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Prosecutors try to avoid filing charges against youths whenever possible. As of December 8, 2020, the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office (LADA) is minimizing juvenile prosecutions in favor of steering troubled youth towards rehabilitative diversion programs. This way, young people avoid Juvi while learning tools for being law-abiding young citizens.
Are juveniles still prosecuted for misdemeanors in LA County?
Usually not. LA County Prosecutors will instead refer these kids to community-based diversion programs in lieu of misdemeanor charges. If the alleged offense was a wobbler (which can be a misdemeanor or a felony), prosecutors must file charges as a misdemeanor absent a documented history of violence; furthermore, prosecutors will need approval from the DIC (Deputy in charge) to bypass diversion.
Youths who commit property damage or have minor altercations with their household will not be charged if DCFS can better serve them. And if the property damage or altercations involved the youth’s group home, foster family, or other youths, the child will not be prosecuted if the incident was reasonably related to the child’s mental health problems or trauma history.
Note that LADA has also disbanded the Abolish Chronic Truancy (ACT) unit and all other truancy interventions.
Are juveniles still prosecuted for felonies in LA County?
Yes, but prosecutors must file the laxest charges possible that correspond with the alleged crimes. And prosecutors may never file any enhancements.
Note that prosecutors may not file any strike offenses unless the youth is 16 or 17 years old, and the charge involves murder or forcible rape. For instance if a juvenile allegedly commits robbery, prosecutors will not charge robbery (PC 211) since it is a strike offense. Instead, the youth could face a charge of grand theft person.
Juveniles currently charged with strike offenses will have them withdrawn or vacated and replaced with non-strike offenses or otherwise dismissed.
Can juveniles be incarcerated in Juvi Hall?
Prosecutors will not seek juvenile detention unless the child poses a danger to others. And the detention period must end once this danger ceases. That the child is mentally ill or is homeless is not grounds for incarceration at Juvi Hall.
Can juveniles in LA County be charged with child pornography for sexting?
No, children who consensually own or send sexually explicit photos will not face child porn (PC 311) charges. Instead, youth will be steered towards programs to educate them and promote healthy sexual behavior. Prosecutors will always try to avoid situations where children face sex offender registration requirements.
Juvenile offenders are better served by diversion programs rather than incarceration.
Can juveniles still be tried as adults in LA County?
No. LADA has stoppedtransferring juvenile cases to adult court. All cases with defendants under 18 at the time of the alleged offense will be handled within the juvenile justice system. Any pending motions to transfer juvi cases to criminal court will be withdrawn immediately.
Why did LADA change its juvenile justice policies?
Science shows that teenagers’ brains are not developed like adult brains. They are susceptible to peer pressure and impulsivity. And they are capable of being reformed. Therefore, it is counterproductive to punish juveniles as if they were adults. Instead, it is better for them and for society to steer troubled youth towards rehabilitative programs.
A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.