the hearing for not to exceed seven days to enable the prosecuting attorney to subpoena witnesses to attend the hearing to prove the allegations of the petition.  If the minor is not represented by counsel at the hearing, it shall be deemed that objections that could have been made to the evidence were made."

12In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1, 29 (1967) ("If Gerald had been over 18, he would not have been subject to Juvenile Court proceedings.  For the particular offense immediately involved, the maximum punishment would have been a fine of $5 to $50, or imprisonment in jail for not more than two months.  Instead, he was committed to custody for a maximum of six years.  If he had been over 18 and had committed an offense to which such a sentence might apply, he would have been entitled to substantial rights under the Constitution of the United States as well as under Arizona's laws and constitution.  The United States Constitution would guarantee him rights and protections with respect to arrest, search and seizure, and pretrial interrogation.  It would assure him of specific notice of the charges and adequate time to decide his course of action and to prepare his defense.  He would be entitled to clear advice that he could be represented by counsel, and, at least if a felony were involved, the State would be required to provide counsel if his parents were unable to afford it.  If the court acted on the basis of his confession, careful procedures would be required to assure its voluntariness.  If the case went to trial, confrontation and opportunity for cross-examination would be guaranteed.  So wide a gulf between the State's treatment of the adult and of the child requires a bridge sturdier than mere verbiage, and reasons more persuasive than cliche can provide.")

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