SAN DIEGO JUVENILE Attorney
I am San Diego juvenile crime lawyer Peter M. Liss, and I can help you. I have defended hundreds of juveniles (minors under 18) who have been arrested and charged with criminal offenses. Some of the most commonly charged juvenile crimes include:
- DUI (Including DUI with accident and drug DUIs)
- Drug crimes (Including drug sales and possession)
- Driving offenses (Including reckless driving, hit and run, and driving without a license)
- Gang crimes (including drive-by shootings and carjacking)
- Property destruction (including arson and vandalism)
- Sex crimes (including sexual assault, child molestation, and child pornography)
- Status offenses (including alcohol possession, marijuana possession, and truancy)
- Theft (including shoplifting, burglary, robbery and joyriding)
- Violent crimes (including assault, battery and weapons charges)
Parents and grandparents often retain me to represent a dependent charged with committing a crime in San Diego County. If you need a juvenile defense attorney near you, please call me today for a free consultation at my Vista law office or my more centrally-located office in Carmel Valley. You will receive top representation for a reasonable fee.
About the Juvenile Criminal Justice System in CA
Criminal charges against minors are drastically different from those against adults. For example, there is no bail in juvenile courts, although children may be released to their parents in many cases. Additionally, minors do not have the right to trial by jury but instead will be convicted and sentenced exclusively by the judge hearing the case.
Minors do have the right to a lawyer, and you should always work with someone experienced in juvenile cases. Hiring a skilled San Diego juvenile defense attorney is one of the most important things you can do to help your child after their arrest.
How the Juvenile Legal System Works
Minors are tried in the California juvenile court system. The police may pick up juveniles either for “juvenile delinquency” (committing a crime) or a “status offense” (age-related offenses such as truancy or minor in possession charges). Only those over 12 can face criminal charges, except in cases involving rape or murder. While there are many courthouses in San Diego County, the only juvenile court in this jurisdiction is next to the juvenile detention facility near the interchange between the 805 and 163 highways.
The Juvenile court system has five steps: 1) the filing of the petition, 2) intake, 3) the transfer hearing (if applicable), 4) adjudication, and 5) the disposition hearing.
Filing of the Petition
The filing of the petition is simply the juvenile equivalent of filing charges against an adult offender. The petition may request that the juvenile be charged in adult or juvenile court.
The intake process starts when the court receives the petition from the District Attorney. The court will ask the probation department to prepare an initial report on the defendant. In juvenile court, the warrant process is usually limited to juveniles who violate probation or miss their court appearance.
Most minors are not detained in Juvenile Hall but released to their parents pending the filing of charges. Some youths are detained immediately because they don’t have a stable residence or have been accused of a more serious offense. Others are arrested later once the investigation is complete.
At the time of arrest, an intake officer (a juvenile probation officer) summarizes the police report, the juvenile’s school and criminal records, and the parents’ comments on how the child is doing.
Within 48 hours of a minor’s arrest (excluding non-court days), the court must hold a detention hearing (the juvenile court equivalent of an arraignment) to review the probation officer’s recommendations. If this hearing does not occur within 48 hours, the minor must be released into the custody of his parents.
Juveniles cannot post bail when brought in for a detention hearing. Instead, the judge will decide whether they will be released to their parent’s custody or kept in the juvenile detention facility. Before the detention hearing, the probation department will prepare a report making recommendations to the judge regarding whether to release or detain a minor. Judges ultimately have the final say in the matter, and their opinion will be based on both the defendant and the crime in question.
Your San Diego juvenile defense lawyer can play an important role in helping your teen be released from custody, and it’s best to start working on this process as soon as possible. Just being detained can have a devastating impact on a young person’s mental state.
Minors are usually detained in one of two locations, the Youth Transition Campus —next to the Juvenile Court, or the East Mesa Juvenile Detention Facility, near the Mexican border. Unlike adult prisoners, they will not be detained in a county jail.
If a child over 16 commits a grave offense, such as rape, murder, arson, or kidnapping, the court will hold a “transfer hearing” to decide whether they should try the child in the adult criminal court system. In most situations, your juvenile defense lawyer will work to ensure the case is held in the San Diego juvenile courts, as sentencing generally is not as severe for minors. Keeping the matter out of adult court is particularly beneficial for those charged with sex crimes, as a teen who receives probation for a sex crime will not be required to register as a sex offender.
The adjudication process is the resolution of the defendant’s case. It can involve a plea bargain, as adult offenders might make with a prosecutor, or it could mean a hearing with a judge. Juveniles do not receive jury trials, and the judge will determine their guilt, but they can still defend themselves against the charges with a skilled San Diego juvenile crimes lawyer.
If the judge decides a minor is guilty of a crime, they will schedule a disposition hearing, which is like a sentencing hearing in the adult courts. At this hearing, the prosecution and criminal defense attorneys will present arguments regarding what they believe would be the most appropriate sentence for the juvenile. The ultimate goal of the juvenile justice system is to rehabilitate minors, not punish them, and the judge will consider what they believe is the most appropriate way to teach the teen a lesson and remedy any wrongs incurred by the victim.
A juvenile defense lawyer can begin helping your child at any stage during this process. Still, it is typically best to obtain legal counsel as soon as possible to help protect your child’s rights.
What Rights Do Juvenile Offenders Have?
Minors Can be Questioned Without Their Parents
While many people think police officers need the permission of a parent before questioning a minor, that is not the case in California —and the teen can be questioned without their parent present as well. Police can visit a school and question a minor without a parent’s presence or permission, but like an adult, the juvenile has the right to refuse to talk to the officers.
Juveniles Have the Right to an Attorney
If a juvenile is 15 years old or younger, the police must provide a lawyer to consult with the youth before questioning. The lawyer will typically advise the teen to invoke the right to remain silent and not talk to the police. When the police speak with a teen over 16, they should ideally only answer questions related to their identity and request to speak with a lawyer.
Rights of Teens Who Have Been Detained
When detained, a minor has the right to call her parents and a lawyer. Parents are often left alone in the interrogation room with their child, but few people are aware that while in these rooms, their conversations may be recorded and used as evidence. When in an interrogation room with your child, avoid discussing the crime without a lawyer present or until your child is released.
Search and Seizure of Minor’s Possessions
Minors should also decline a search of their possessions. Outside of a school setting, police must have probable cause or consent to search a minor’s personal property, such as a backpack or his pockets.
On school grounds, things can be a little more confusing. School officials and police officers can search a minor’s locker, pockets, or backpack if they have a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. It is important to note that while this is a lesser standard of proof than probable cause, it still requires a reasonable suspicion that the student has violated a school rule or law, so random locker searches are not permitted.
Should a teacher, principal, police officer, or other authority figure aside from a legal guardian search a minor’s possessions without reasonable suspicion or the juvenile’s permission, the search could violate the child’s rights, and any resulting evidence may be withheld from the adjudication hearing.
Sentences for Juvenile Offenders
The penalties for juvenile offenses are primarily the same as those adults may face, but the juvenile court system is oriented towards rehabilitation rather than punishment. Juveniles are just as likely as adults to be sentenced to the maximum penalty, meaning even a misdemeanor crime can result in up to a year of confinement in a juvenile detention facility.
Maximum Penalties for Juvenile Offenders
The potential penalties can be severe depending on the charges in question; a child under age 16 can be incarcerated until age 21, and a child over 16 until age 25. Minors charged as adults can face the same penalties as adults, including life sentences, though they cannot be sentenced to death. It’s worth adding that if someone over 16 is tried in adult court, they will still be held in a juvenile facility until they turn 18.
Unique Penalties for Minors
Teens are sometimes subjected to specialized penalties, including the a driver’s license suspension or the delayed ability to obtain a driver’s license. The most common reason juveniles lose their driving privileges is that they are caught in possession of alcohol or drugs —even if they were not driving. Under the state’s zero tolerance law, a teen can lose their ability to drive if caught with over 0.01% alcohol in their system while driving a car, riding a bike, or operating a boat, so even drinking kombucha can put them above this limit.
While judges have the discretion to suspend a teen’s license or delay their ability to get a license for most juvenile offenses, they are more likely to implement these penalties in cases involving motor vehicles, such as joyriding and driving without a license. In most cases, these penalties are not mandatory, and a skilled juvenile criminal defense attorney may be able to convince the judge not to apply them in a particular case.
Diversion Programs Allow for a Clean Criminal Record
The upside is that many minors are eligible for diversion programs that may rely on alternative sentences such as counseling, outreach programs, community service, “scared straight” programs, and house arrest.
The most significant benefit of a diversion program is that upon completion, the charge will not appear on a person’s criminal record. Avoiding a conviction on a teen’s record is very beneficial for offenders just starting their lives, particularly since many financial aid programs are unavailable to those with certain criminal offenses on their record.
Your Juvenile Attorney Matters
With this in mind, it is easy to see how important it is to obtain a skilled juvenile court lawyer as soon as possible to obtain the best results under the particular facts and law of the child’s case.
Juvenile Record Sealing
Juvenile court determinations are not convictions but are called a “true finding.” A true finding and record of the detention and arrest can be sealed upon juvenile probation or diversion program completion. You do not need a lawyer to file a motion to seal these cases.
When A Juvenile Court Attorney is Required to Seal Records
If a juvenile is not sentenced to probation or fails to complete probation or the terms of a diversion program, the teen’s record can be sealed at 18. This process is not automatic and does require a motion to be filed. There are some limited circumstances where a record cannot be sealed, including cases where the minor was convicted of a violent crime or some sex offenses.
What Does it Mean to Have a Record Sealed?
Sealing the record means the conviction will not appear on background checks and cannot be used against the individual when seeking employment or housing. There are only limited circumstances where a sealed record can be viewed, and the physical records will eventually be destroyed.