San Diego Juvenile Court Attorney

San Diego Juvenile Court Attorney
There are two distinct functions of the juvenile courts in San Diego.  Dependency proceedings are meant to protect children from neglect and/or emotional, physical or sexual abuse.  Dependency proceedings may be initiated if a social worker, hospital employee, school teacher, etc. observe what they believe to be signals of abuse.  A child may be temporarily or permanently removed from the care of a parent who is deemed negligent or abusive.  The other form of proceedings are delinquency proceedings, essentially criminal proceedings for minor offenders (offenders under 18).  While minors can be charged as adults as early as age 14, most minors will have their criminal charges heard in juvenile ("delinquency") court. 

Perhaps the biggest difference between criminal proceedings for adults and the juvenile justice system is the greater emphasis on rehabilitation within the juvenile court system.  While adult criminal courts and prosecutors seem to have "written off" the defendants in those proceedings, the youthfulness of juvenile offenders is considered to be a major mitigating factor, and the juvenile court system has a better record of reducing recidivism because of its rehabilitative approach.  It is important to note that just like adults charged with crimes, juveniles in delinquency proceedings have a right to be represented by an attorney, and will have an attorney appointed if they cannot afford one.  A major difference in the proceedings is that there are no juries in juvenile court.

The juvenile delinquency court proceedings begin with a detention hearing.  This is the first court date, and it is up to the court to determine whether a juvenile will be released while proceedings take place, or remain in custody during this period.  The severity of the charges, criminal and school discipline history of the juvenile and many other factors will weight in to whether a juvenile is forced to remain in custody or may be free while proceedings take place.  This is similar to the bail process for adults, except that minors are not required to post any bail to secure their availability at court.  The detention hearing will occur within 2 days of arrest, and the issue of detention can be revisited after 3 days.  At this stage, the attorney's job is to demonstrate to the court that the juvenile is not a flight risk and not a danger to the community.

Serious juvenile offenses may proceed to a "fitness hearing" to determine whether the juvenile should be tried as an adult.  It is important to note that not all juvenile offenders are offered a fitness hearing.  First, many minor juvenile offenses will not go to a fitness hearing and the minor's case will be heard in the juvenile system.  Second, the District Attorney may "direct file" a case in the adult criminal courts, even if the offender is under 18.  For cases that do proceed to a fitness hearing, the operative question is how much of an effect did the offender's age play in the commission of the offense.  Prior contacts with law enforcement, the severity of the crime and many other factors will be considered.

Juvenile cases do not have a jury trial.  Instead, a judge hears the evidence and then renders a verdict at a proceeding known as an adjudication.  The government still has the same burden of proof - proof beyond a reasonable doubt - but need not convince 12 jurors.  If the government proves its case, the judge will "sustain" the petition, the juvenile court version of a conviction.  The judge can also "set aside" the petition; this is the juvenile version of an acquittal.

In juvenile delinquency matters where the judge sustains the petition, the case will proceed to sentencing/disposition.  A juvenile sentence can include probation, fines, removal to foster care, detention in a juvenile detention center or camp and community service. 

Juvenile petitions should be taken seriously and fought to avoid the imposition of harsh penalties.  If you or a loved one is a minor facing juvenile or adult criminal proceedings in San Diego, contact our office now for a free consultation.  619-930-9515.

Nicholas M. Loncar, Esq.
San Diego Criminal Defense Attorney
San Diego DUI Lawyer
T: 619-930-9515
By Nicholas Loncar      


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