Distinguishing the California juvenile "delinquency" and "dependency" court systems

young man speaking with a counselor
The juvenile delinquency system is concerned with minors charged with crimes. The juvenile dependency system focuses on minors who have been abused, abandoned or neglected.

Juvenile "delinquency" and juvenile "dependency" are two separate court systems in California.

The juvenile delinquency system is concerned with minors charged with crimes. The juvenile dependency system focuses on minors who have been abused, abandoned or neglected.

The general rule is that minors must be classified within one system or the other, but not both at the same time. However, in some cases a minor can fall within both jurisdictions. These minors have "dual status."

In this article, our California Juvenile Criminal Defense Attorneys review the differences between California juvenile delinquency and California juvenile dependency law.1 We cover:

1. What is California juvenile delinquency law?

1.1. W&I Code 202 – goal of rehabilitation

1.2. W&I Code 602 – wards of court

2. What is California juvenile dependency law?

2.1. W&I Code 300 – dependent children of court

3. What happens with "dual status" minors?

3.1. General rule against dual jurisdiction

3.2. Exception for dual status minors

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 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.

1. What is California juvenile delinquency law?

California juvenile delinquency law is "criminal law" for minors.

San Francisco Juvenile Court
San Francisco Juvenile Court

Technically the juvenile delinquency system is part of the California civil law system as opposed to the criminal law system. This is because we don't like to think of children as "committing crimes."

Nevertheless, when a minor is accused of committing a California felony crime or California misdemeanor crime, that minor goes to court just like an adult. In the case of the minor, the court is called juvenile delinquency court.

California juvenile delinquency law is set out in various sections of the Welfare & Institutions Code, primarily in W&I Code 601 and following sections.

A juvenile conviction (called a "sustained petition") is not supposed to be held against you later in life.2 But in reality, there are instances where a juvenile sustained petition can continue to haunt someone into adulthood.

A juvenile sustained petition can be used as a "strike" for purposes of California three strikes law and can lead to sex offender registration in California and even civil confinement as a sexually violent predator "SVP" in California.

1.1. W&I Code 202 – goal of rehabilitation

The juvenile delinquency system is designed to rehabilitate the offending minor. This is a big difference from the adult criminal system, which is focused primarily on punishment.

California Welfare & Institutions Code 202 provides:

Minors under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court as a consequence of delinquent conduct shall, in conformity with the interests of public safety and protection, receive care, treatment, and guidance that is consistent with their best interest, that holds them accountable for their behavior, and that is appropriate for their circumstances.3

In addition to rehabilitation, the delinquency system is designed to hold offending minors accountable with sanctions such as probation or commitment to probation camp.4

1.2. W&I Code 602 – wards of court

California Welfare & Institutions Code 602 WIC is important because it provides for the jurisdiction of the juvenile delinquency court in the first place. That section provides that minors under the age of 18 when they violate a criminal law are within the jurisdiction of the juvenile court.5

The section also says that the judge can find the minor to be a "ward of the court." This means the judge takes over primary responsibility for the welfare and accountability of that minor.

Let's look at an example of California juvenile delinquency law.

Example: Jessie is arrested for violating California Health & Safety hs 11350 possession of controlled substance and California Health & Safety 11351 hs possession for sale.

Just prior to his adjudication hearing (trial) at Barry Nidorf / Sylmar Juvenile Hall & Court, Jessie's lawyer and the prosecutor work out a deal. Jessie admits to the drug possession charge, but denies the more serious drug possession for sale charge.

Jessie also has a prior juvenile adjudication for violating Health & Safety 11357 hs possession of marijuana.

The judge thinks Jessie has a growing drug problem but can turn his life around with guidance of the court and more proactive family involvement. She declares Jessie to be a ward of the court but allows him to go "home on probation."

As part of Jessie's probation, Jessie has to attend substance abuse counseling. Further, both Jessie and his parents are required to participate in family counseling.

We discuss California juvenile delinquency law in more detail in our related article Juvenile Criminal Defense in California. We also have a page focused on Sealing Your California Juvenile Records.

2. What is California juvenile dependency law?

Unlike California juvenile delinquency law, the California juvenile dependency court system does not deal with criminal conduct by minors. California dependency law deals with minors who have been abused, neglected and/or abandoned.

young girl slouched over on her bed, sad
California dependency law deals with minors who have been abused, neglected and/or abandoned.

When minors are mistreated at home, they need someone else to look after them. So the court steps in and makes the minor a "dependent child" of the court.

According to a 2006 report, about 500,000 minors are removed from their homes each year in California dependency proceedings.6

"The reality is that a child may be adjudged a dependent child and removed from his parents' home, subsequently engage in conduct which causes him to be adjudicated a status offender, and in a deteriorating set of circumstances, finally commit a crime, which provides the basis for his adjudication as a delinquent child. In such a scenario, the child passes from the category of dependent (§ 300) to status offender (§ 601) to delinquent (§ 602)."
-- In re Donald S., 206 Cal.App.3d 134 (1988)

2.1. W&I Code 300 – dependent children of court

Just as we look to California Welfare & Institutions Code 600, et seq. to see the law on delinquency, we look to Welfare & Institutions Code 300 et seq. for the law on dependency.7

Under W&I Code 300, a minor can become a dependent child of the court when the minor:

  • suffered serious physical harm inflicted nonaccidentally by the parent or guardian
  • suffered serious physical harm or illness as a result of failure of the parent or guardian to supervise, protect or care for the minor
  • suffers serious emotional damage as a result of conduct of the parent or guardian
  • has been sexually abused by a parent or guardian or household member
  • is left without any provision for support
  • has been freed for adoption by one or both parents
  • has been subjected to an act or acts of cruelty by the parent or guardian or a member of his or her household

Let's look at an example.

Example: Reanna is 12 years old. Her mother is a drug addict. Her father is incarcerated for life for violating California Penal Code 211 pc robbery, California Penal Code 12303 pc destructive device and a host of California firearms laws.

After Reanna's mother's latest arrest for violating California Penal Code 647(b) prostitution, social workers intervene. Reanna has a hearing at Edmund D. Edelman's Children's Court in Monterey Park and is declared a dependent child of the court.

Reanna is permitted to live with her grandmother while social workers develop a program for care of Reanna and family reunification.
3. What happens with "dual status" minors?

Unfortunately, some kids are caught up in both the delinquency and dependency systems. This is the case, for example, when a dependent child of the court gets arrested. These youth are referred to as "crossover youth."

Let's return to our above example:

Example: Despite efforts by social workers and Reanna's grandmother, things go downhill for Reanna. She gets in with a rough crowd and begins skipping school.

Soon Reanna is spending more time on the street than in the classroom. She creates a mess around the house and hawks her grandmother's jewelry. She begins using drugs and jokes about killing people.

Eventually Reanna is arrested for acting as lookout in a robbery that left a man injured with stab wounds. Given the severity of her alleged crime, cops take Reanna to Eastlake Juvenile Hall & Court pending outcome of the case.

3.1. General rule is against dual jurisdiction

The general rule in California is that minors cannot be both dependent children of the court and delinquent wards of the court at the same time. It has to be one or the other.

So a kid like Reanna can be either a dependent child and get services from child social service OR a ward of the court and get services from the probation department.

When there is overlap, like in Reanna's case, county social services and county probation departments must make a "joint assessment" under W&I Code 241.1 to see which system is most appropriate for the minor and society.8

If there is a dispute, the juvenile court judge must hold a hearing. The hearing may take place during the minor's juvenile detention hearing but in any event must occur before the minor's adjudication hearing (trial).9

The rules regarding the assessment and "Section 241.1 hearing" are set forth in California Rule of Court 5.512.10

The joint assessment report must include:

    • A description of the nature of the referral;
    • The age of the child;
    • The history of any physical, sexual, or emotional abuse of the child;
    • The prior record of the child's parents for abuse of this or any other child;
    • The prior record of the child for out-of-control or delinquent behavior;
    • The parents' cooperation with the child's school;
    • The child's functioning at school;
    • The nature of the child's home environment;
    • The history of involvement of any agencies or professionals with the child and his or her family;
    • Any services or community agencies that are available to assist the child and his or her family;
    • A statement by any counsel currently representing the child; and
    • A statement by any CASA volunteer currently appointed for the child.11

3.2. Exception for dual status minors

Thanks to a law enacted in 2005, Assembly Bill No. 129, there is now a way a child can maintain "dual status" and thus benefit from services provided by both the dependency and delinquency systems.

Local probation and social services departments, in conjunction with the juvenile court presiding judge, can develop "local protocols" to implement the dual status option.12

Dual status programs can be of two types: on hold and lead agency. In case of "on hold" programs, dependency status gets suspended (but not terminated) while delinquency status plays out.13

In "lead agency" programs, either probation or social services takes the lead for caring for the minor, but each play a role.

Riverside County adopted the first local protocol in 2005. The Riverside W&I 241.1/AB 129 protocol is a "lead agency" type.

Dual status can benefit a troubled teen in the time period after completion of probation, when the teen will likely need additional services to get back on the right track.

So if Reanna could get dual status, for example, she would be able to access critical social services after she completes her probation or stint in juvenile hall for her part in the robbery.

Otherwise Reanna will be on her own – and it may be that this serious but initial entry into the justice system is the fist step of her turnaround

Our California Juvenile Criminal Defense Attorneys Can Help...
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If your child has been arrested, we invite you to call us at Shouse Law Group for a consultation. We also invite you to review our related articles on Police Questioning of Minors in California Delinquency Cases, Rights of Parents in California Delinquency Cases, Transfer Hearings in California, 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.

 
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.

2 California Welfare & Institutions Code Section 203 provides: "An order adjudging a minor to be a ward of the juvenile court shall not be deemed a conviction of a crime for any purpose, nor shall a proceeding in the juvenile court be deemed a criminal proceeding."

3 California Welfare & Institutions Code Section 202 

4 California Welfare & Institutions Code Section 202, id.

5 California Welfare & Institutions Code Section 602

6 Center for Public Policy Research, "Children's Knowledge and Attitudes Toward Dependency Court," prepared for California Department of Social Services, January 2006, p. 3 

7 California Welfare & Institutions Code Section 300

8 California Welfare & Institutions Code Section 241.1

9 California Rule of Court 5.512 

10 Same

11 10 California Rule of Court 5.512(d).

12 California Welfare & Institutions Code Section 241.1(e) 13 California Welfare & Institutions Code Section 366.5 

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