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Juvenile Criminal Charges in California
- Welfare and Institutions Code §602 -

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The Juvenile Criminal Process - WIC 602

A juvenile is considered anyone who was under the age of 18-years-old at the time of the criminal violation. Like adults, juveniles must conform their conduct to the requirements of the law. They too must face the consequences for violating the law.

Proceedings governing the adjudication of adult criminal violations are much different than juvenile crimes. Whenever an adult commits a crime, the case is adjudicated through criminal proceedings in criminal court.


On the other hand, whenever a juvenile commits a crime the district attorney files “delinquency proceedings” against the juvenile in “delinquency court.” This applies to both misdemeanor and felony juvenile criminal cases.

The following information is intended to provide a general understanding of the juvenile delinquency process in California. It is always recommended that someone charged with a crime as a juvenile contact an experienced juvenile criminal defense lawyer at JPLaw, P.C. as soon as possible.

1.  What is the difference between criminal court and juvenile court?

Unlike adult cases that are predominantly governed by the California Penal Code, juvenile criminal cases are governed by the California Welfare & Institution Code. While a juvenile can be charged with committing the same crimes as an adult, the procedures surrounding the proceedings are very different than those in adult criminal court.

Most evident when walking into court on a juvenile delinquency case is that the proceedings are all confidential in nature. Thus, there won’t be dozens of other defendants in the courtroom listening to what happens in a juvenile case in delinquency court.


In juvenile cases, the only people allowed in the courtroom are the juvenile, his/her parent or guardian, the attorneys, and court staff. All other people are excluded from the courtroom. The reason for excluding people in delinquency court is so that upon finishing the case, the juvenile’s record can be sealed and very few people know what happened in the case.


Moreover, since juvenile proceedings are governed by a separate set of rules, there are different programs, consequences, and motions that can assist in beating a juvenile case. California is particularly lenient when it comes to juvenile crimes. It takes the “kids will be kids” approach to punishing juveniles. So, where in adult court you may end up getting time behind bars, most juvenile cases end with kids performing some kind community service.


This is not to say that you should walk into court expecting no consequences. In some cases, juveniles can face custody time in a juvenile facility. This is more to highlight that although someone may be familiar with criminal law, juvenile cases are very different from your average adult case. It is important that you hire an attorney that is familiar with the juvenile court system and can navigate you to a fair and just resolution.

2.  Can a juvenile be arrested and are they entitled to bail?

Just like anyone else, juveniles are also subject to arrest if they commit a crime. Upon being arrested the officer must immediately take the youth before a probation officer so the probation department can determine whether to file a “petition” against the juvenile.

The juvenile is, however, subject to release to the custody of a parent or guardian, unless the probation officer finds that such release would endanger the safety of other.


If the juvenile is a danger to the public, then (s)he will be taken to a juvenile detention center where they will be held until their “detention hearing.” A juvenile is not entitled to bail, though.

Inmate Handcuffed

3.  What is a detention hearing?

A detention hearing is the first hearing in a juvenile delinquency case. A detention hearing is like an arraignment in criminal court. At the detention hearing, the accused juvenile will be presented with the official charging document called a petition. The juvenile will also be allowed to enter a plea admitting or denying the allegations against them.


If the accused is in custody, then the judge will also determine whether the juvenile should remain in custody or whether the juvenile can be released to the custody of a parent or guardian while the proceedings are pending.

4.  Is there a trial in juvenile delinquency court?

Yes, a juvenile does have the right to a trial in delinquency court. However, rather than finding the juvenile “guilty” or “not guilty”, a judge will determine whether the allegations are true. If the allegations in the petition are true, then the judge will “sustain the petition.”


That’s right, there is no jury in juvenile court. Like adult court, there are prosecutors and defense attorneys, but the ultimate decision is made by a judge, not a jury.


These proceedings are often called “602 hearings” after section 602 of the Welfare & Institution code that governs the proceedings. The purpose of the hearing is to determine whether the minor should be adjudged a ward of the state. If so, then there are various degrees of consequences that may follow.

5.  What are the consequences in juvenile delinquency court?

The consequences in delinquency court depend on the crime the juvenile committed. The consequences can vary from informal probation to custody at a juvenile detention center. Some of the possible consequences include:

Welfare and Institutions Code §654 –

This kind of informal probation is generally reserved for very minor offenses like shoplifting or minor drug possession cases. Under §654, the juveniles case gets “diverted” to the probation department, where a probation officer will develop a plan for the juvenile. 


The plan normally includes some kind of educational and counseling component. Upon completion of the plan, the charges are dismissed and cannot be refiled.


If the minor fails to complete the plan, then the probation department can reinitiate formal delinquency proceedings. §654 informal diversion is to last no more than six months.

Welfare and Institutions Code §725 –

This is similar to the informal diversion mentioned above, except that the petition remains in delinquency court and is placed on hold until the juvenile completes the diversion plan. Additionally, the juvenile never has to “admit” to the allegation before being allowed to participate in §725 informal diversion. 


Thus, if the juvenile successfully completes the plan, then the judge is required to dismiss the petition. If the minor is unsuccessful in following the plan, then the delinquency proceedings move forward. §725 informal diversion is intended to last six months but can last up to one year.

Welfare and Institutions Code §790 –

Another possible outcome in delinquency court is deferred entry of judgement (DEJ) under §790 of the Welfare and Institution code. Like diversion, the juvenile is required to adhere to a plan that is designed by the judge and probation department.


However, DEJ requires that the juvenile “admit” the allegations are true before (s)he can participate in the program. DEJ is generally reserved for more serious minor offenses like possession with intent to sell controlled substances.


Because the charges are more serious, the judge is taken a risk in allowing the juvenile to participate in such a program, therefore, the juvenile must first admit to engaging in the prohibited conduct.


If the juvenile completes the plan, then (s)he may withdraw their admission and have the delinquency petition dismissed. If the juvenile fails to complete the plan, then the admission remains on the record and the judge can now sentence the juvenile for violating the law.

Formal Probation and Commitment –

If the judge sustains the petition without offering the juvenile one of the above programs, then the juvenile will likely be placed on formal probation. Formal probation can include mandatory school attendance, community service, curfew restrictions, and more.


Additionally, if a minor is adjudged a ward of the state and sentenced to commitment, then they are sent to a juvenile facility where they must remain in custody for the duration of their commitment.


These consequences are ordinarily reserved for the more severe crimes that would likely require prison time if the juvenile were in criminal court.

It is important to remember that every situation is different. If you or someone you love has been charged with committing a crime as a juvenile, it is imperative that you contact an experienced and knowledgeable juvenile criminal defense lawyer at JPLaw, P.C. as soon as possible.

Contact An Orange County Criminal Defense Lawyer 

John-Patrick Mullen-Lujan is a trusted Orange County juvenile criminal defense lawyer that prides himself on his ability to communicate with clients as he helps them navigate our complex criminal justice system.


Attorney Mullen-Lujan was named one of the Best Criminal Defense Lawyers in Orange and Newport Beach. He has extensive experience handling both adult and juvenile criminal cases and can provide you the zealous advocacy you need.


Contact JPLaw, P.C. to schedule your FREE consultation with local Orange County criminal defense lawyer John-Patrick Mullen-Lujan. Together you will review your case and develop a legal defense strategy tailored just for you!


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JPLaw, P.C.

Orange County Law Office

Old Town Orange Office

410 N Clark St.
Orange, CA 92868

Phone: (949) 991-7057

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