It is a frightening experience when you receive a frightened phone call from your child telling you that they have been arrested or detained under criminal suspicion. Part of you wants yell and scream while the other part of you wants to get ahead of the game and make sure that your child is taken care of. In a situation like this it is important to have a criminal defense attorney on your side who understands juvenile court and can help you navigate the process smoothly and successfully.
The Juvenile Process
When police arrest or contact a minor they have the ability to decide how they would like to deal with the situation. They can choose to issue a warning to the minor and then continue on with their day. In California, the warning and release process is known as counsel and release- essentially, the officer counsels the minor on what they were doing wrong and tells them to correct their behavior and then he or she releases the minor. If this happens, there is no need to follow up with the court or with the officer because there is no formal documentation of this interaction occurring. There are situations that occur in which the officer can choose to detain or hold the minor until a parent or guardian comes to pick them up. If this is the case, it often occurs that the parent or guardian who arrives will be given a citation to appear with the child in court. Finally, the officer may choose to keep the juvenile in custody meaning that that the juvenile will receive a referral to go to juvenile court.
If the case is sent to juvenile court it is up to the prosecutor to decide what charges to file—they can choose to dismiss the case, handle it informally, or to prosecute. About 45% of all of the juvenile cases in California are settled informally or dismissed entirely. When deciding how to charge the case, the prosecutor looks at the crime committed, the juvenile’s criminal history and their age. If the case is formally filed, then there is an arraignment where the minor is charged. At the arraignment, the judge decides whether the juvenile will be kept in custody or if he or she will be released on bond. At this time, your attorney can make a case for your child in order to have them come home and not stay in custody for longer than they have to. The attorney is your child’s voice in the courtroom—allowing the judge and the prosecutor to see the other side of the story. Once formal charges are filed and the case is being heard in court, there are several possible outcomes. First, the prosecutor may offer a plea and if you accept their terms the case ends there. Your child will sign the deal, abide by the terms of the plea and once the terms are completed the case is finished. If no plea is offered, then there may be a trial where both sides will present their evidence and the court will decide whether the juvenile is guilty or not. If it is decided that the juvenile is guilty, the court decides on the punishment and the juvenile must serve it.
Having an Attorney
Having an attorney throughout the process is extremely important. They become responsible for the legal case while you can focus on your child and your family. Legal proceedings can be confusing and the last thing you would want is an unfair deal or trial for your child because you did not find an attorney to represent them and show the court their side of the story.