Like many states, California tries minors separately from adults. That means that when a minor has bee been accused of a crime, they will be charged just like an adult, only their case will be handled in the juvenile court system. Because this court operates very differently than its adult equivalent, it is critical anyone facing such charges only work with a San Diego criminal lawyer with experience defending juvenile clients.
Crimes and Punishments
Anyone under the age of 18 at the time of the offense will be tried in the juvenile court system, although the crimes and penalties are largely the same as those faced by adults. It is important to realize that juveniles can be sentenced to the maximum sentence just as easily as an adult can, meaning even a misdemeanor crime can result in up to a year of confinement in a juvenile detention facility. A juvenile convicted of a felony can be confined up until the age of 25 if he was over 16 at the time of conviction or up to the age of 21 if he was under 16 at the time.
Governor Brown recently signed legislation prohibiting juveniles under the age of 16 from being tried in adult court, even for murder. Also, juveniles under 12 can no longer be tried in juvenile court. This is a dramatic change from the previous law, which allowed 14 and 15 year olds from being tried in adult court and juveniles under 12 to be tried in juvenile court if they were competent.
Even so, in serious felony cases, minors over the age of 16 can still be tried in adult courts, meaning sentences for these crimes can go all the way up to life imprisonment for homicide. A skilled San Diego juvenile attorney can help fight to keep these cases in the juvenile court system to ensure the defendant will face less severe penalties for serious crimes. This is particularly beneficial for those charged with sex crimes as a teen who receives probation in a sex crime will not be required to register as a sex offender.
Minors may be subject to the same crimes as adults, but they are also subject to certain additional laws that apply only to those under the age of 18 or 21 -or example, truancy or minor in possession of alcohol.
While many people think police need the permission of a parent before questioning a minor, that is not the case in California. Police can visit a school and question a minor without a parent’s permission, but like an adult, the juvenile has the right to refuse to talk to the officers and to decline a search of their possessions. If a teacher, principal, police officer or other authority figure aside from a legal guardian searches a minor’s possessions without reasonable suspicion or the juvenile’s permission, the search could be in violation of the child’s rights and any resulting evidence may be withheld from the trial.
Adult Courts Vs. Juvenile Courts
While the crimes and punishments may be similar in both juvenile and adult courts, there are a few differences between the two systems. Juvenile courts do not perform trial by jury or offer bail. Although bail is not offered, a San Diego juvenile lawyer can argue for a child’s release into parental custody. At the end of the trial, the judge will make his verdict about the minor’s guilt, not a jury.
Sealing Records of Juvenile Crimes
Juvenile court determinations are not convictions but are what’s called a “true finding.” A true finding and record of the detention and arrest can be sealed upon completion of juvenile probation. A motion to seal and a San Diego defense lawyer are not required. If not sealed after probation, a juvenile record can be sealed upon the age of 18. Sealing the record means the conviction will not appear on background checks and cannot be used against the individual when seeking employment or housing.
Unlike adult court systems, which are intended to serve as punishment for crimes, juvenile court systems are intended as a means for rehabilitation. For this reason, juvenile courts offer many options to preventing the minor from having a criminal charge on his or her record and a number of options to help the minor avoid prosecution altogether. An experienced San Diego juvenile attorney can opt for a diversion program, a case dismissal and the sealing of criminal records based on a specific client’s needs. If your child has been accused of a crime, please call experienced Vista criminal lawyer Peter M. Liss today at (760) 643-4050.
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