How Do Juvenile and Adult Courts Differ in California?
Concerning wrongful conduct, the California judicial system consists of adult and juvenile courts. Significant differences exist between the two. Juvenile courts address matters involving minors under 18 years of age. In contrast, adult courts generally handle cases involving those 18 years of age and older. Additionally, minors do not have the same rights as adults, and children are subject to different sanctions focused on rehabilitation as opposed to retribution.
An Overview of the California Juvenile Justice System
The California Juvenile Court System hears cases involving youths accused of wrongful acts. These acts can include conduct considered criminal if an adult commits them. They may also consist of status offenses – activities, such as truancy, prohibited for minors but allowable for adults.
The juvenile court ensures that matters concerning minors are handled appropriately and strive for rehabilitation rather than strict punishment.
Critical Differences Between Juvenile and Adult Courts
Juvenile courts provide unique processes for minors accused of offenses. The system is markedly different from that established for adults.
Below we discuss a few distinctions between juvenile and adult courts.
In California, minors between 12 and 17 years of age can be tried in juvenile courts. It is worth noting that exceptions to this rule exist depending on the type of crime committed. We'll discuss this more later.
Those under 12 years of age typically will not face juvenile court proceedings unless they commit a major offense, such as murder or rape.
Conversely, adults 18 years of age and over are tried in adult court.
Juvenile and adult courts serve different purposes, mainly because of the ages of the people going through them. Instead of focusing on punishments for minors, juvenile courts focus on rehabilitation. Several possible measures may help the child take responsibility, grow, and get back on their feet.
Meanwhile, adults who break the law face much stricter punishments, including prison or jail time. The decisions made by an adult court have much greater repercussions than those made in juvenile court. They are intended to restore balance rather than correct adolescent behavior.
How Cases Are Handled
Juvenile cases operate a bit differently from adult cases. Instead of juvenile matters being treated as criminal, they are considered civil. Terms like "innocent" or "guilty" don't apply in cases involving minors. Instead, a judge may "sustain" the petition if the child is found responsible for the offense.
Additionally, while judges and prosecutors are involved in juvenile cases as they are in adult matters, juries do not hear issues concerning children.
In juvenile and adult cases, some rights are similar. For instance, a child and an adult have the right to remain silent and be represented by a lawyer.
However, minors do not have the right to a jury trial. Their cases are heard only by a judge.
Additionally, bail does not apply in juvenile cases. Still, that doesn't mean that if a child is in detention, they will remain in custody. A judge will review the situation to determine if the child can be sent back home until the case finishes.
The possible outcomes for those found guilty in adult court or responsible in a juvenile court will differ. A judge can sentence an adult defendant to various criminal penalties, including jail or prison.
In contrast, a juvenile court judge hands down "dispositions" to minors. Dispositions are rendered to hold the minor responsible and rehabilitate them.
Possible outcomes in juvenile cases include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Victim restitution
- Community service
- Removal of the child from the home
- Placement in a foster home
- Commitment to the Division of Juvenile Justice
A Minor's Case Can Be Transferred to Adult Court
A minor's case might not stay in juvenile court. When a child is 16 or 17 years old and has been accused of something such as murder, robbery, kidnapping, or rape, the prosecutor can request for the case to be transferred to adult court.
During a transfer hearing, the judge will consider various factors to determine whether an adult court is a more appropriate forum for the case.
Reach Out to an Attorney
It is important to seek legal help immediately if your child has been accused of a crime. The juvenile justice system is designed to address the needs of young people accused of wrongful conduct. Still, it can be complex and confusing to navigate without the help of an experienced lawyer.
Retaining the services of an attorney familiar with the juvenile justice system can help protect your child's rights. A lawyer can explain the legal process to you and your child, provide guidance on interacting with law enforcement and the court system, and represent your child's interests.
If you are looking for legal representation in Santa Rosa, please contact the Law Offices of Evan E. Zelig, P.C. at (707) 418-5352.